Tom Jones Essays

Character is, then, theorized in the novel not as a process of formation but instead as a kind of social prestidigitation: an act of construction that activates an inherent formal truth while functioning independently of individual experience.

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After the ironic captatio benevolentiae Fielding then resorts to hysteron proteron, expressing his conviction that the conjectures about the characters and their actions will exercise "some of the most excellent Faculties of the Mind." It would be much more "useful," indeed, to foretell "the Actions of Men in any Circumstance from their Characters" rather than to take the trouble to judge them by their actions.

In the light of this ironic inversion of cause and effect it is not surprising that Fielding emphasizes the great difficulty of exercising this talent, assisted though it be by "Penetration" and "Sagacity," of course.

Perhaps the crowning absurdity in this passage is the offer of a twelve years' gap to be filled by volunteers.

What they are offered is literally a stretch of twelve years in which to have their say.

As nothing of importance has happened in the history of Tom Jones, so he tells the reader, he intends to pass over a long stretch of time.

The reader, therefore, has a chance of intelligent participation, The vacant spaces in the text, here as in Joseph Andrews, are offered to the reader as pauses in which to reflect.As we are sensible that much the greatest Part of our Readers are very eminently possessed of this Quality, we have left them a Space of twelve Years to exert it in; and shall now bring forth our Heroe, at about fourteen Years of Age, not questioning that many have been long impatient to be introduced to his Acquaintance.(118) Now we know what to make of the reader's attributed "Sagacity," warned by the assertion that most of the readers are "very eminently [→page 140] possessed" of it.In other words, the author provides the reader with guidelines, "prestructured by the written text." These guidelines are mainly found in the initial essays to the 18 books of Fielding's Tom Jones and the prefaces to his novels.Iser interprets Fielding's theoretical essays and statements in an intellectual and epistemological sense.Of course, the reader is at liberty to conjecture whatever he likes, but Fielding would hardly regard this type of literary activity as very much worthwhile.The reader should not talk of what the author is silent about.He does not provide any spaces at all for readers to exercise their conjectural abilities but, on the contrary, he caricatures an altogether unwanted reader-participation.. (116) The "captatio benevolentiae" is followed, first, by an example showing what might happen if the wonderfully sagacious reader really availed himself of the offer to fill in the "the vacant Spaces." He would produce the typical clichés of the dilletante. Of course, everybody will identify with the "graduates," but it is just the epithet "upper" which should warn the discerning reader.Fielding recounts purely conventional reactions and his irony--". The events or episodes which these readers are supposed to be imagining, the author assures us, are "of equal Importance with those reported by the daily and weekly Historians of the age," yet all these things are obviously not "worthy of a Place" in his history and therefore negligible.According to Iser the reader of Tom Jones or Joseph Andrews is encouraged by the author-narrator to help constitute the meaning of the novel.He sees Fielding's offer of co-operation at certain places in the novels which he calls "blanks" or "gaps." The reader is meant to fill the "Blanks" (Tom Jones II.i.76), Iser's main contention is that the novel does not explicitly state its meaning, but that it is the reader who constructs its meaning on the basis of these signs.


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