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Choisya
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Gentility

[ Edited ]
rdm68 wrote:
I think a lot of people today are drawn to the gentility of Austen’s world (at least as portrayed in the movies and TV series based on her works) and think of it as expressing the quintessence of “Englishness”, but it’s actually a relatively recent development in the evolution of the English character - at least as reflected in literature.

Yes, this is so. Perhaps people are seeking escape from the rather nasty aspects of today's culture? Although, of course, Austen (1775-1817) only portrayed the nicer, upper-middle-class side of society. The lives of the poor and oppressed in her day were not at all 'genteel'. Fielding (1707-1754) has some very satirical things to say about gentility like: 'Now it happens that this higher order of mortals is not to be seen, like all the rest of the human species, for nothing, in the streets, shops, and coffee-houses: nor are they shown, like the upper rank of animals, for so much a-piece. In short, this is a sight to which no persons are admitted without one or other of these qualifications, viz., either birth or fortune, or, what is equivalent to both, the honourable profession of a gamester.....I will venture to say the highest life is much the dullest, and affords very little humour or entertainment. The various callings in lower spheres produce the great variety of humorous characters; whereas here, except among the few who are engaged in the pursuit of ambition, and the fewer still who have a relish for pleasure, all is vanity and servile imitation. Dressing and cards, eating and drinking, bowing and courtesying, make up the business of their lives.'

When Dickens (1812-1879) was writing about the lives of the non-genteel in Hard Times, Nicholas Nickleby etc. he was portraying English society as it was leading up to his own adulthood which was, in fact, only 20 years after Austen wrote Pride & Prejudice. It was the period of 1770 - 1840 which interested him most as a writer and a reformer. Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was also portraying the seamier side of life in the English provinces at the same time.

BTW I came across this video of a Dickens 'Theme Park' which has just opened over here and which shows some of the horrors of London life then:-

http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=63949&videoChannel=3




rdm68 wrote:


Choisya wrote:
Peter can probably throw more light on this but I think what Hazlitt meant was that Moliere wasn't as 'refined' as other French authors of his day and used more of the earthiness of English 17th century writing, like that of Fielding. Hazlitt was rather contemptuous of the refined writers who followed Fielding and this too, to touch on the subject again, was one of Lawrence's complaints about writing after the 17th century. If you look at English Literature from Chaucer to Fielding you will find a certain frankness, which some now call vulgarity, but which was in fact part of the common speech and expression of the times. This frankness disappeared during the Regency period and 'refinement' of language, the 'comedy of manners' and excessive politeness entered literature and life. It was the literary equivalent of covering up the legs of pianos:smileysurprised:. The very mannered novels of Jane Austen are a good example of this latter style. At least I think this is what Hazlitt was getting at:smileyhappy:. I look forward to Peter's comments.

(Hazlitt very much admired Hogarth and the 'Grand Style' of painting and this was also followed by the more refined and restrained styles of Reynolds and Gainsborough. I think it was Hazlitt who said of Hogarth that 'all of human life is there' and that only Shakespeare equalled him.)




I wonder what he meant by that (that Moliere is "almost an English author"). Trying to define the differences between English and French anything is always slippery, but Moliere seems so quintessentially French... Any idea what Hazlitt had in mind?







That’s a very good point. I’ve often wondered about the rather strange divide in English literature. The novels of the 19th century, from Jane Austen onward, reflect a sort of teacup-and-saucer “refinement” that certainly has its charms – the charms of Victorian culture – but strongly contrasts with the heartier, earthier Englishness reflected in the works of Fielding, Defoe, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and probably tracing back to the literature of the Anglo-Saxons. I think a lot of people today are drawn to the gentility of Austen’s world (at least as portrayed in the movies and TV series based on her works) and think of it as expressing the quintessence of “Englishness”, but it’s actually a relatively recent development in the evolution of the English character - at least as reflected in literature.



