Merits and Demerits of Fielding as a Novelist— Salient Features of Fielding’s Art as a Novelist


It was Sir Walter Scott who called Fielding ‘the Father of the English novel’, and he certainly deserves the title.

His characterization Successful characterization is the very backbone of the art of a novelist, and in this respect Henry Fielding is second to none. Fielding’s skill in characterization has received eloquent praises from critics. The reality, the vividness, the vitality, and the variety of his characters have been linked with those of Shakespeare himself, Thus Raleigh admires his vivifying power which brings to life the various walking gentleman and stage-mutes, and further that, “In his two later novels Fielding completed that gallery of portraits which transcends for reality and variety the work of all former English narrations save, perhaps, Chaucer’s alone.

Like Richardson, Fielding had a genius for sounding the emotions of the human heart, but his methods are different. Richardson ponders over human weakness with a wrinkled brow and with many sigh; Fielding looks, laughs, and passes on. He does not seek to analyze or over breadth, humanity and attraction, denied to Richardson.

Richardson might be the father of the novel of Sentiment, but Fielding is certainly the father of the novel of Character Says Harold Child, ‘(The novel of character must always go to Fielding as its great exampler.” He peopled the novel with a great crowd of lively and interesting characters and endowed them with life and vitality. Even his minor characters are singularly alive. As Hazlitt points out, “he has brought together a greater variety of characters from common life marked with more distinct peculiarities, and without an atom of caricature, than any other novel-writer whatsoever,” In this respect, Fielding has been equaled by few and surpassed by none. The canvas of Tom Jones alone contains forty figures.

His PlotsUndoubtedly, Fielding is the true father of the English novel. His works exhibit all the essential features of a successful novel. He revolutionized the concept of plot-construction. It is in him that we get for the first time the concept of a closely knit organic plot. His skill in plot- architecture cannot be over praised. There is practically no superfluity in Tom Jones. The action moves rapidly and there is hardly any incident or character which does not contribute to the story. As Walter Allen points out, “No plot has ever been carried with more consummate skill and the skill can be truly appreciated only after the book has been closed.” Raleigh has this conduct of a complicated plot in mind when he says, “there could be no better school for novelist than is afforded by the study of Fielding’s plots.” In this respect, all future English novelists down to Thackeray have been indebted to him.

Comprehensive Picture of Contemporary LifeFielding may also be called with equal truth the founder of the Novel of Manners. The picture which he presents of contemporary life society, dress, habits, and manners, is epical in its range, sweep and variety. Every aspect of contemporary life has been presented, with rare force and realism, and this makes his four novels, more specially. Tom Jones, important social documents. Fielding’s acquaintance with life is fully as wide as Defoe’s while his insight is keener and deeper. It was this catholicity which Richardson censured when he said, “his brawls, his jars, his goals, his sponging houses, are all drawn from what he has seen and known.” As Richard Church puts it, “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 this new, rapidly maturing literary form, “As Raleigh points out, common life is the material of his stories but it is, “handled with the freedom and imagination of the great artist.”

His RealismFielding’s realism marks a significant advance in the history of the English novel. He went to “the doomsday book of Nature” for his subjects, and reproduced it faithfully and accurately without any heightening or concealment. This has exposed him to the charge of being immoral and low, but as Saintsbury points out, “all these charges have been brought against nature too.” The learned critic further adds, “To embellish, and correct, and heighten, and to extra decorate nature was not Fielding’s way, but to follow, and to interpret, and to take up her own processes, with results uncommonly like her own.”

Fielding’s realism is also seen in the fact that he invariably gives a local habitation and a name to his scenes. He was the first English novelist to localize his scenes. Lionel Stevenson righty points out, “The geographical locations are always precise. The towns and inns along Tom‘s route from Glastonbury to London the streets and taverns of the metropolis; while Fielding does not indulge in much description of landscape for its own sake, he always makes the setting recognizable. “To quote Cross, ‘he tentatively indicated the place that nature might occupy in the novel of the future.”

His HumourFielding was the first to infuse the novel with the refreshing and preserving element of humour. Fielding’s humour is spontaneous, all,-pervasive, kindly, genial and tolerant. It has immense variety. He rises to pure comedy in such characters as Adams and Partridge, and to comedy lower and more farcical in characters, like Mrs. Slipslop and Square Western, There is ample humour of situation too, in his novels. Agitation, vanity and pedantry-causes of hypocrisy and vice—are the objects of his satire; though even his satire is always mild and gentle. “He sends his satire laughing into the world.” Irony is the great weapon he uses to expose hypocrisy and vanity. It is no exaggeration to claim that Fielding is one of the greatest ironists in European literature.

Established in the Tradition of the Omniscient NarratorFielding relieved the novel from the tyranny and constraint of the latter method of narration. All devices to account for the subject matter, such as bundles of letter, or moth-eaten documents, discovered by chance, are brushed aside as cheap and silly. Cross rightly remarks that, “Fielding throws off the mask of anonymity, steps out boldly, and takes us to accept his omniscience and omnipresence.” Fielding becomes his own story-teller and thus initiates a practice which has been universally followed, with little exception, ever since.

ConclusionIn short, he gave to the novel a larger, wider, higher, and deeper range. There is enormous range of suggestion in Fielding. Innumerable doors stand open in his ample room, and lead from it to other chambers and corridors of the endless palace of novel-romance.


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