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Les Âges de la vie en Grande-Bretagne au XVIIIe siècle

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Serge Soupel

Deuxième partie. Aspects littéraires

Sexual Desire and the Ages of Women in Fielding’s Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones

Gerald J. Butler

Texte intégral

  • 1 D. H. Lawrence, “Introduction to These Paintings”, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers, ed. Edward D. M (...)

1What follows is a version of part of a study based on some remarks made by D. H. Lawrence on Restoration and eighteenth century British literature. In spite of all his often wild mistakes and even absurdities, what Lawrence had to say as a literary critic is something very important that we are beginning for many reasons to forget. “Fielding”, he tells us, “tries in vain to defend the Old Adam”1. That is to say, Fielding tries to defend the instinctive male in his unregenerate impulses. And this defense of the Old Adam entails a defense of the Old Eve as well.

2In the world of Fielding’s novels, it is sexual desire that more than anything else determines what matters about a woman’s age. She is a girl, too young to be desired, an older woman, no longer so desirable, or a woman just at the age when men most desire her. Her age really has no other meaning in Fielding’s novels than this sexual meaning. Fielding portrays several women who are no longer young but who still want the love of a young man. To a great extent they are portrayed comically, as examples of “the ridiculous” in accord with his theory of “the comic epic in prose” that he sets forth in the beginning of Joseph Andrews. Probably the most grotesque example in that same novel of this older woman who is seething with desires that the young man in question would never offer to satisfy is Slipslop, the servant of Lady Booby. Nothing could be crueller than his initial portrait of her. Mrs. Slipslop is:

a Maiden Gentlewoman of about Forty-five Years of Age, who having made a small Slip in her Youth had continued a good Maid ever since. She was not at this time remarkably handsome; being very short, and rather too corpulent in Body and somewhat red, with the addition of Pimples in the Face. Her Nose was likewise rather too large, and her eyes too little; nor did she resemble a Cow so much in her Breath, as in two brown Globes which she carried before her; one of her legs was also a little shorter than the other, which occasioned her to limp as she walked.

3Fielding says of this “fair Creature”, as he calls her, that:

  • 2 Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews, ed. Martin C. Battestin (1742; Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1967).

As when a hungry Tygress, who long had traversed the Woods in fruitless Search, sees within the Reach of her Claws a Lamb, she prepares to leap on her Prey; or as a voracious Pike, of immense Size, surveys through the liquid Element a Roach or Gudgeon which cannot escape her Jaws, opens them wide to swallow the little Fish: so did Mrs. Slipslop prepare to lay her violent amorous Hands on the poor Joseph...2

  • 3 Susan G. Auty in her The Comic Spirit of Eighteenth-Century Novels (Port Washington: National U Pu (...)

4But the theory of “the comic epic in prose” breaks down almost immediately in the novel itself. His theory, which he claims to derive from “official” classical sources, has been described many times. According to Aristotle, Fielding reminds us, Homer himself provided the pattern for such a comic epic, though it was “entirely lost”. Fielding finds it remarkable, however, that Aristotle has not defined “the Ridiculous”. He then does so. “The only Source of the true Ridiculous (as it appears to me), is Affectation”, says Fielding, and “Affectation springs from one of these two causes, Vanity, or Hypocrisy” (6-8). The rationale for Fielding’s comic theory is, then, supposed to be classical precedent. But though we may laugh at Parson Adams when he is so startled that he throws the copy he has made by hand of his beloved Aeschylus into the fire, Adams is not being vain or hypocritical. And for the great majority of his other laughable actions these severe moral terms hardly seem an accurate description at all. If he is quick to resort to his big fists, or if he likes his drink and his pipe, it does not seem right to say his profession of Christianity is vain or hypocritical; on the contrary, in spite of or even perhaps because of all his little failings he seems meant to come across to us as the most genuine Christian in the book. The novel asks us to laugh at him not moralistically, but affectionately. It is this affection for people, and not the kind of ridiculing that he did in his Shamela, that is the real “answer” Fielding has for Richardson, who demonstrates no such feeling for any of his characters, not even for the heroines he so greatly admires3.

