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The ambiguity of the verb "possessed" is a special case of irony which allows Fielding to say and not say what he means.The very readers who are stupid enough to swallow his bait, "Sagacity," and believe (like the ass in the fable) to know better than the real craftsman, are the ones to whom the satirical epithet "possessed" applies.They give him the chance to enter into the proceedings in such a way that he can construct their meaning. His approval of Bridget Allworthy's strict [→page 139] observation of mourning as far as her garments are concerned points in the same direction.
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).
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.
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.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.Character is, then, theorized in the novel not as a process of formation but instead as a kind of social prestidigitation: an act of construction that activates an inherent formal truth while functioning independently of individual experience.Lothar Černý’s article offers a critique of Wolfgang Iser, who developing his theory of reader participation and reader response, chose Fielding’s Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews as his starting point.By choosing to marry Tom, Sophia rejects the experiential model of prudence, which would encourage her to act in accordance with her knowledge of his past actions and her own experience of heartbreak.Concurrently, Tom's society (in recognizing him as Allworthy's heir) erases his youthful, transgressive experiences, seeing the actions of gentlemen as purgative and temporary.Perhaps the crowning absurdity in this passage is the offer of a twelve years' gap to be filled by volunteers.What they are offered is literally a stretch of twelve years in which to have their say.After the ironic captatio benevolentiae Fielding then resorts to hysteron proteron, expressing his conviction that the conjectures about the characters and their actions will exercise "some of the most excellent Faculties of the Mind." It would be much more "useful," indeed, to foretell "the Actions of Men in any Circumstance from their Characters" rather than to take the trouble to judge them by their actions.In the light of this ironic inversion of cause and effect it is not surprising that Fielding emphasizes the great difficulty of exercising this talent, assisted though it be by "Penetration" and "Sagacity," of course.