Message Edited by Choisya on 08-23-2007 07:11 PM
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Hazlitt on Fielding & Moliere



rdm68 wrote:
I’ve often wondered about the rather strange divide in English literature. The novels of the 19th century, from Jane Austen onward, reflect a sort of teacup-and-saucer “refinement” that certainly has its charms – the charms of Victorian culture – but strongly contrasts with the heartier, earthier Englishness reflected in the works of Fielding, Defoe, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and probably tracing back to the literature of the Anglo-Saxons. I think a lot of people today are drawn to the gentility of Austen’s world (at least as portrayed in the movies and TV series based on her works) and think of it as expressing the quintessence of “Englishness”, but it’s actually a relatively recent development in the evolution of the English character - at least as reflected in literature.


I'm glad that authors are able to show a certain degree of progress in human development. Isn't it good that authors don't still have to document the child labor abuses and imprisonment for debt of Dickens's day?
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Scott's Comment on Preliminary Chapters

Sir Walter Scott, in his 'Lives of the English Novelists', states: "Fielding considered his works an experiment in British literature; and therefore, he chose to prefix a preliminary Chapter to each Book, explanatory of his own views, and of the rules attached to this mode of composition. rather interrupt the course of the story, and the flow of the interest at the first perusal, but are found, on a second or third, the most entertaining chapters of the whole work".

Do others find Fielding's narrative voice and explanatory views intrusive or entertaining? I vote for entertaining.
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: Chapter One

Chapter 1 of Book III leads me to believe that Fielding is turning his ironical eye on the reader himself. Here is one example:

"... we give him (the reader), at all such seasons, an opportunity of employing that wonderful sagacity, of which he is master, by filling up these vacant spaces of time with his own conjectures..."

Isn't the reader who is at once sagacious (using good judgment) yet uses conjecture (to infer from inconclusive evidence, guesswork) a contradiction. Good judgment is not rendered by conjecture, so it appears to me Fielding has little faith in the good judgment of his general readership and is not really inviting him to use conjecture.

And then there is this quote:

Now, in the conjectures here proposed, some of the most excellent faculties of the mind may be employed to much advantage, since it is a more useful capacity to be able to foretell the actions of men, in any circumstances, from their characters, than to judge of their characters from their actions. The former, I own, requires the greater penetration; but may be accomplished by true sagacity with no less certainty than the latter.

Help me unravel that quote if you can, please, but from what I can make of it seems to me that "greater penetration" which foretells the actions of men from their characters is pure sarcasm on Fielding's part, yet to judge character by actions alone can be faulty as well. In subsequent chapters young Tom, when stealing the duck, is judged by this action to have a bad character, but evidence only the reader is given shows he is protecting the gamekeeper, and hence, his character is not truly bad. Even Mr. Allworthy senses the boy has honor, although he retains some doubts. Yet it is clear that many "foretell" his actions because of his birth. If it wasn't for his foundling status and illegitimacy, the boy's "vices" would have been chalked up as high spirits.

Perhaps, Fielding is saying we should withhold all judgments, period.
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Scott's Comment on Preliminary Chapters



CallMeLeo wrote:
Do others find Fielding's narrative voice and explanatory views intrusive or entertaining? I vote for entertaining.

Definitely entertaining I'm greatly enjoying him. It's like sitting down in front of the fireplace on a cold winter's night while your grandfather tells you a long story, interspersing nuggets of wisdom along the way.
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: Chapter One



CallMeLeo wrote:
Chapter 1 of Book III leads me to believe that Fielding is turning his ironical eye on the reader himself. Here is one example:

"... we give him (the reader), at all such seasons, an opportunity of employing that wonderful sagacity, of which he is master, by filling up these vacant spaces of time with his own conjectures..."

Isn't the reader who is at once sagacious (using good judgment) yet uses conjecture (to infer from inconclusive evidence, guesswork) a contradiction. Good judgment is not rendered by conjecture, so it appears to me Fielding has little faith in the good judgment of his general readership and is not really inviting him to use conjecture.

And then there is this quote:

Now, in the conjectures here proposed, some of the most excellent faculties of the mind may be employed to much advantage, since it is a more useful capacity to be able to foretell the actions of men, in any circumstances, from their characters, than to judge of their characters from their actions. The former, I own, requires the greater penetration; but may be accomplished by true sagacity with no less certainty than the latter.