  • 4 “His didactic scheme”, writes Michael Irwin in Henry Fielding: The Tentative Realist (Oxford: Clar (...)

5But for other characters in the novel besides Parson Adams this breakdown in what Fielding at least leads us to think are his intentions also occurs4. Slipslop herself begins, as the novel progresses, to take on endearing traits and make extremely perceptive comments. We can see this affection working against his neoclassical theory in the case of Lady Booby, an older woman like Slipslop who also lusts after the young Joseph. Lady Booby at first is a simple comic butt — an example of the ridiculous because of vanity and hypocrisy in accord with Fielding’s neoclassical theory — but soon he defends her against other women who will judge her if she has a love affair with her footman Joseph. He is ironic about them and their “rampant Passion for Chastity” and reminds us how irresistible is “the uncommon Variety of Charms” in Joseph (38). Fielding even denigrates the value of the reputation that Lady Booby is risking: it isn’t worth much except to bully others (43). And Lady Booby cannot conquer her passion. Fielding tells us that vanity is what mostly rules over us, even in our lust (69), yet Lady Booby’s passion interferes with her vanity and is something she wishes she did not have; it is certainly not an affectation, as sexual passion was for Wilson who pretended to be a rake in his early life in London (201 ff.). She has a strong, involuntary reaction on accidentally seeing Joseph near the end of the book: “She no sooner saw Joseph, than her Cheeks glow’d with red, and immediately after became as totally pale. She in her Surprize almost stopped her Coach.. (277). Even at this time she hasn’t been able to get over her desire for him, and an erotic dream that comes to no climax for her torments her sleep (278).

6But the greatest instance of sympathy for this woman now at the age when she is losing her sexual attractiveness and who presumably was just supposed to be held up to ridicule is the long description of the anti-sexual and anti-male education with which women (at least upper-class women) are indoctrinated in the world of his novel. Here we see what in the age of childhood helped to lead to Lady Booby s unpleasant condition as she approaches old age. Fielding inserts this realistic, even sociological account into his narrative in order to explain why Lady Booby is in the grip of a passion over which she has little understanding. At «the age of seven or something earlier», he tells us in this remarkable passage:

Miss is instructed by her Mother, that Master is a very monstrous kind of an Animal, who will, if she suffers him to come too near her, infallibly eat her up, and grind her to pieces. That so far from kissing or toying with him of her own accord, she must not admit him to kiss or toy with her. And lastly, that she must never have any Affection towards him; for if she should, all her Friends in Petticoats would esteem her a Traitress, point at her, and hunt her out of their Society. These Impressions being first received, are further and deeper inculcated by their School-mistresses and Companions; so that by the Age of Ten they have contracted such a Dread and Abhorrence of the above-named Monster, that whenever they see him, they fly from him as the innocent Hare doth from the Greyhound. Hence to the Age of fourteen or fifteen, they entertain a mighty Antipathy to Master; they resolve and frequently profess that they will never have any Commerce with him.... But when they arrive at this Period, and have now passed their second Climacteric, when their Wisdom grown riper, begins to see a little farther; and from almost daily falling in Master’s way, to apprehend the great Difficulty of keeping out of it; and when they observe him look often at them, and sometimes very eagerly and earnestly too (for the Monster seldom takes any notice of them till at this Age) they then begin to think of their Danger; and as they perceive they cannot easily avoid him, the wiser Part bethink themselves of providing by other Means for their Security. They endeavour by all the Methods they can invent to render themselves amiable in his Eyes, that he may have no Inclination to hurt them; in which they generally succeed so well, that his Eyes, by frequent languishing, soon lessen their Idea of his Fierceness, and so far abate their Fears, that they venture to parley with him; and when they perceive him so different from what he hath been described, all Gentleness, Softness, Kindness. Tenderness, Fondness, their dreadful Apprehensions vanish in a moment.... But they cannot so easily shake off all that hath been instilled into them; they still entertain the Idea of that Censure to which the Declarations of Abhorrence they every day hear from their Companions greatly contribute. To avoid this Censure therefore, is now their only care; for which purpose they still pretend the same Aversion to the Monster: And the more they love him, the more ardently they counterfeit the Antipathy. By the continual and constant Practice of which Deceit on others, they at length impose on themselves, and really believe they hate what they love. Thus indeed it happened to Lady Booby, who loved Joseph long before she knew it; and now loved him much more than she suspected.

