Narrative style in Tom Jones by Henry Fielding


It is much easier to make good men wise than to make bad men good.




In the novel Tom Jones, there are two voices that render opinions of the author – an omnipresent narrator and occasionally, Mr Squire Allworthy. It is, however, the all-knowing, omnipresent narrator that we are more concerned with while dealing with narrative techniques.


The excellence of Henry Fielding’s novels lies in an unconventional narrative style. Fielding was closely associated with theatre. Great narrative scenes in his literary masterpiece Tom Jones perfectly depict Fielding’s directional expertise. Tom Jones is based upon realism, but the characters in the novel are more theatrical. Certain elements in the novel are symbolic of properties used during a stage performance. For example, the muff used by Sophia represents the use of certain stage properties to help grab the reader's attention


Satire and Irony

The narrator is an extremely witty, intelligent, interesting and educated citizen of the society. He constantly amuses and allures the audience. The narrator shows a conscious, father-like attitude towards the characters, readers and even society. Also, the narrator, at certain stances, becomes a teacher, a philosopher, a guide and even a pal. Enlightening the audience is an important aspect of narration. For this, the narration makes use of satire and irony. Moreover, immediately, one can sense that the narrator’s voice is masculine.


Partisanship

Fielding’s narration enjoys ashamed freedom and subjectivity, which helps him, set a rapport with his audience. His narration style can be referred to as Partisanship as the narrator butts in just anywhere to tell what is right and what is wrong. He neglects the possibility of difference in opinion and views of others for a particular situation. In this way, the narration also helps bring some comic elements in the novel also.


Mixed views on Libertinism

It is worth mentioning here that despite a wide appreciation and success of the novel’s literary devices, the libertinism applied to the narrative techniques of Tom Jones by Fielding got mixed reviews. The novel’s unconventionality faced severe criticism and disapproval from Samuel Johnson.


Picaresque

The basic style of Tom Jones is referred to by literary critics as `picaresque'. This genre originated in early modern Spain and is distinguished by the character of the protagonist, a likeable rogue or scamp, known in Spanish as a 'picaro'. The story simply follows the adventures of the protagonist in an episodic fashion – one adventure after another. A distinguishing feature of the style is the way the narration is handled, with an intrusive narrator who frequently makes self-reflexive comments on the progress of the story and the characters therein.


Prosaic-comic-epic

The narrator in Tom Jones describes the novel as "prosaic-comic-epic". This definition characterizes the novel as a comic epic written in prose. Tom Jones shares with the epic style the (anti-)heroic nature of its hero and the great scope of his actions as far as time and places are concerned. At the same time, it has a less unified plot than an epic, a characteristic that brings it closer to the Spanish genre of the picaresque novel, as does the statue of the protagonist as an orphan. In addition, Fielding's digressions with their hyperbolic and ironic nature are often interpreted as parodies of the heroic style of epic poems.


Allegorical 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 as a “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.


Touchstones

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 Latin, sometimes literally and sometimes by quoting another author who says the same general concept but uses 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.


Heteroglossia

Finally, Fielding fills the novel with heteroglossia. He uses different types of texts, including 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 in to 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.


Omniscient author

However, the most original and memorable element of Tom Jones 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 through 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.

Humour

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 hypocritically 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.


 

Fielding controls the readers' response through 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 that transforms a melodramatic situation into a comic one.

Fielding‟s prose has a more relaxed version of this feature, supplemented by Fielding‟s habitual display of narrative management. Tom Jones offer a witty parade of the narrator‟s right to proceed in any way he pleases, his manipulation of the events and his commentaries about them, his discursive „introductory‟ chapters, and his frequent conversations with the reader. A proceeding which way the author pleases is a directly opposite claim to that in which a narrator‟s self -expression purported to be guided by his pen rather than the other way round.

201 views1 comment