Help me unravel that quote if you can, please, but from what I can make of it seems to me that "greater penetration" which foretells the actions of men from their characters is pure sarcasm on Fielding's part, yet to judge character by actions alone can be faulty as well. In subsequent chapters young Tom, when stealing the duck, is judged by this action to have a bad character, but evidence only the reader is given shows he is protecting the gamekeeper, and hence, his character is not truly bad. Even Mr. Allworthy senses the boy has honor, although he retains some doubts. Yet it is clear that many "foretell" his actions because of his birth. If it wasn't for his foundling status and illegitimacy, the boy's "vices" would have been chalked up as high spirits.

Perhaps, Fielding is saying we should withhold all judgments, period.




In skipping over a 12-year period during which, he says, “nothing happened worthy of being recorded” in his book, I think Fielding is being ironic not only toward the reader but also toward himself. In Chapter 1 of Book III he presents an elaborate and facetious self-justification for skipping over those years. Lest his readers think that he is merely lazy (i.e., only consults his “own dignity and ease”), Fielding maintains that he is really doing it for the benefit of his readers: first, to save them from wasting time and, more importantly, to give them the opportunity to exercise their imaginations. It’s a little like Tom Sawyer granting his friends the privilege of painting the picket fence for him. But I think Fielding assumes that his readers are in on his little joke.

I don’t see sagacity and conjecture as a contradiction. Although his tongue is in his cheek throughout the Chapter, Fielding does plainly invite the sagacious reader to imagine what happened to Tom during those twelve years – although one doubts that he really expects anyone to spend much time doing so.

In the passage beginning “Now, in the conjectures here proposed”, it seems to me that he is simply saying that to be able to predict a person’s future actions on the basis of one’s knowledge of their personality is more useful than merely being able to form an opinion of their personality based on their past actions. In other words, if you really understand a person’s character, you can predict their actions. It requires insight (“penetration”) and “true sagacity”, but Fielding expresses a mock-confidence that his readers, possessing those talents, will be very capable of predicting/imagining/conjecturing what Tom did during the missing 12-year period.

I don’t find sarcasm in this Chapter so much as a genial smile and wink at the reader.
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Scott's Comment on Preliminary Chapters

I find him very entertaining and the BBC production which I recommended to Peter captures his narration in a lighthearted way too.




CallMeLeo wrote:
Sir Walter Scott, in his 'Lives of the English Novelists', states: "Fielding considered his works an experiment in British literature; and therefore, he chose to prefix a preliminary Chapter to each Book, explanatory of his own views, and of the rules attached to this mode of composition. rather interrupt the course of the story, and the flow of the interest at the first perusal, but are found, on a second or third, the most entertaining chapters of the whole work".

Do others find Fielding's narrative voice and explanatory views intrusive or entertaining? I vote for entertaining.


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Choisya
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: Chapter One

[ Edited ]
Great post Leo - thanks. I agree, Fielding is telling us to withold judgements until we know more and do we ever know 'the truth'?

His lack of trust in the reader might have been because his work encountered a lot of criticism, not least for his plays which supposedly occasioned the Theatrical Licensing Act. One of the funniest things he did when he was a Justice of the Peace, and in keeping with his satirical take on everything, was to issue a warrant for the arrest of Colley Cobbler, the Poet Laureate, for the 'murder of the English language'!



CallMeLeo wrote:
Chapter 1 of Book III leads me to believe that Fielding is turning his ironical eye on the reader himself. Here is one example:

"... we give him (the reader), at all such seasons, an opportunity of employing that wonderful sagacity, of which he is master, by filling up these vacant spaces of time with his own conjectures..."

Isn't the reader who is at once sagacious (using good judgment) yet uses conjecture (to infer from inconclusive evidence, guesswork) a contradiction. Good judgment is not rendered by conjecture, so it appears to me Fielding has little faith in the good judgment of his general readership and is not really inviting him to use conjecture.

And then there is this quote:

Now, in the conjectures here proposed, some of the most excellent faculties of the mind may be employed to much advantage, since it is a more useful capacity to be able to foretell the actions of men, in any circumstances, from their characters, than to judge of their characters from their actions. The former, I own, requires the greater penetration; but may be accomplished by true sagacity with no less certainty than the latter.