7In this picture of girlhood, an age of woman rarely described in Fielding’s works, it is true that there is some mockery, at least in some parts (“and from almost daily falling in Master’s way, to apprehend the great Difficulty of keeping out of it”), but it is nonetheless a gentle mockery, and only a matter of tone. This is not the cruel laughter of what Bakhtin has called “official” satire. And it is true that at the end of the novel Fielding is flippant about Lady Booby’s passion that he was exploring realistically and sympathetically—he tells us she soon forgets Joseph for another—but even though he returns her abruptly to being a mere example of the ridiculous, he cannot take back what he has already shown us.

8Fielding’s novel almost always sympathizes with women who are driven by their sexual desires, and it is by means of her sexual feeling and sexual understanding that even Slipslop can, on occasion, rise to great heights. While a prude like Lady Graveairs disapproves of Leonora, “the unfortunate jilt”, Slipslop, as she listens to the story, constantly comes to Leonora’s defense. Slipslop is given the power to see through the sexual morality that Fielding himself is trying to preach through his ridicule in accord with his own theory of “the comic epic in prose”. But she is magnificent when she tells her Lady Booby that any woman might be made happy in spite of all class distinctions by having a man as desirable as Joseph Andrews. In that glorious speech, which survives her malapropisms, and in spite of any of Fielding’s avowed moral intentions, she is making the same affirmation of the value of sexual love that Fielding’s novel implies throughout and that may even be said to anticipate the message of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. After Lady Booby calls her a “low Creature of the Andrews Breed”, Slipslop replies:

Really, your Ladyship talks of Servants as if they were not born of the Christian Specious. Servants have Flesh and Blood as well as Quality; and Mr. Andrews himself is a Proof that they have as good, if not better. And for my own Part, I can’t perceive my Dears are coarser than other People’s; and I am sure, if Mr. Andrews was a Dear of mine, I should not be ashamed of him in company with Gentlemen; for whoever hath seen him in his new Clothes, must confess he looks as much like a Gentleman as any body. Coarse, quotha! I can’t bear to hear the poor young Fellow run down neither; for I will say this, I never heard him say an ill Word of any body in his Life. I am sure his Coarseness doth not lie in his Heart; for he is the best-natur’d Man in the World; and as for his Skin, it is no coarser than other People’s, I am sure. His Bosom when a Boy was as white as driven Snow; and where it is not covered with Hairs, is so still. Ifaukins! if I was Mrs Andrews, with a hundred a Year, I should not envy the best She who wears a Head. A Woman that could not be happy with such a Man, ought never to be so: For if he can’t make a Woman happy, I never yet beheld the Man who could. I say again I wish I was a great Lady for his sake, I believe when I had made a Gentleman of him, he’d behave so, that no body should deprecate what I had done; and I fancy few would venture to tell him he was no Gentleman to his Face, nor to mine neither. At which Words, taking up the Candies, she asked her Mistress, who had been some time in her Bed, if she had any further Commands; who mildly answered she had none; and telling her, she was a comical Creature, bid her Good-night. (298-99)

