Critics Remark on Fielding's Tom Jones

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Fielding's Realism

      These are real people, characters dealt in Joseph Andrews and in Tom Jones, who do real things in a real way now, as they did nearly two hundred years ago however much dress, and speech, and manners may have changed. And we are told of their doing in a real way, too. Saintsbury

      True to his promise, he shows us the whole of life as he saw it in its extremes of poverty and luxury, from Molly Seagrim to Lady Bellaston its extremes of folly and wisdom—from Partridge to Allworthy its extremes of meanness and generosity—from Blifil to Tom Jones. And every character in the book has been thought out, not merely adumbrated. Harold Child

      His realism is of a moderate quality, and does not go to the excess of a bitter preference for the cruel truths which convention neglects. His pursuit of reality was never prompted by rancour or hatred. On this point, Smollett, his contemporary differs from him. Cazamian

      Town manners, the pleasures and amusements of the capital, country society organised round the squire, and where the vicar occupies, for a time, a singularly less dignified place; stage-coaches, inns, and the incidents of the road, the underworld of vice and crime, have here left traces sufficiently accurate in themselves to be of use to the historian. Cazamian

Fielding's Theory of Novel

      For all which I shall look on myself as accountable to any court of critical jurisdiction whatever; for as I am in reality, the founder of a new province of writing, so I am at liberty to make what laws I please therein.

      Man is the highest subject (unless on a very extra-ordinary occasion indeed) which presents itself to the pen of our historians (Novelists), or of our poet; and, in relating his action, great care is to be taken that we do not exceed the capacity of the agent we describe.

      The actions should be such as may not only be within the compass, of human agency, and which human agents may probably be supposed to do but they should be likely for the very actors and characters themselves to have performed, for what may be only wonderful and surprising in one man may become improbable or indeed impossible when related to another.

      I describe not men, but manners, not an individual, but a species. Fielding

      Like most of the greater eighteenth century writers he saw himself as a moralist and satirist, but he was much more besides. What he was besides was, as it were, the fine flower of his didactic purpose. The first English theorist of the novel, his criticism falls short of his creative achievements he did more than he knew. Walter

      The novel had observed characters and the essay, both of which had expressed a serious though unsystematized philosophy. Fielding to pome extent is never altogether permitted explanation of motive, discussion of the alternatives of conduct presented at any given moment, and overt or implicit indications of his own views, are shown and broadcast throughout. Baker

Fielding's Contribution to the English Novel

      The Fielding who wrote novels and the Fielding who put down crime in London can hardly be separated; both activities were expressions of his impulse to reform the manners of the age. Sir waiter Scott called him in the now famous phrase, the 'Father of the English Novel'. The form the novel took in England for more than a hundred years had its origin in yielding, and in this respect Sollett, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray and Meredith all wrote in his shadow.

      The importance of Fielding, from a historical point of view, is that he is the first writer to focus the novel in such a way that it brought the whole world as we see it, within the scope of the new rapidly maturing literary form. And those critics who deny that Fielding plunged into the depths, and the solitudes of life, where so much of our human experience lies, are deceived by the range and the teeming activity of his work, the speed and pattern of his plot. Richard Church

      Fielding relieved the novel of the tyranny and constraint of letter; he took it out of the root of confinement to a single or a very limited class of subjects; for the themes of Pamela and Clarissa to a very large extent, of Pamela and Grandison to a considerable one, and of all these to ar extent not small, are practically the same. He gave it altogether a larger, wider, higher, deeper range. He infused in it the refreshing and preserving element of humour. Saintsbury

      Fielding was the first unassumed novelist in England. He does not pretend to be writing autobiography like Defoe; he does not rifle the post bag with Richardson. He himself assumes control of the narrative, interpreting and commenting in his own person wherever he chooses to do so, and establishing the convention of the omniscient author who enters into the mind and thoughts of all his characters (the assumption 'that' God is the writer, or that the writer is God') which has remained dominant in the English novel clear down to the present day.

      Fielding was no mystic. He was simply one who trusted the dictates df his heart and contentedly accepted a gospel which he daily saw helping to make men better. He rejected negative philosophies, not on any metaphysical grounds, but without being afraid of begging the question because they tended to show that there were no such things as virtue or goodness really existing in human nature.