Help me unravel that quote if you can, please, but from what I can make of it seems to me that "greater penetration" which foretells the actions of men from their characters is pure sarcasm on Fielding's part, yet to judge character by actions alone can be faulty as well. In subsequent chapters young Tom, when stealing the duck, is judged by this action to have a bad character, but evidence only the reader is given shows he is protecting the gamekeeper, and hence, his character is not truly bad. Even Mr. Allworthy senses the boy has honor, although he retains some doubts. Yet it is clear that many "foretell" his actions because of his birth. If it wasn't for his foundling status and illegitimacy, the boy's "vices" would have been chalked up as high spirits.

Perhaps, Fielding is saying we should withhold all judgments, period.



Message Edited by Choisya on 08-26-2007 01:27 AM
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: Chapter One

[ Edited ]
Thanks rdm - great insights. I like the Tom Sawyer analogy.

There are a great many genial smiles and winks in this novel:smileyhappy:. I wonder if we agree with Fielding that if you really understand a person’s character, you can predict their actions? It seems to me that some people are always very unpredictable and constantly surprise us.



rdm68 wrote:
In skipping over a 12-year period during which, he says, “nothing happened worthy of being recorded” in his book, I think Fielding is being ironic not only toward the reader but also toward himself. In Chapter 1 of Book III he presents an elaborate and facetious self-justification for skipping over those years. Lest his readers think that he is merely lazy (i.e., only consults his “own dignity and ease”), Fielding maintains that he is really doing it for the benefit of his readers: first, to save them from wasting time and, more importantly, to give them the opportunity to exercise their imaginations. It’s a little like Tom Sawyer granting his friends the privilege of painting the picket fence for him. But I think Fielding assumes that his readers are in on his little joke.

I don’t see sagacity and conjecture as a contradiction. Although his tongue is in his cheek throughout the Chapter, Fielding does plainly invite the sagacious reader to imagine what happened to Tom during those twelve years – although one doubts that he really expects anyone to spend much time doing so.

In the passage beginning “Now, in the conjectures here proposed”, it seems to me that he is simply saying that to be able to predict a person’s future actions on the basis of one’s knowledge of their personality is more useful than merely being able to form an opinion of their personality based on their past actions. In other words, if you really understand a person’s character, you can predict their actions. It requires insight (“penetration”) and “true sagacity”, but Fielding expresses a mock-confidence that his readers, possessing those talents, will be very capable of predicting/imagining/conjecturing what Tom did during the missing 12-year period.

I don’t find sarcasm in this Chapter so much as a genial smile and wink at the reader.

Message Edited by Choisya on 08-26-2007 01:37 AM
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two

Rereading.
Well, it is bit like that paradox of Heraclitus - "you can't step into the same river twice" (to which another ancient philosopher replied "no, you can't step into the same river even once!")The point is - we speak of rereading - but it it never really the same book we encounter, just as we are are never exactly the same person each time - or, it is the same book and it isn't - that is what rereading is all about. I would like to recommended a marvelously witty and interesting book coming out this fall called "How to Talk About Books you Haven't Read" by Pierre Bayard. It is, as they say, 'Very French" but he makes some wonderfully insightful observations about the culture of reading. I read an earlier book, in translation, by him, titled "Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?: The Mystery behind the Agatha Christie Mystery", in which he demonstates, to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Agatha Christie and/or Poirot got it wrong and the solution to the mystery and the famous twisted ending is false and the book we thought we read is not even the book we thought we read. So?











Everyman wrote:
There was an interesting set of posts on rereading in, I think, the Community room. Some people (I include myself) are avid rereaders; others can't understand how, having read a book, one could ever want to read it again when there are so many new books yet to be read.

I think either one is a rereader or one isn't, and the aren'ts will never understand the joys of the ares.


PeterP wrote:
40 years!
You are a bit ahead of me in that department. The other evening I was trying to explain to my children (blank stares) the special joy of rereading - that it is almost a compesation for other things that pass us by as we get older. But to be able to mark with a book how we have changed or haven't, what we have learned or haven't, how the world has changed...all that is an experience like no other.
I will put up the URL in my next post.






Everyman wrote:
I'm nearly done Book 2 -- I have very limited reading time these days, but am enjoying TJ so far. Lots of things I had forgotten from my first reading, what, about 40 years ago?