9But what about the woman who has reached old age who is not tormented by the yearnings of either the servant Slipslop or her mistress Lady Booby — yearnings that, in Fielding, cross all class lines? We see an older man who is free of such torments in Parson Adams, who expresses great approval of the love of the young people, Joseph and Fanny. He is not embittered by the sight of them or tormented by jealousy and longing. In the inn when Joseph and Fanny encounter each other for the first time since the novel began, he dances around the room “in a Rapture of Joy” (25). And when, later in the book, he is conventional enough to tell Joseph to moderate his passion “that savours too much of the Flesh”, Joseph and Adam’s own wife rise up against him. It is in Mrs. Adams that we have a woman who, unlike Slipslop and Lady Booby, can heartily approve of the young lovers and share in their joy:

“Sure, Sir”, says Joseph, “it is not sinful to love my Wife, no not even to doat on her to Distraction!” “Indeed but it is”, says Adams. “Every Man ought to love his Wife, no doubt. We are commanded to do so; but we ought to love her with Moderation and Discretion”.—“I am afraid I shall be guilty of some Sin, in spight of my Endeavours”, says Joseph,, “for I shall love without any Moderation, I am sure”. “You talk foolishly and childishly”, cries Adams. “Indeed”, says Mrs. Adams, who had listened to the latter part of their Conversation, “you talk more foolishly yourself. I hope, my Dear, you will never preach any such Doctrine as that Husbands can love their Wives too well. If I knew you had such a Sermon in the House I am sure I would burn it; and I declare if I had not been convinced you had loved me as well as you could, I can answer for myself I should have hated and despised you. Marry come up! Fine Doctrine indeed! A Wife hath a Right to insist on her Husband’s loving her as much as ever he can: And he is a sinful Villain who doth not. Doth he not promise to love her, and to comfort her, and to cherish her, and all that? I am sure I remember it all, as well as if I had repeated it over but Yesterday, and shall never forget it. Besides, I am certain you do not preach as you practice; for you have been a loving and a cherishing Husband to me, that’s the truth on’t; and why you should endeavour to put such wicked Nonsense into this Young Man’s Head, I cannot devise. Don’t hearken to him, Mr. Joseph, be as good a Husband as you are able, and love your Wife with all your Body and Soul too”. (310-11)

10“Hypocrisy” seems the wrong word for Adams’ foible here. But it is a foible that comes up again when Adams tries to discourse on Platonic love. Pamela and her husband, who make their appearance at the end of the novel, listening to it “smiled on one another” (330).

11For Fielding, what can save a woman from bitterness in old age is to have known the kind of satisfaction Mrs. Adams knew when young. Joseph’s beloved Fanny presumably will have her fulfillment at the time in life when it is possible, but we don’t see much of her in the novel as a character. For another picture of a young woman who will be happy, according to Fielding’s vision, we have to turn to Sophia in Tom Jones.

12Like Tom, she expresses herself above all through her feelings of love. Fielding tells us in the beginning of the episode of the little bird of hers that Blifil frees and that Tom risks his neck trying to recapture for her:

  • 5 Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, ed. Martin C. Battestin (1749; Middletown: Wesleyan UP, (...)

And certain it is, that from this Day Sophia began to have some Kindness for Tom Jones, and no little Aversion for his Companion.... To say the Truth, Sophia, when very young, discerned that Tom, though an idle, thoughtless, rattling Rascal, was nobody’s Enemy but his Own; and that Master Blifil, tho’a prudent, discreet, sober, young Gentleman, was, at the same Time, strongly attached to the Interest only of one single Person, and who that single Person was, the Reader will be able to divine without any Assistance of ours... These two Characters are not always received in the World with the different Regard which seems severally due to either.... But it was otherwise with Sophia. She honoured Tom Jones, and scorned Master Blifil, almost as soon as she knew the Meaning of those two Words5.

13At thirteen, her understanding of Tom and Blifil far surpasses that of anyone else in the book. Thus even as a girl Sophia lives up to her name, but her brilliant perception that no one else has is identical with her erotic response. Her wisdom is her erotic feeling.

