Tom Jones Essays

The ambiguity of the verb "possessed" is a special case of irony which allows Fielding to say and not say what he means.

The very readers who are stupid enough to swallow his bait, "Sagacity," and believe (like the ass in the fable) to know better than the real craftsman, are the ones to whom the satirical epithet "possessed" applies.

By choosing to marry Tom, Sophia rejects the experiential model of prudence, which would encourage her to act in accordance with her knowledge of his past actions and her own experience of heartbreak.

Concurrently, Tom's society (in recognizing him as Allworthy's heir) erases his youthful, transgressive experiences, seeing the actions of gentlemen as purgative and temporary.

, which Fielding had previously and famously derided.

Then, responding to the long critical history surrounding the representation of experience in the novel, I argue that experience, for Fielding, is not constitutive of but superfluous to character identity.

What they are offered is literally a stretch of twelve years in which to have their say.This is clearly indicated by the hyperbolic compliments concerning the reader's sagacity. Allworthy felt at first for the Loss of his Friend, those Emotions of Grief, which on such Occasions enter into all Men whose Hearts are not composed of Flint, or their Heads of as solid Materials? This scepticism on Fielding's part is corroborated by some other comments on his readers.Secondly, what Fielding calls "vacant Spaces" is hardly identical with spaces for a congenial interpretation leading up to "constructing" the text. Again, what Reader doth not know that Philosophy and Religion, in time, moderated, and at last extinguished this Grief? He distinguishes two types of readers, those of "the lowest Class" and "the upper Graduates in Criticism" (117).The reader is confronted with schematised views and gaps between them, but they belong to schemes of textual presentation which aim at a particular reader-involvement.In Iser's description of the reading process the terms "gap," "vacant spaces," and "missing links" are not ironical as they are in Fielding's (or in Sterne's) dialogue with the reader and their literal meaning is taken to be stronger than their function as metaphors. The reader is supposed to fill in what the author left out--on purpose and by necessity (the text cannot spell out its own meaning).They give him the chance to enter into the proceedings in such a way that he can construct their meaning. His approval of Bridget Allworthy's strict [→page 139] observation of mourning as far as her garments are concerned points in the same direction.First of all, Iser does not meet the tone of the passage, but falls, to put it bluntly, into the trap of Fielding's irony. We should not, therefore, put too much trust in the reader's "Sagacity" nor in his ability to contribute intelligent conjectures or to participate in the construction of meaning.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.Lothar Černý’s article offers a critique of Wolfgang Iser, who developing his theory of reader participation and reader response, chose Fielding’s Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews as his starting point.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.

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  1. We must read as far as the white whale draws us, beyond the tight, calendar hamlets and harbors of New England and its chapels with their harpoon spires, to a wider and more terrifying space, the elemental ocean, beyond provinciality, history, race, beyond America, beyond the sick anti-Semitic provincialities of Pound or the patriotic regionalism of Frost to a realm that only genius can depict.