BTW, Peter, you didn't give us the URL for that great summary you found. Do you still have that, and if so can you post it?
















Everyman wrote:
There was an interesting set of posts on rereading in, I think, the Community room. Some people (I include myself) are avid rereaders; others can't understand how, having read a book, one could ever want to read it again when there are so many new books yet to be read.

I think either one is a rereader or one isn't, and the aren'ts will never understand the joys of the ares.


PeterP wrote:
40 years!
You are a bit ahead of me in that department. The other evening I was trying to explain to my children (blank stares) the special joy of rereading - that it is almost a compesation for other things that pass us by as we get older. But to be able to mark with a book how we have changed or haven't, what we have learned or haven't, how the world has changed...all that is an experience like no other.
I will put up the URL in my next post.






Everyman wrote:
I'm nearly done Book 2 -- I have very limited reading time these days, but am enjoying TJ so far. Lots of things I had forgotten from my first reading, what, about 40 years ago?

BTW, Peter, you didn't give us the URL for that great summary you found. Do you still have that, and if so can you post it?






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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Hazlitt on Fielding & Moliere

Yes, I think Choisya has it exactly right. Hazlitt certainly perceived parallels in the development of a conception of “classicism” that developed in French literature most clearly personified by a figure like Nicolas Boileau (1636 – 1711) and similar currents that developed in English literature. He clearly saw Moliere and someone like La Fontaine as existing on the other side of the great divide. Just think of the efforts of 18th century English editors to clean-up Shakespeare.







Choisya wrote:
Peter can probably throw more light on this but I think what Hazlitt meant was that Moliere wasn't as 'refined' as other French authors of his day and used more of the earthiness of English 17th century writing, like that of Fielding. Hazlitt was rather contemptuous of the refined writers who followed Fielding and this too, to touch on the subject again, was one of Lawrence's complaints about writing after the 17th century. If you look at English Literature from Chaucer to Fielding you will find a certain frankness, which some now call vulgarity, but which was in fact part of the common speech and expression of the times. This frankness disappeared during the Regency period and 'refinement' of language, the 'comedy of manners' and excessive politeness entered literature and life. It was the literary equivalent of covering up the legs of pianos:smileysurprised:. The very mannered novels of Jane Austen are a good example of this latter style. At least I think this is what Hazlitt was getting at:smileyhappy:. I look forward to Peter's comments.

(Hazlitt very much admired Hogarth and the 'Grand Style' of painting and this was also followed by the more refined and restrained styles of Reynolds and Gainsborough. I think it was Hazlitt who said of Hogarth that 'all of human life is there' and that only Shakespeare equalled him.)




rdm68 wrote:


Choisya wrote:
Peter: I found these titbits in the Lectures on Comic Writers:

That 'Moliere is almost an English author, quite a barbare [barbarian!], in all in which he excels.'

That 'Fielding's Comedies are very inferior to his novels...in both plot and character'. They are 'excellent in style in which his novels are deficient.' The only dramas that 'retain possession of the stage are The Mock Doctor, which is a tolerable translation from Moliere's Medecin Malgre lui and the burlesque Tom Thumb.' So it would seem that Fielding did use/know of Moliere's stuff.




PeterP wrote:
Yes.
Hazlitt discusses Hogarth a great deal - where you have mention and there is even a separate essay published in an old Oxford Classic that may be out-of-print. Hazlitt refers to Fielding a lot - and I think with some ambivalence - but I have to sort it out.

Paulin quotes this, which I like - "As he (Hazlitt) explains in 'Old English Writers and Speakers', the mark of the 'genuine English intellect' is the way it constantly combines as Hogarth and Fielding do, 'truth of external observation with strength of internal meaning'.

And speaking of quote – I know there is a passage “somewhere” in which Hazlitt cites Molière, Fielding, and Hogarth, all in one or two sentences – (at least I think so).

Well, I owe you a quote, Choisya.

Thanks for the tips on Lawrence.



Message Edited by Choisya on 08-18-2007 04:26 PM


I wonder what he meant by that (that Moliere is "almost an English author"). Trying to define the differences between English and French anything is always slippery, but Moliere seems so quintessentially French... Any idea what Hazlitt had in mind?




