Friday, September 21, 2012



'Tom Jones, A Foundling'

Henry Fielding himself

John Sessions

From the DVD:

The narrator provides that his purpose in the text will be to explore "human nature." As such, his story veers between several extremes - comedy and tragedy, low and high society, moral and base.

The god-like omniscience of the authorial narrator in Tom Jones needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however. The authorial narrator is portrayed as all-knowing and all-seeing, but a reader who relies exclusively on the expressed judgment calls of the narrator will be deceived: one of Fielding's techniques is to introduce important details that are given very little attention by the narrative voice, lulling the reader into ignoring them. The omnipotent role is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as is much of Tom Jones. Take for example one of the introductory chapters in which Fielding lays down the rules of the new genre:
Peradventure there may be no parts in this prodigious work which will give the reader less pleasure in perusing than those which have given the author the greatest pains in composing. Among these, probably, may be reckoned those initial essays which we have prefixed to the historical matter contained in every book, and which we have determined to be essentially necessary to this kind of writing, of which we have set ourselves at the head.
For this our determination we do not hold ourselves strictly bound to assign any reason, it being abundantly sufficient that we have laid it down as a rule necessary to be observed in all prosai-comi-epic writing. Who ever demanded the reasons of that nice unity of time or place which is now established as so essential to dramatic poetry? (V, 1)
Here the game Fielding is playing with his readers becomes obvious, especially when he compares his prefaces to the rule of dramatic unity; the comments following this passage make it abundantly clear that he scorns the convention.

The voice of the narrator in any novel - unless identified as one of the other characters (Nick Carraway of "The Great Gatsby" being a good example.) - should probably be considered to be the voice of the author.  In the case of "The History Of Tom Jones, A Foundling", that narrator's voice would be Henry Fielding and he often interrupts the narrative flow to interject his thoughts on morality, historical events, and the personal character of the characters.

In making the TV adaptation, the producers kept that aspect by having Henry Fielding actually appear as the narrator. (He's played by John Sessions, but within Toobworld's reality, he is Henry Fielding.)

And Fielding is given credit for both functions:

We know "Tom Jones" exists in Toobworld because it's referenced in an episode of 'Are You Being Served?':

When the staff are gathered in Mr. Rumbold's office and they discuss the different plot ideas they've sent in, Mr. Rumbold says there has been one suggestion "which had all the right ingredients, sort of 'Tom Jones' full of adventure and sex and excitement."

And the 1963 movie based on the novel is mentioned during an episode of 'Remington Steele':

Laura: "This stuff sounds more to me like 'Tom Jones'."
Steele: "'Tom Jones'? Albert Finney never had to work this hard."
Laura: "Albert Finney never had to play the part with me."

And yet the characters of the book exist in the same TV dimension as the man who wrote the book. That's because Fielding was the same kind of writer as were the televersions of Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Dame Agatha Christie - he wasn't creating fictional characters, he was chronicling the lives of real people.

That he also appeared within their story as the narrator is why Fielding is treated as a member of the literary edition of the "ASOTV" showcase, rather than being saved for the traditional version of the gallery.

Because of his function as the narrator within the story, Henry Fielding is revealed to be a serlinguist, centuries before Rod Serling gave his name to the practice of talking to the Trueniverse audience.

Like Serling in the 'Twilight Zone' episode "A World Of His Own", Fielding gets involved in the action, but he's not always seen by those around him. There are several exceptions - he's served ale in a tavern, he falls off a cart, and young Tom Jones snatches away his wig.

And he's aware that he's in a TV production. When the camera cuts away from him, Fielding gripes, "Oh, it's like that, is it?" So that means he's also tele-cognizant, aware that there is a camera on him and that he exists in a world of television.


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