· General comments:
Fielding influenced the main tradition of the English novel through the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century (Dickens shares Fielding’s talent for humour and eye for the grotesque; Elyot also writes on the differences between country and city life). With the character Tom Jones, he introduced a new kind of fictional hero-a good hearted, well intentioned, generous young man with ordinary human weakness, one who yields to temptation with women and to make errors in judgement. From Fielding’s point of view art is artifice or the deliberately crafted (this view contrasts with modern theories of realism as a “slice of life”). Fielding as well as Richardson and Sterne was regarded as startlingly realistic and widely admired by contemporary readers on the continent. Fielding believed, as did most eighteenth century writers and educated readers, that the purpose of art is to create pleasure which is both civilized and civilizing. Coleridge declared the plot of Tom Jones was one of the three perfect plots in all literature. In its “preface” Fielding stated: “the excellence of the entertainment consists less in the subject than in the author’s skill in well dressing it up...we shall represent human nature at first to keep appetite of our reader, in that more plain and simple manner in which it is found in the country, and shall hereafter hash and ragout it with all the high French and Italian seasoning of affectation and vice which courts and cities afford” . The introductory chapters that preface each of the novel’s 18 books involve the reader in a way that had never been used before.
· Names :
Many of the key characters possess allegorical names. Mr.Allworthy is said to be very fair, true and compassionate. Thus, he appears to be worthy of all. The narrator always describes Mr.Thwackum “thwack”-ing Tom, and so, he earns his name. One sees Mr.Square as being very philosophical and the slang term of “square” fits his disposition as well as being his given name. Also, Sophia Western and Harriet Fitzpatrick create nicknames for each other which illustrate their personalities. Harriet calls Sophia “Miss Graveairs”, and Sophia calls Harriet “Miss Giddy”. This shows Sophia’s tendency to be serious and Harriet’s tendency to be the opposite.
· Narration and audience:
The narrator enters the novel from the beginning and rarely leaves for an extended length of time. He explains every nature of the story, both the plot and the method of writing. He shows how the plot thickens with each added character and explicates why he utilizes a specific form of writing in one instance rather than in another (such as the use of a quasi-epic style). Also, every book begins with a formal introduction from the narrator.
He also does exactly what he says, such as ending a chapter directly when he says he will end it. The chapter closes and the next opens. This humor and literal-mindedness of the narrator mirrors Sterne’s in his Tristram Shandy. The narrator openly communicates whit the audience, to the point of dictating exactly who makes up the audience at specific times. Sometimes the audience is wise, and other times, foolish. Sometimes the narrator speaks only to a feminine audience; other times, to a masculine one, and others, to a combination of the two.
In Fielding there are many touchstones (= quotes) from Pope, Swift, Homer, Francis, Shakespeare, and others. These touchstones take the form of both verse and prose as well as Latin and English. Fielding will translate the Latin, sometimes literally and sometimes by quoting another author who says the same general concept but uses a different terminology. Another aspect of this contains the “battle of the books”, also known as the “classics” versus the “moderns”. Fielding stays along the middle of the two sides of this “battle” because he mentions both the “classic” (Homer etc.) and the “modern” (Pope etc.). Thus, he has the ability to appeal to both sides of the argument.
Finally, Fielding fills the novel with heteroglossia. He uses different types of texts which include English, Latin, French, cant phrases, and different forms of English accents. These generally appear through the entrances and exits of various characters and Fielding’s use of touchstones.
· Critical verdict of the audience:
When you're reading Tom Jones the author himself seems to draw his armchair into the room “and chat with us in all the lusty ease of his fine English”. Samuel Johnson disapproved of Tom Jones’s libertinism in the strongest possible terms. Fielding is regarded with a mixture of acceptance and contempt, as a worthy boy who did the basic engineering for the novel because he invented the clockwork plot, but tiresomely boisterous, “broad” to the point of being insensitive to fine shades, lacking in any temperament of the higher aspirations, and hampered by a style which keeps his prosy commonsense.
· Fielding and the theatre:
The stage taught Fielding how to break the monotony of flat, continuous narrative scenes do not ramble on and melt into each other. They snap past, sharply divided, wittily contrasted, cunningly balanced...only a theatre man’s expertness in the dramatic...could cover the packed intrigue of the narrative. The theatre taught Fielding economy. The fact that Fielding had worked in the theatre before becoming a novelist influenced his narrative technique, especially in the use of lively dialogue and the choice of characters. Tom and Sophia are round characters but Mr.Western and Mr.Allworthy have some characteristics borrowed from the stock characters of drama.
The influence of drama on Fielding’s novels was in formal structural elements. For example, he employs concrete “visual” symbols such as Sophia’s muff to anchor the reader and focus his attention in a way similar to the use of stage properties. The most obvious influence of drama on Tom Jones is in the intricacies of the plot, which are the typical confusion of comedy.
· Omniscient author:
The most original and memorable element of Tom Jones, however, is the narrative voice informing the action and discoursing on the philosophy of writing to the reader in the introductory chapters. Fielding controls the reader's response thorough the urbane, tolerant presence of the figure of the omniscient author, a polished and rational gentleman with a pronounced sense of the ridiculous who emerges as the true moral focus in the novel. While this technique sacrifices to a certain extent the sense of identification and verisimilitude provided by the first-person or epistolary forms used by Defoe and Richardson, the reading experience is enriched by the analysis of the all-knowing 'author.' On the other hand, the wry narrative voice accounts for various comic effects Fielding achieves in this remarkable novel; it is often the detached description which transforms a melodramatic situation into a comic one.
The humour is primarily a high comedy, as illustrated by hyperbole and double meaning. There is a good example of hyperbole in Tom Jones. Partridge’s fears as they are travelling to London are exaggerated to the point of being a vice. The exaggeration of normally acceptable qualities to vices should teach us not to take fear, the want of order and bragging about oneself to extremes.
· Hypocrisy in the religion:
Reverend Mr. Twackum is an obvious sadist who enjoys beating religion into young Tom. Twackum does his best to try to portray Tom in a bad light to Mr. Allworthy, eager to make him hate Tom. Fielding creates more inhospitable Christian characters. Mrs. Wilkins insists that it would not be “Christian” to protect the foundling that Mr. Allworthy finds on his bed, and tells him to leave him at the churchwarden’s door. From the point of view of Mrs. Wilkins this is infinitely more Christian than protecting the child of a “strumpet who lays her sins at men’s doors”. When Mr. Allworthy is dying, Mrs. Wilkins, Mr. Twackum and Mr. Square hypocritilly pretend like they care when they are angry at what is being left to them in Mr. Allworthy’s will. Fielding loves portraying Christianity as violent.