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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two

Fascinating on Roger Ackroyd, Peter.

PeterP wrote:
Rereading.
Well, it is bit like that paradox of Heraclitus - "you can't step into the same river twice" (to which another ancient philosopher replied "no, you can't step into the same river even once!")The point is - we speak of rereading - but it it never really the same book we encounter, just as we are are never exactly the same person each time - or, it is the same book and it isn't - that is what rereading is all about. I would like to recommended a marvelously witty and interesting book coming out this fall called "How to Talk About Books you Haven't Read" by Pierre Bayard. It is, as they say, 'Very French" but he makes some wonderfully insightful observations about the culture of reading. I read an earlier book, in translation, by him, titled "Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?: The Mystery behind the Agatha Christie Mystery", in which he demonstates, to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Agatha Christie and/or Poirot got it wrong and the solution to the mystery and the famous twisted ending is false and the book we thought we read is not even the book we thought we read. So?











Everyman wrote:
There was an interesting set of posts on rereading in, I think, the Community room. Some people (I include myself) are avid rereaders; others can't understand how, having read a book, one could ever want to read it again when there are so many new books yet to be read.

I think either one is a rereader or one isn't, and the aren'ts will never understand the joys of the ares.


PeterP wrote:
40 years!
You are a bit ahead of me in that department. The other evening I was trying to explain to my children (blank stares) the special joy of rereading - that it is almost a compesation for other things that pass us by as we get older. But to be able to mark with a book how we have changed or haven't, what we have learned or haven't, how the world has changed...all that is an experience like no other.
I will put up the URL in my next post.






Everyman wrote:
I'm nearly done Book 2 -- I have very limited reading time these days, but am enjoying TJ so far. Lots of things I had forgotten from my first reading, what, about 40 years ago?

BTW, Peter, you didn't give us the URL for that great summary you found. Do you still have that, and if so can you post it?
















Everyman wrote:
There was an interesting set of posts on rereading in, I think, the Community room. Some people (I include myself) are avid rereaders; others can't understand how, having read a book, one could ever want to read it again when there are so many new books yet to be read.

I think either one is a rereader or one isn't, and the aren'ts will never understand the joys of the ares.


PeterP wrote:
40 years!
You are a bit ahead of me in that department. The other evening I was trying to explain to my children (blank stares) the special joy of rereading - that it is almost a compesation for other things that pass us by as we get older. But to be able to mark with a book how we have changed or haven't, what we have learned or haven't, how the world has changed...all that is an experience like no other.
I will put up the URL in my next post.






Everyman wrote:
I'm nearly done Book 2 -- I have very limited reading time these days, but am enjoying TJ so far. Lots of things I had forgotten from my first reading, what, about 40 years ago?

BTW, Peter, you didn't give us the URL for that great summary you found. Do you still have that, and if so can you post it?









"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: Chapter One



Choisya wrote:
There are a great many genial smiles and winks in this novel:smileyhappy:. I wonder if we agree with Fielding that if you really understand a person’s character, you can predict their actions? It seems to me that some people are always very unpredictable and constantly surprise us.





Depending on how well you know someone, you can sometimes predict their actions. And, in theory, if you knew someone really well - to the point of omniscience - you could predict their actions. But none of us is omniscient, and so we continue to surprise each other.
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: Chapter One



rdm68 wrote:


CallMeLeo wrote:
Chapter 1 of Book III leads me to believe that Fielding is turning his ironical eye on the reader himself. Here is one example:

"... we give him (the reader), at all such seasons, an opportunity of employing that wonderful sagacity, of which he is master, by filling up these vacant spaces of time with his own conjectures..."

Isn't the reader who is at once sagacious (using good judgment) yet uses conjecture (to infer from inconclusive evidence, guesswork) a contradiction. Good judgment is not rendered by conjecture, so it appears to me Fielding has little faith in the good judgment of his general readership and is not really inviting him to use conjecture.

And then there is this quote:

Now, in the conjectures here proposed, some of the most excellent faculties of the mind may be employed to much advantage, since it is a more useful capacity to be able to foretell the actions of men, in any circumstances, from their characters, than to judge of their characters from their actions. The former, I own, requires the greater penetration; but may be accomplished by true sagacity with no less certainty than the latter.

