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Fielding’s novel, Tom Jones as a picaresque novel | a Bildungsroman

Fielding’s novel, Tom Jones as a picaresque novel | a Bildungsroman

Fielding’s novel, Tom Jones as a picaresque novel | a Bildungsroman

Henry Fielding’s novel, “Tom Jones" is often categorized as a novel of manners and a foundational work in the development of the English novel, it is not typically classified as a picaresque novel. The picaresque novel is a genre that originated in Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries with works like "Lazarillo de Tormes" and is characterized by the episodic adventures of a rogue or antihero who moves through society, often encountering various social classes and situations.

However, it's worth noting that "Tom Jones" does share some elements with the picaresque tradition. We may talk about some characteristics found in the novel that may be considered picaresque in nature:

Episodic Structure: Like many picaresque novels, "Tom Jones" has an episodic structure with a series of loosely connected adventures. Tom's journey takes him to various locations and situations, and he encounters a diverse array of characters.

Social Satire: Picaresque novels often involve satire and social criticism, and "Tom Jones" is no exception. Fielding uses Tom's adventures to satirize the flaws and vices of 18th-century English society.

Rogue Protagonist: While Tom Jones is not a traditional rogue or antihero in the picaresque sense, he does share some qualities with picaresque protagonists. He is flawed, impulsive, and engages in morally ambiguous behavior at times. His journey is a process of maturation and self-discovery.

Social Commentary: Like picaresque novels, "Tom Jones" provides a commentary on the social and moral issues of its time. It explores themes such as class, virtue, and the nature of human relationships.

However, "Tom Jones" shares some features with the picaresque tradition, it cannot be neatly confined to this genre. Though, Fielding's novel is a rich and multifaceted work that incorporates elements from various literary traditions yet, we may point out that Fielding’s novel, "Tom Jones" aligns with or deviates from typical picaresque characteristics. Like:

Moral Development: One key departure from the picaresque tradition is the emphasis on moral development in "Tom Jones." While picaresque protagonists often remain morally ambiguous or even degenerate throughout their adventures, Tom Jones undergoes a significant moral transformation. His journey is not just a series of escapades but a process of maturation and self-discovery. This focus on moral growth is more in line with the Bildungsroman tradition.

Romantic Plot: Unlike many picaresque novels, "Tom Jones" includes a central romantic plot. The love story between Tom and Sophia Western is a driving force in the narrative, providing a more structured and cohesive element than the often episodic and disjointed nature of picaresque tales. The romantic plot contributes to the novel's status as a precursor to the modern novel.

Narrative Voice and Authorial Intrusion: Fielding employs a distinctive narrative voice and engages in frequent authorial intrusion in "Tom Jones." He directly addresses the reader, providing commentary and guidance on how the story should be interpreted. This narrative technique is less common in picaresque novels, where the narrator typically adopts a more detached and observational tone.

Social and Political Commentary: While both picaresque novels and "Tom Jones" offer social commentary, the nature of the critique differs. Fielding's satire is often more targeted and specific, addressing issues such as hypocrisy, morality, and the legal system of his time. In contrast, picaresque novels may have a broader and more generalized critique of society.

Scope and Length: "Tom Jones" is a substantial and lengthy work, in contrast to the often more compact and episodic nature of picaresque novels. The expansive scope allows Fielding to explore various aspects of 18th-century English society in depth.

Finally "Tom Jones" does exhibit some picaresque elements. It is more accurately described as a comic epic or a Bildungsroman (a novel of personal development). Fielding combines elements of various literary traditions to create a work that is uniquely his own. The novel's complexity and depth, along with its social and moral commentary, set it apart from the more straightforward and often satirical nature of traditional picaresque novels.


Read also:

👉 Tom Jones | the story of a man's journey from innocence to wisdom 

👉 Tristram Shandy | the use of intertextuality by Laurence Sterne 

👉 Andrea del Sarto | as a Dramatic monologue 

👉 Robinson Crusoe | a story about human ability to create a civilization 

👉 The King of the Golden River | Ruskin’s portrayal of Nature 

👉 Preface to the Lyrical Balads | as a manifesto of Romantic Criticism 

👉 Moll Flanders | as a Realistic Novel 

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