The Conformity of Tom Jones with Fielding’s Theory of the Novel


Fielding was essaying in the art of the novel when the genre was yet in its incipient stage and Fielding can therefore be called a pioneer. More than anybody else Fielding himself was aware of his role in the evolution of his genre and although he disclaims the title of a pure divine tyrant, he asserts his independence about being ‘founder’:
As I am in reality, the founder of a new province of writing,   So I am at liberty to make what laws I please there in.  And there laws, my readers, whom I consider my subject, Are bound to believe in and obey………[Book II Tom Jones]
It is in the preface to Joseph Andrews that Fielding points out the true nature of his creation ‘a comic epic in prose. He distinguishes it from many other genres including history, serious romance, and comedy, burlesque and heroic romances. It is different from history in that it does not imitate the ‘painful and voluminous historian’ as also in that it often admits of ‘chasms’ in the history. It is distinct from the serious romance in that the comic and the fable and action world ‘light and ridiculous’ instead of serious and dignified. Further, the characters in such a comic epic would be of ‘inferior rank and consequently of inferior manners’. In its sentiments and distinction, too, 'it preserves the ludicrous instead of the sublime’. The comic again differs from comedy just as the serious epic differs from the tragedy, that is, in its range and scope. Its action is more extended and comprehensive and contains a larger variety of characters. But although such a genre is a ‘comic’ from of the elevated epic, this does not imply a burlesque and the unnatural. While the ‘comic’ is strictly confined to the ‘just imitation of nature’, this also constitutes its difference from the heroic romance? While proceeds beyond the ‘realm of probability’ it is significant that all of Fielding’s novels like the ‘domestic’ novella Amelia – Joseph Andrews, Jonathan Wild and Tom Jones are comic epics.
The first quality of the epic is the vastness of space and the range of action that covers. Tom Jones covers almost every – type of landscape and social atmosphere possible in England. The first six books cover the rural area of Somersetshire and are exclusively concerned with rural and sometimes even rustic attitudes, temperaments and actions. The Allworthy group and the Western family can be termed gentlemen and aristocrats and naturally their actions do not normally believe their status. On the other hand, the book also presents characters like ‘Block George and Molly Seagrim’. Black George is a mere gamekeeper, but what stands out is his sheer treachery in robbing Tom of  his only research 500 Lb. and his doing this in spite of Tom’s having taken the blame for one of George’s earlier follies and thus saving him from being sacked. Molly his daughter is no better and her sexual promiscuity seducing Tom and then of Tom’s teachers, is done with felicitous ease and with no compunctions whatever. Then there are the school master Partridge and his Shrewish wife, a couple, who quarrel constantly. The range of characters is thus of epic proportions, the terming multitude embracing the high and the low, the urban and the rustic, the lord and the vassal, the comic and the grave and the mean and the elevated. It includes the credulous All worthy, the hypocritical Bridget, the ultra-orthodox, Thwackum, the unorthodox philosopher Square, the abusive squire Western, the gracefully obedient Sophia, the part and the loquacious maid Honour, the easy going Parson, the manly and world wise aunt Mrs. D Western, the plain girl Jenny, the lascivious complex lady Bellaston, the susceptible Lord Fellamor, the perpetually enraged Fitzpatrick, the vulgar Ensign Northerton, the cynic man of the Hill and soon. Like an epic Tom Jones Portrays every specious of humanity.



But what gives Tom Jones, the status of a comic epic in spite of such epic qualities is its plot, the action. While an epic consists of action which is grave and various in Tom Jones, the episodes and the nature of the action are inevitably light and ludicrous. The hero, Tom Jones has neither the prowess nor the virtue of an epical hero. The singleness of extent and the prodigious perseverance of Achilles, a hector or a Ulysses are singularly lacking in him. He love Sophia, a virtuous and beautiful maid but is easily diverted by the gate keepers daughter Molly, a woman who is adapt at seducing man belonging to the lowest stratum of society. Even when Tom regains his ardor for Sophia, he is misled into consummation with another woman with easy virtue, Mrs. Waters. Each of Tom actions smacks of harlequinades and even his losses evoke smiles rather than sympathy. In a why Tom Jones is another Don Quixote undergoing diverse picaresque adventures. The manner of the discovery of Tom as a foundling, the accompanying comments the attack of Partridge by his wife with his ‘tongue, teeth and hands’, the comic vanity of Blifil, the occasionally magniloquent verbosity of Tom of Blifil for Sophia etc are all the stappled of comedy rather than epic.
Fielding himself was of the opinion that burlesque could be admitted in the diction of the comic epic in prose, and this use of the mock – heroic, perhaps more than anything else turns Tom Jones into comic epic. The mock heroic epic which involves the use of the elaborate manners and ceremonious style of the epic is a means through which the prevailing occupation of human beings can be effectively ridiculed. The discrepancy between the elevated language and the actual smallness of the things describe which is the result of the deliberately inflated style gives rise to comic humours. Fielding uses diverse mock – heroic relevance like epic invocation like heroic battles and epic – similes. In the case of the description of Mrs. Waters’ seduction of Tom, Fielding begins with an apt invocation:                 Say then ye graces!..........for you are truly divine and well know all the arts of charming.Similarly, the battle in the churchyard between Molly and her jealous neighbours is a signal example of the mock epic battle the parody of the epic style is sustained throughout the passage and the passage is significantly titled. ‘A battle sung by the Muse in the Homerian style and which none but the classical reader can taste’. After the typical epic invocation, Fielding recounts the victims of Molly’s thigh – bone as she displays her epic prowess:   Recount O Muse, the names of those who felon this fatal day………..
Another aspect of the mock – heroic style is the incorporation of the extended similes of the epic tradition. Mrs. Partridge is compared to a cat and Partridge himself to a mouse; as fair Gray Malkin , who , though the youngest of the Feline family, degenerates not in ferocity from the elder branches of her house ……… when a little mouse whom it hath long tormented. The ‘bites’, ‘scratches’ and ‘growls’ are described at length and in epic proportions. Thus if Tom Jones is an ‘epic’ in the embrace of its range of action and the gamut of its characterization it is undeniably ‘comic’ in the quality of its action, the nature of its characters and the style of its narration.
Ref: 1.History of English Literature- Albert      
     2. The Twentieth Century English Literature- F. Kermode
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