Help me unravel that quote if you can, please, but from what I can make of it seems to me that "greater penetration" which foretells the actions of men from their characters is pure sarcasm on Fielding's part, yet to judge character by actions alone can be faulty as well. In subsequent chapters young Tom, when stealing the duck, is judged by this action to have a bad character, but evidence only the reader is given shows he is protecting the gamekeeper, and hence, his character is not truly bad. Even Mr. Allworthy senses the boy has honor, although he retains some doubts. Yet it is clear that many "foretell" his actions because of his birth. If it wasn't for his foundling status and illegitimacy, the boy's "vices" would have been chalked up as high spirits.

Perhaps, Fielding is saying we should withhold all judgments, period.




In skipping over a 12-year period during which, he says, “nothing happened worthy of being recorded” in his book, I think Fielding is being ironic not only toward the reader but also toward himself. In Chapter 1 of Book III he presents an elaborate and facetious self-justification for skipping over those years. Lest his readers think that he is merely lazy (i.e., only consults his “own dignity and ease”), Fielding maintains that he is really doing it for the benefit of his readers: first, to save them from wasting time and, more importantly, to give them the opportunity to exercise their imaginations. It’s a little like Tom Sawyer granting his friends the privilege of painting the picket fence for him. But I think Fielding assumes that his readers are in on his little joke.

I don’t see sagacity and conjecture as a contradiction. Although his tongue is in his cheek throughout the Chapter, Fielding does plainly invite the sagacious reader to imagine what happened to Tom during those twelve years – although one doubts that he really expects anyone to spend much time doing so.

In the passage beginning “Now, in the conjectures here proposed”, it seems to me that he is simply saying that to be able to predict a person’s future actions on the basis of one’s knowledge of their personality is more useful than merely being able to form an opinion of their personality based on their past actions. In other words, if you really understand a person’s character, you can predict their actions. It requires insight (“penetration”) and “true sagacity”, but Fielding expresses a mock-confidence that his readers, possessing those talents, will be very capable of predicting/imagining/conjecturing what Tom did during the missing 12-year period.

I don’t find sarcasm in this Chapter so much as a genial smile and wink at the reader.





Thanks for pointing out that Fielding may be directing a little of that irony on himself. Might it also be a playful reminder of his control over the story (and us) and of his omniscience as the narrator, an omniscience we cannot apply in real life?
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CallMeLeo
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Re: Tom Jones - Books One and Two : Scott's Comment on Preliminary Chapters

I've just ordered it. It's on the way. :smileyhappy: I remember the old one with Albert Finney(?) as being far more bawdy than the book - so far anyway.



Choisya wrote:
I find him very entertaining and the BBC production which I recommended to Peter captures his narration in a lighthearted way too.




CallMeLeo wrote:
Sir Walter Scott, in his 'Lives of the English Novelists', states: "Fielding considered his works an experiment in British literature; and therefore, he chose to prefix a preliminary Chapter to each Book, explanatory of his own views, and of the rules attached to this mode of composition. rather interrupt the course of the story, and the flow of the interest at the first perusal, but are found, on a second or third, the most entertaining chapters of the whole work".

Do others find Fielding's narrative voice and explanatory views intrusive or entertaining? I vote for entertaining.




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CallMeLeo
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: 18th Century Philosophy

And there appears to have been a lack of trust in the religious and philosophical views of the age, personified in Square and Thwackum, and curiously conjoined in young Blifil. Fielding's attempt to educate through comedy is more engaging than being lectured. :smileyhappy:

The eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment, gave birth to many new philosophies and philosophers. Perhaps the "new" morality or moral philosophy was a backlash from the extreme decadence of the post-Restoration years.



Choisya wrote:
Great post Leo - thanks. I agree, Fielding is telling us to withold judgements until we know more and do we ever know 'the truth'?

His lack of trust in the reader might have been because his work encountered a lot of criticism, not least for his plays which supposedly occasioned the Theatrical Licensing Act. One of the funniest things he did when he was a Justice of the Peace, and in keeping with his satirical take on everything, was to issue a warrant for the arrest of Colley Cobbler, the Poet Laureate, for the 'murder of the English language'!