Plot Construction in Tom Jones

      In reading Tom Jones, one is delighted with the swiftness of the narration, the economy, the nimble and inexhaustible invention. Fielding had learnt much from his experience in the theatre, especially how to break up the narrative, set his scene in a minimum of words, and carry on the action in short, swift passages of dialogue. Walter Allen

      Like Don Quixote, Tom Jones is the precursor of a new order of things, earliest and freshest expression of a new departure in art.

      But while Tom Jones is, to the full, as amusing as Don Quixote it has the advantage of a greatly superior plan, and an interest more skillfully sustained. Dobson

      The plot of Tom Jones is an adroitly constructed framework for a picture of life, rather than an unfolding action. The incidents are accurately timed, they come in just where they should suit the scheme of the book; but they are never inevitable, we do not see in them the logic of action, but an exquisitely orderly mind, arranging everything for its own purpose.

      In spirit Tom Jones is a close analogue to the grave philosophic comedy of Moliere. It is, however, to a large extent, epical in structure or rather an alternation of epical and dramatic in the narrative complication itself so as to bring various conflicting interests and rival intrigues to a close encounter and then, by means of a sudden disclosure, unravelling the complication. Baker

      In Tom Jones all sorts of unexpected things are perpetually happening in the very nick of time while people turn up again and again at the right moment and in the place where they are wanted only because they chance to be wanted then and there. Hudson

Characterization in Tom Jones

      I declare once for all I describe not men, but manners, not an individual, but a species.

      I have used the utmost care to obscure the persons by such different circumstances, ^degrees, and colours, that it will be impossible to guess at them with any degree of certainty.

      The persons of the story live in England, travel in England, quarrel and fight in England; and scarce an incident occurs, Without it being marked by something which could not well have happened in any other country.

Fielding on His Characterization

      As a novel of character, Tom Jones belongs to that class of novels which Walter Bagehot called ubiquitously, the aim of which is to present by a multitude of characters a complete picture of human life, all his characters are constructed on a further development of the art, of the comic dramatist He would illustrate, by means of the art, a large number of men and women taken from various spheres in life, the manifestations of affectation as darkened by avarice, self-interest, deceit, or heartiessness and as softened by justice, mercy, courtesy, or generosity. Wilbur Cross

      Since Chaucer was alive and hale, no such company of pilgrim poachers.....had appeared on the English roads. Oliver Elton

      Fielding's primary objectives in the portrayal of character are clear but limited; to assign them to their proper category by giving them as few diagnostic features as are necessary for the task.....this meant in practice that once the individual had been appropriately tackled, the author's only remaining duty was to see that he continued to speak and act consistently. Ian Watt

Fielding's Morality

      I do not know a better general definition of virtue than that it is a delight in doing good.

      Prudence and circumspection are necessary even to the best of men: they are indeed, as it were, a guard to virtue, without which she can never be safe.

      Let this my young readers, be your constant maxim that no man can be good enough to enable him to neglect the rules of Prudence; nor will virtue herself look beautiful unless she shall be checked with the outward ornaments of decency and decorum. Fielding

      Both Fielding and Richardson were moralists and used the novel in order to demonstrate, by actual examples, what they considered 'right' and 'wrong' behaviour. But their conceptions or morals were poles apart; indeed, each fought the works of the other anything but moral. Certainly the morality Pamela was offensive to Fielding. For Fielding, at the heart of right Choral lay what he called "good nature". Walter Allen

      If he (Fielding) had ever drawn up a graduated list of moral and offence, would doubtless have corresponded very closely with Dante, as set forth in the circles of the 'Inferno'. Sins involving both cruelty and deceit would have been ranked heaviest, the sins of the senses as lightest. Walter Raleigh

      The general drift of the lesson to be conveyed is plain from the foregoing summary. It is that the best qualifications for making a success of life are goodness of heart, charity rather than any theory of virtue, prudence and willingness to learn by experience even at the cost of suffering for our mistakes. By acquiring wisdom and a better knowledge of mankind, Tom Jones? who has the right personal endowment, learn how to live and how to be happy. It is his nature to be open and unsuspicious. He falls an easy prey to temptation and quickly repents. He becomes a sinner, but never a villain. Baker

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