14Even if she is not yet fully aware of how much she loves Tom, she has more of a sense of it than he does, for when he wants to talk privately with her to ask her to intercede with her father concerning the dismissal of the gamekeeper Black George, she goes pale and trembles. When he kisses her hand in thanks that she will so intercede, she blushes violently and “now first felt a Sensation to which she had been before a Stranger, and which, when she had leisure to reflect on it, began to acquaint her with some Secrets...” (167-68). Much time passes and he never notices his effect on her — the reason, we know, is his involvement with Molly. But not only does she glimpse more than he does about what will be the most important fact in both of their lives, the emotional reality between them, she also begins to try, in a semiconscious fashion, to provoke him into knowledge and response. When Tom comes over one morning to go hunting with her father, “The lovely Sophia shone forth that Day with more Gaiety and Sprightliness than usual. Her Battery was certainly levelled at our Heroe; tho’, I believe, she herself scarce yet knew her own Intention; but if she had any Design of charming him, she now succeeded” (187). But her impulses are soon to become fully conscious to her. Her father and Parson Supple are discussing at dinner, in her presence and Tom’s presence, who the father might be to Molly’s unborn child; her father suspects it is Tom, and then goes on to say it will not damage the opinion Allworthy or anyone else has of him. “Ask Sophy there — You have not the worse Opinion of a young Fellow for getting a Bastard, have you, Girl?” Squire Western asks his daughter in his habitually coarse way, and then he answers his own question: “No, no, the Women will like un the better for’t”. She sees by Tom’s blush and quick departure that her father’s “Suspicion” is not “groundless”. And at that moment: “Her Heart now, at once, discovered the great Secret to her, which it had been so long disclosing little by little...” (189-90). She knows, now, fully, that she loves him, and also knows fully what this means.

  • 6 Angela Smallwood, Fielding and the Woman Question: The Novels of Henry Fielding and Feminist Debat (...)

15In Sophia’s subsequent relationship with Tom, she is in no way sexless, passive, or “pure”. In her recent study, Angela J. Smallwood argues that readers have “frequently underestimated” Sophia as a character and that she does not really embody conventional “modesty”, that she is fearless and resolute, excellent in understanding, and that her love for her father must not be confused with servile obedience6.I would like to point out that this view of Sophia is not much different from the Sophia that previous critics unenlightened by contemporary feminism were able to see, in particular Aurélien Digeon. One wonders if Smallwood really derived her view of Sophia from a feminist perspective unaided by Digeon, who wrote that:

  • 7 Aurélien Digeon, The Novels of Fielding (1925; New York: Russell and Russell, 1962) 146-50.

Sophia Western... shows the same gay courage in the face of life as the young women of Shakespeare or Molière.... She loves Jones, which, certainly, needs courage and even a certain amount of foolhardiness, for every day some new act of Jones’s seems to warn her against him; yet she persists in loving him, openly, without subterfuge or pretence, “in the country way”...7

16The comparison to Shakespeare’s women is illuminating if we remember how, for example, Taine described them, in opposition to the conventional sense of “virtue” and “purity”:

  • 8 H. A. Taine, History of English Literature, trans. H. Van Laun (New York, 1879) 222-23.

All Shakespeare’s women love without measure, and nearly all at first sight.... You will not then discover virtue in these souls, for by virtue is implied a determined desire to do good, and a rational observance of duty. They are only pure through delicacy or love. They recoil from vice as a gross thing, not as an immoral thing. What they feel is not respect for the marriage vow, but adoration of their husband8.

17Sophia, like Desdemona, Virgilia, Miranda, Rosiland, Ophelia, Juliet, acts on passion, not on principle, and in this respect is exactly as “impure”, from the conventional standpoint, as Tom.

