Satire and sympathy : some consequences of intrusive narration in Tom Jones and other comic novels
This thesis aims to reinterpret Tom Jones by putting it into some previously untried comparative contexts. As well as using the traditional points of reference such as Lucian, Swift and Sterne, I compare Fielding's satire with Flaubert's; his narrative poetics with Dickens's and Beckett's; his strategy of intrusion with George Eliot's; and his literary politics with Brecht's. I start by assuming the ambivalence of Tom Jones, but rather than seeing this as a conscious ironic duality, I argue that it derives from literary, moral and political uncertainty. The intrusive narrator is seen as an index of vacillation between first- and third-person narration, while conservative satiric influences are shown to complicate rather than strengthen the book's moral decisiveness. Its form, moreover, is shown to be dialogic, and unable to keep at bay either the reader's subjectivity or the flux of historical reality. But Fielding's achievement, I finally suggest, is to have put these factors into the service of his awareness of the always judgmental nature of literature. The thesis therefore takes on several previously uncovered areas: it is very specific about the nature and extent of the narrator's presence in Tom Jones; it draws new analogies between social and literary forms (in the sections on conversation) and political and literary structures (in the section on Fielding's plays). It thereby reveals new areas of Fielding's writings which can be treated as literary theory; finds detailed affinities between Fielding and writers not normally associated with him; and eventually constitutes a reading of Tom Jones as an inconclusive and open-ended text which implies not a denial but a redefinition of its historical importance.