Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: Literary Imagination , Perfection of Plot and Artistic Form

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones sketches the evolution of novel writing till the close of the eighteenth century that the reader may be reminded of those authors whose influence is still felt and of whom it belongs to the humane life to know. In the more detailed studies we find the story extensively popular, with a lot of literary imagination and artistic form. It marks a progressive change. In estimating Tom Jones’s place and function, a close examination of the work must have to be done.

 It was during the first half of the eighteenth century that the first real novel took form. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) was a series of letters that described the love-affair of a waiting-maid. Henry Fielding followed in 1749 with Tom Jones, a novel that set the pace for the modern plot. This was one of three that Coleridge selected from all literature for perfection of plot.

Before we start entering into Fielding’s world, again a must to understand about him is his approach--- is that of a perfect artist: the poet, the story-teller – and he is a master storyteller. Whenever somebody has experienced life, his experience has flowered into a philosophy. Thus his story is a device, a great device; it is not just an ordinary story but a new beckon of experience. The purpose of it is not to entertain us, the purpose of it is to say something which there is no other way to say. Life cannot be put into a theory – it is so vast, it is so infinite. It can only be measured by few experiences and definitely Tom Jones shares those experiences.

Coming to the story we find Tom Jones (1749)  stars Tom Jones, who is raised by the tolerant Squire Allworthy though he is believed to be the illegitimate son of a runaway servant. Jones has astounding fortune attracting the opposite sex, and though his heart is devoted to Sophie Western, he enjoys the company of many other women as well. When a jealous rival invents a bad story about the young man, Western sends him off to London, England, where he meets the woman who may be his mother and engages in erotic eating with her.

In Tom Jones, we have all the virtues of his previous novels “with the addition of greater symmetry of plot, clearer and steadier vision into human life and human frailty, and a broader and more thickly peopled stage”. Moreover, although the hero travels from place to place and meets with a variety of adventures, relates each character, each thread to plot, to the main theme, although he does not follow the more formal dramatic structure of Richardson. The new element in Tom Jones is Fielding’s architectonic quality. No plot has ever been carried through with more consummate skill, and the skill can be truly appreciated only after the book has closed. In reading, one is delighted with swiftness of the narration, the economy, the nimble and inexhaustible invention.

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