CallMeLeo wrote:
Chapter 1 of Book III leads me to believe that Fielding is turning his ironical eye on the reader himself. Here is one example:

"... we give him (the reader), at all such seasons, an opportunity of employing that wonderful sagacity, of which he is master, by filling up these vacant spaces of time with his own conjectures..."

Isn't the reader who is at once sagacious (using good judgment) yet uses conjecture (to infer from inconclusive evidence, guesswork) a contradiction. Good judgment is not rendered by conjecture, so it appears to me Fielding has little faith in the good judgment of his general readership and is not really inviting him to use conjecture.

And then there is this quote:

Now, in the conjectures here proposed, some of the most excellent faculties of the mind may be employed to much advantage, since it is a more useful capacity to be able to foretell the actions of men, in any circumstances, from their characters, than to judge of their characters from their actions. The former, I own, requires the greater penetration; but may be accomplished by true sagacity with no less certainty than the latter.

Help me unravel that quote if you can, please, but from what I can make of it seems to me that "greater penetration" which foretells the actions of men from their characters is pure sarcasm on Fielding's part, yet to judge character by actions alone can be faulty as well. In subsequent chapters young Tom, when stealing the duck, is judged by this action to have a bad character, but evidence only the reader is given shows he is protecting the gamekeeper, and hence, his character is not truly bad. Even Mr. Allworthy senses the boy has honor, although he retains some doubts. Yet it is clear that many "foretell" his actions because of his birth. If it wasn't for his foundling status and illegitimacy, the boy's "vices" would have been chalked up as high spirits.

Perhaps, Fielding is saying we should withhold all judgments, period.



Message Edited by Choisya on 08-26-2007 01:27 AM

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Choisya
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: The Plot of TJ.

Here is a good analysis of the novel by a German critic, Ruth Nestvold PhD. Her comments regarding the 'neatly constructed plot' are interesting. Apparently Samuel Taylor Coleridge called TJ 'one of the three most perfectly planned plots in literature'. Do you agree?

http://www.ruthnestvold.com/tomjones.htm
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Everyman
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: 18th Century Philosophy

CallMeLeo wrote: And there appears to have been a lack of trust in the religious and philosophical views of the age, personified in Square and Thwackum, and curiously conjoined in young Blifil.

I'm finding the exchanges between Thwackum and Square interesting, though I haven't really been able to get a good handle on what religious preference and what philosophical school they are intended to represent. They seem more amorphous representations of generic religion and philosophy.

But maybe things will become clearer in future books.
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Re: Tom Jones - Books Three: The Plot of TJ.

Too early to say yet. We've only read through Book 4, if that.

Choisya wrote:
Here is a good analysis of the novel by a German critic, Ruth Nestvold PhD. Her comments regarding the 'neatly constructed plot' are interesting. Apparently Samuel Taylor Coleridge called TJ 'one of the three most perfectly planned plots in literature'. Do you agree?

http://www.ruthnestvold.com/tomjones.htm


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I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
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PeterP
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Re: On Fielding's Names

Apparently a lot of critical and textual ink has been spilt over the correct name of the highwayman that appears later in the book - is it "Anderson" "Enderson" or "Henderson"? Apparently some think it is a slip of the pen or unfinished corections or a lapse in memory - some think it means soemething - when I figure out what the text-editors are talking about, I will report back.








Everyman wrote:
I am fascinated by Fielding's names.

Some are obviously straightforward. Allworthy is indeed all worthy. Thwackum indeed thwacks 'em.

Other names may be a bit more tongue in cheek. Square, for example, seems to be a crooked (not in a dishonest sense, but in a non-straight sense).

Bridget, according to one source, means "exalted one". In Irish mythology she was the goddess of fire, poetry and wisdom.

Partridges are timid, shy birds, and probably have characteristics better known to those who are familiar with them. But they are hunted by the aristocracy, which may be an appropriate element here.

Given that he is so deliberate in some of his naming, is he more casual in other instances, or are there hidden (or obvious that I'm not seeing) meanings to Jenny Jones, Deborah Wilkins, and others?


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