Tom Jones And Northanger Abbey Legitimize Fiction Writing

1588 words - 6 pages

   The early modern novel had no definite divisions between fantasy and realism. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, for instance, has universal appeal in that it deals with and develops real moral and psychological issues, but the narrative still depends upon extraordinary settings and events (Konigsberg 18). Also, Defoe used a fictional "editor," and preface, among other things, to make his work seem like an authentic document and therefore a worthwhile read. As the literary form evolved, novelists began to separate from fantasy, interested more in creating plausible characters and situations than asserting their "truth" with fictional documents. The more explicit devices of authenticity faded from use, and a new sense of self-awareness emerged as novelists argued for legitimacy within the narrative. In Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, the story is just as important as its construction. The narrator, at times barely distinguishable from the author, frequently intrudes, expounding on the tale but also explaining how and why the narrative works. The meticulous documentation of the "art" of the novel shows that writing novels (as well as reading them) is not idle work. By Jane Austen's time, the genre had a clear enough definition of itself that her narrators rarely occasioned to intrude like Fielding's. Her first novel, Northanger Abbey contains some intrusive passages, though, even as a novice, she was developing a far more subtle approach to commentary. Austen argues for the novel without lengthy interruption, but like Fielding, forgoes authenticity in the process. By exposing the author's process and methods, Northanger Abbey and Tom Jones both concede the inherent fictionality of their work, but more importantly, they legitimize the craft of fiction writing, illuminating the plausible worlds in the texts.


      First, it is prudent to discuss the narrator of Tom Jones. By his own declaration, he is the author of the tale. He describes an author as "one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money," and includes himself in this rank, saying "we . . . shall prefix not only a general bill of fare . . . but shall likewise give the reader particular bills to every course" (Fielding 29-30). Next, he presents his thesis to the "sensible" reader: that his work deals with "HUMAN NATURE." Clearly, the narrator's medium is the written word, and likewise, for him, he is the author of the story. Thus for our discussion of this novel, the terms "narrator" and "author" both refer to this supposed author and not necessarily to Fielding.


For all his appeals to the sense of his readers, the narrator in Tom Jones frequently finds it necessary to explain his writing. His "bill of fare" metaphor is no subtle construction. Rather, the comparison between the work of a cook and that of an author is explicitly outlined as such. The narrator even remarks, after a slight digression, that he will...

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