Adapting to future needs.

Fielding’s education of readers in "Tom Jones," The second part

Claim to Narrative Authority

The historian (to use Fielding’s terminology) immediately begins his quest to build the reciprocity between the reader and himself in the first introductory chapter of Book I. He states that an author must regard himself as “someone who maintains an ordinary public “(Fielding 29). He extends this metaphor by claiming that he will borrow from the common public his habit of publishing a ‘fee schedule’ to avoid “offending his customers” (Fielding 30). The narrator will provide the reader with not only a “general fee schedule for [his] complete entertainment”, but will also provide “invoices particular to each dish that is going to be served” in the narrative.

The narrative style described here is one in which the historian is subservient to the reader. While this leads one to look kindly on the historian, the sentiment does not last long. Maurice Johnson states:

Although a novel’s preface may itself be fiction, it is usually intended to let the author speak for himself, in preparation for drawing the reader out of the “real” world and into the make-believe world of his fiction. (Johnson 83)

It must be concluded that the historian is ‘faking it’ in his characterization of himself as a guardian of an ordinary public, after being confronted with the introduction to Book II. Now the previous social scale is reversed: the historian is “the founder of a new province of writing” in which he can “do what the laws [he] please[s] in him” (Fielding 68). We, the former patrons of the ordinary public, are now his “subjects” and are “forced to believe in [his laws] and obey” (Fielding 68). But if we “obey promptly and cheerfully,” the historian assures us that he will have only our best interests at heart (Fielding 69).

John Richetti asserts that this narrative authority “is buttressed, like the Hanoverian monarchy, by the narrative equivalent of the distribution of favors or patronage in return for recognition of a sovereign” (Richetti 189). If we acknowledge the full authority of the historian, we will be rewarded with the means the historian can give us: Words. He will use his ability to surprise and delight us, perhaps shock and deceive us. He will sprinkle his narrative with “various similes, descriptions, and other poetic embellishments” (Fielding 131). The:

be based on an associated theory of ‘genres’ for set tones appropriate to various moods and modes: poetic elevation (pastoral and epic), moral elevation (sermon and essay), the ironic and satirical (various forms of satire)… [will] parody or burlesque prevailing genres or styles of earlier literary works. (Miller 268)

These ‘rewards’ are exhibited in the sublime description of Sophia, the ‘domestic government’ being run ‘against Aristotle’s rules’ (Fielding 71), the anecdote of King Pyrrhus (Fielding 132), the invocations to the muse by the historian Mnesis, the Squire Western’s “whimsical adventure” (Fielding 734), Molly’s epic graveyard battle, the historian’s “slightly altered” quotes, all the plot twists and turns, mistaken identities and coincidences extraordinary, just to name a few. While Fielding refers to these “adornments” as merely “ornamental parts of [his] work”, he includes them to “refresh the mind” whenever boredom and/or sleep can take over the reader (Fielding 131).

Eric Rothstein describes Fielding (the narrator) as “a man always in control, limited only by voluntary restraints, needing no one’s approval” (Rothstein 100). I agree that the narrator is in complete control of his narration, and that he is subject to no restrictions other than those he imposes on himself, but I don’t see how Rothstein can claim that Fielding doesn’t need anyone’s approval. . If this were true, why would he have so many conversations with his readers? Fielding, of course, is very cleverly using his rhetoric to manipulate his readers, but he is trying to persuade us to agree with him, without dictating to us what we should think and believe. In that sense, he does need to win the approval of his readers.

After claiming his authority as a historian, the narrator expands on his writing style by illustrating the reasons for his preliminary chapters. Stating that these trials are “essentially necessary to [his] type of writing” (Fielding 181), the narrator cites “the contrast, which runs through all the works of creation” as the main function of his introductory chapters (Fielding 183). Fielding uses the terms ‘the serious and the comic’ to describe show the difference between his prefaces and the narrative proper (Fielding 183), but as his prefaces are not always serious, a different terminology would be more applicable.

Thomas Lockwood applies the terms “matter and reflection” to the prefaces and the narrative. He distinguishes the subject matter of a chapter as having “a definite psychological value” (Lockwood 227). The reflection is, of course, the narrator’s comments on the matter. So matter and reflection work together to point us in the direction the narrator wants us to take. Another set of terms that has been discussed is ‘position and perspective’.

In his article, James Vopat states that “the function of art is to define position and perspective, to provide the means to constrain nature so that it makes sense” (Vopat 146). As a result, life “becomes more meaningful because it is manageable” (Vopat 146). This quality of “limiting nature” to make life more “manageable” can be discerned in the character of Tom Jones. Throughout most of the novel, Tom is driven by natural instinct. He is possessed with “wildness”, “savagery”, and “lack of caution” (Fielding 122). Tom’s savagery contrasts with Sophia, who is “perfectly well-bred” (Fielding 136). Taking Sophia as a model, Tom learns to ‘limit’ his animal spirits and thus gains control of his life. Sophia and Tom illustrate Fielding’s “belief in the existence of Order in the grand scheme of the universe and in the necessity of Order in the private soul” (Battestin 290). In the same way, Fielding presents us with many other contrasts to subtly manipulate us into adopting his view of proper conduct.


Battestin, Martin C.tom jones: The Design Argument”. The Middle Augustus. Eds. Henry Knight Miller, Eric Rothstein, and GS Rousseau. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. 289-319.

Fielding, Henry. Thomas Jones. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Johnson, Mauricio. Fielding’s art of fiction. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961

Lockwood, Thomas. “Matter and Reflection in tom jones.” THE H 45.2 (1978): 226-35.

Miller, Henry Knight. “The Voices of Henry Fielding: Style in tom jones.” Eds. Henry Knight Miller, Eric Rothstein, and GS Rousseau. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. 262-288.

Richetti, Juan. “The Old Order and the New Mid-Eighteenth-Century Novel: Narrative Authority on Fielding and Smollett.” 18th century fiction 2.3 (1990): 183-96.

Rothstein, Eric. “Virtues of authority in tom jones.” The 18th century: theory and interpretation 28.2 (1987): 99-126.

Vopat, James B. “Narrative Technique in tom jones: The balance of art and nature”. Journal of Narrative Technique 4 (1974): 144-54.

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