18Sophia’s passion is the overwhelming drive in her, a passion that, if she resists it, becomes “a Scorpion in her Bosom” (199). We are told she has little of the “Art” of women (337-38). When Sophia learns at Upton that Tom is sleeping in the same inn, she lies in bed thinking of her “Tommy”, glad that he is there (542). And what upsets her more than his sleeping with another woman is the freedom she thinks he has taken with her name (545). But no matter how disturbed she may be by true or false reports of Tom, Sophia instinctively always knows better and never lets go of him. Thus, when she leaves Upton in a passion, she bribes the maid at the inn to slip her muff into Tom’s bed with her name pinned on it. Her father, arriving afterwards and realizing what she has done with her muff, is not far off (except for the denigration implicit in the coarse hunting metaphors) to call Tom the “Dog Fox” and Sophia the “Bitch” (551) who has put down the scent for him to follow (565). Fielding is quite aware that, by conventional, disapproving standards, Sophia is no “pure” woman; “many Readers”, he says, would consider her “a wanton Baggage” (564).

19But Sophia will therefore never allow her youth to be sacrificed even though her father demands it. As a girl, she had the crude affection of this rough male character and certainly grew up in an atmosphere quite different from the proper upbringing that Fielding describes in his picture of the anti-sexual education of girls that Lady Booby endured in Joseph Andrews. Her father’s brutality is beside the point here, though feminist criticism might make much of it. What matters is his fond indulgence of her as a young female creature, not whether or not he respects her “as a person”. Indeed, it is just that indulgence of her, that response to her as a young female that he dotes on, that enables her to be a person, when the time comes for her to be one, in her insistence on her own desires and in her rebellion against him. And this rebellion is not the futile promiscuity of a young woman who, after long denial of her as female, suddenly feels “free”. Western’s fondness has helped to make the sexually alive young woman who cannot allow her youth to be thwarted. Such an alive young woman can never, in age, become a Slipslop or Lady Booby, both of whom allowed their youth to be sacrificed for reasons of “prudence” — for one, the prudence of the servant who must keep her “character”, for the other, the prudence of a good match — for both, a sacrifice to economic considerations.

20This is not to say economic considerations are not real considerations or that society is not ultimately to blame for the subsequent misery of these women. But Lady Bellaston, while Fielding speaks positively of her for at least having some passion, which people of her social class, he tells us, generally do not have in their boring lives (743), always curtails that passion, if not out of fear of losing her reputation, at least out of fear of losing her property. Her curbed passion makes her a female rake like Lady Booby. Nor will Sophia become a spiteful fury of hypocritical virtue like Deborah Wilkins. And she will also be spared the fate of her aunt, Mrs. Western. “And so Lord have Mercy upon all Affairs which are under the direction of men”, says Mrs. Western to her brother. “The Head of one Woman is worth a thousand of Yours” (848). But the interest in power that Mrs. Western has is remote from what concerns Sophia. “Have you no Sense of Ambition?” Mrs. Western asks her niece when Sophia has rejected Lord Fellamar’s proposals. “Are there no Charms in the Thoughts of having a Coronet on your Coach?” “None, upon my Honor”, answers Sophia, “A Pincushion upon my Coach would please me just as well” (888).

21But it is not only Sophia who in youth we cannot easily imagine becoming bitter in age. Neither Molly Seagrim nor Jenny Jones were as fortunate as Sophia in birth, money, or good looks, nor were they so lucky as to have early sexual lives as clear and unmuddled as was Sophia’s. But the reader who is following out the implications of the text, as Wolfgang Iser has reminded us how to do, cannot easily imagine them becoming, when they approach old age, women like Slipslop or Deborah Wilkins. Sophia’s implicit resemblance to these women who are explicitly immoral according to the standards laid down by Fielding’s moral mouthpiece, Allworthy, is a point the novel does not at all stress. But the comparison is inescapably there. She has the same “good nature” as does Betty the Chambermaid in Joseph Andrews, but she is not in poor Betty’s circumstances, not in the “ticklish” situation of being a servant girl in an inn, subject to continuous male solicitation. It is possible that Sophia really would be a “wanton baggage”, except that she gets her Tom. In the same way, we have to wonder how Mrs. Miller, the widow whose daughter marries Mr. Nightingale, arrived at her decency and tranquillity. Though Fielding will in no way say so, she must have been potentially a “wanton Baggage” in her youth as well, but she too married out of genuine desire.

