The Making of Jonathan Wild: A Study in the Literary Method of Henry Fielding

The Making of Jonathan Wild: A Study in the Literary Method of Henry Fielding

The Making of Jonathan Wild: A Study in the Literary Method of Henry Fielding

The Making of Jonathan Wild: A Study in the Literary Method of Henry Fielding

Excerpt

In contrast with his masterpieces Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, Jonathan Wild is one of Henry Fielding's minor works; but as a study in the literary method of a great novelist it merits the full critical analysis which it has not previously been accorded. An understanding of this work depends upon the answers to two questions: What material for the writing of Jonathan Wild was available to Fielding? How did he use, enlarge, and shape this material to the fulfillment of his purpose? The synthesis of already existing data--biographical and historical, ethical, and literary-- and actual creation which produced Jonathan Wild, constitute a process best summarized by the word "making." Hence the present title.

I have not attempted to discover the "sources" of Jonathan Wild, for the reason that Fielding drew his matter not so much from specific books as from historical, ethical, and literary traditions. Nor have I been concerned with analyzing the spiritual and emotional part of the creative process as it must have taken place in Fielding's mind while he wrote Jonathan Wild. Available evidence provides no tools for such deep searching. The nature of this subject demanded also that the discussion of "greatness" and "goodness" as concepts in the literature of popular morality be limited to the moral background of Fielding's own time, although these concepts have received wide and varied expression in the literature of all countries and all ages. I hope in a future study to give the literary expression of this aspect of the history of popular ethics the attention which it deserves.

Of my many debts of gratitude there are several which I wish particularly to acknowledge. The officers of the Yale University Library granted me the freedom of the excellent Fielding Collection. Professor George Sherburn of Harvard University and Professor Hoxie Neale Fairchild of Hunter College supervised this . . .

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