Tom Jones Essays

As nothing of importance has happened in the history of Tom Jones, so he tells the reader, he intends to pass over a long stretch of time.

The reader, therefore, has a chance of intelligent participation, The vacant spaces in the text, here as in Joseph Andrews, are offered to the reader as pauses in which to reflect.

In other words, the author provides the reader with guidelines, "prestructured by the written text." These guidelines are mainly found in the initial essays to the 18 books of Fielding's Tom Jones and the prefaces to his novels.

Iser interprets Fielding's theoretical essays and statements in an intellectual and epistemological sense.

As we are sensible that much the greatest Part of our Readers are very eminently possessed of this Quality, we have left them a Space of twelve Years to exert it in; and shall now bring forth our Heroe, at about fourteen Years of Age, not questioning that many have been long impatient to be introduced to his Acquaintance.

(118) Now we know what to make of the reader's attributed "Sagacity," warned by the assertion that most of the readers are "very eminently [→page 140] possessed" of it.I cannot agree with either of these propositions but shall argue that Fielding's aim was a composite one, ruled by feeling.[→page 138]One of Iser's main stays is a passage from Tom Jones in which Fielding expands on "the vacant Spaces of Time." In Chapter III.i Fielding addresses his reader, attributing to him, as so often, "Sagacity" (116).This is clearly indicated by the hyperbolic compliments concerning the reader's sagacity. Allworthy felt at first for the Loss of his Friend, those Emotions of Grief, which on such Occasions enter into all Men whose Hearts are not composed of Flint, or their Heads of as solid Materials? This scepticism on Fielding's part is corroborated by some other comments on his readers.Secondly, what Fielding calls "vacant Spaces" is hardly identical with spaces for a congenial interpretation leading up to "constructing" the text. Again, what Reader doth not know that Philosophy and Religion, in time, moderated, and at last extinguished this Grief? He distinguishes two types of readers, those of "the lowest Class" and "the upper Graduates in Criticism" (117).Fielding’s novels, therefore, do not just serve Iser as examples to illustrate his theory but actually provide the patterns or substrata on which it is based.This inductive method, however sound in itself, requires close attention to what the text says.According to Iser the reader of Tom Jones or Joseph Andrews is encouraged by the author-narrator to help constitute the meaning of the novel.He sees Fielding's offer of co-operation at certain places in the novels which he calls "blanks" or "gaps." The reader is meant to fill the "Blanks" (Tom Jones II.i.76), Iser's main contention is that the novel does not explicitly state its meaning, but that it is the reader who constructs its meaning on the basis of these signs.Therein Fielding's novels, therefore, do not just serve Iser as examples to illustrate his theory but actually provide the patterns or substrata on which it is based.In this paper, I am taking issue with Iser because his reading of Fielding does not seem quite close enough.


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