22Where did Fielding get his vision? Do we need to argue a connection to an emerging feminist polemic, as does Smallwood? In Book Thirteen, Chapter One of Tom Jones, Fielding asks assistance for his pen from the genius that inspired Aristophanes, Lucian, Cervantes, Rabelais, Molière, Shakespeare, Swift, and Marivaux. He asks for the compassionate feelings he calls “humanity”. He calls on the learning that he tells us is preserved in the Greek and Latin classics. And finally he evokes experience. All these are enough to explain the source of his vision. His vision of the importance of sexual feeling to the ages of women, a vision that illuminates a whole world of torment that prudery would hide, would then be a consequence of a humanist understanding that starts from the classics and, out of sympathy and observation, goes beyond them to portray the meaning of sexual desire to the ages of women in vivid characters and to insist on its overwhelming significance. But Fielding’s sense of things in regard to sex and women may well be difficult for us to accept, as it was for Richardson; in so many ways, we are heirs to Richardson’s vision, which is the historically “progressive” one, not Fielding’s sense of life, which would lead us all the way back to Aristophanes.

Notes

1 D. H. Lawrence, “Introduction to These Paintings”, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers, ed. Edward D. McDonald (1936; New York: Viking, 1972) 552.

2 Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews, ed. Martin C. Battestin (1742; Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1967).

3 Susan G. Auty in her The Comic Spirit of Eighteenth-Century Novels (Port Washington: National U Publications, Kennikat, 1975) points out that Fielding’s humor is not moral-satiric but what she calls “antispleenetic” (5 and passim) and “restorative”, attributing the warm, affectionate quality of this humor to certain eighteenth century social values but also to the fact that it appears in novels: “The sense of life that a novel can induce makes it... not surprising that 'the new species of writing' was finding such immediate popularity at the same time as Don Quixote was first admired for its ability to express all the feelings of being alive. The novel's expansive form, with its possibilities of context and tone, is peculiarly suited to establishing the balance that is essential to ‘restorative’ comedy. By embracing both pity and scorn without contradiction within its wide span, the novel can fuse together these emotions and generate a powerful spirit of mirth. This mirth in turn gives comic novels their value, their power to refresh mankind with invigorating evidence of man's ability to survive and flourish in spite of the obstacles he encounters along the way” (21).

4 “His didactic scheme”, writes Michael Irwin in Henry Fielding: The Tentative Realist (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967) 76-81, “and the formal pattern constructed from the romance and picaresque tale, could have combined to produce a consistently stylized moral fable. But he was also concerned to present a realistic picture of ordinary experience. The inadequate narrative realization of the robberies, the unlikelihood of Wilson's life consisting solely of a series of moral and financial crises, the abrupt and unexplained death of Sir Thomas Booby, these seem inharmonious because they figure in a story where the narrative generally has a convincing life of its own”. Irwin claims that it is the characterization of Parson Adams which more than anything else gives the novel its realism, but he also says that an « important element... which disturbs the schematic plan... is the characterization, or more particularly the motivation, of Lady Booby.... His account of Lady Booby s heart, even if forced on him by the plot, may well have shown him some of the possibilities of a closer study of feeling than the general plan of his novel permitted him”. But I think this realism is not simply the “formal realism” that Ian Watt and his many followers have hypothesized. It is not merely a matter of creating an illusion by an artful accumulation and selection of circumstantial details. It depends on the sympathy Auty describes: it is closer to the realism of Chaucer than to the realism of Richardson.

5 Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, ed. Martin C. Battestin (1749; Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1975) 165-66.

6 Angela Smallwood, Fielding and the Woman Question: The Novels of Henry Fielding and Feminist Debate 1700-1750 (New York: St. Martin's, 1989) 127-50.

7 Aurélien Digeon, The Novels of Fielding (1925; New York: Russell and Russell, 1962) 146-50.

8 H. A. Taine, History of English Literature, trans. H. Van Laun (New York, 1879) 222-23.

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San Diego State University

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1995

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