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Advanced Studies Group 4: Tom Jones: The First Comic Blockbuster
Instructor: Prof. S. Dickie
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, Room 920
Brief Description of Course
: A rare opportunity to read closely, and at a manageable pace, one of the greatest comic novels in the language. First published in 1749, Fielding’s Tom Jones was an immediate bestseller and the subject of ferocious controversy. While enemies attacked the book for its bawdy humour and low morals, others realized that Fielding had effectively invented “a new species of writing.” Over time, the book’s blend of picaresque and romance structures produced would lead to several generations of European Bildungsromane. Fielding’s narrative innovations were taken up by Austen, Dickens, and Eliot, and made Tom Jones a valuable case study for literary theorists (including Bakhtin, Iser, and Genette).
Tom Jones is a good-natured but amorous orphan who travels from Somerset to London, joins the Hanoverian army, and eventually wins the hand of his beloved Sophia. A chatty and ingratiating narrator leads his hero through a world of unforgettable comic characters. After surprises, dangers, and a sequence of brilliantly crafted dramatic episodes, it all comes together in one of the most ingenious plots ever created.
By concentrating on a single text, we will be able to pursue three larger aims. First, we will genuinely understand Tom Jones within its historical and cultural context, including the social and political structures of eighteenth-century Britain; the law; religious differences; gender, and sexuality. Second, we will have time to analyse, precisely and unrelentingly, Fielding’s techniques as a writer. As the course goes on, we will build up a sizeable list of these techniques and find terminologies for them. Third, since Fielding is one of the most playful and evasive prose stylists in the English tradition, we will bring to this novel the sort of rigorous close reading that is normally reserved for poetry.
Fielding, Tom Jones
, ed. Keymer (Penguin); Claude Rawson, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Henry Fielding
(Cambridge UP, 2007); Highly recommended: M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms
(tenth edition). All available from the Bob Miller Book Room (180 Bloor St W).
Other readings will be posted on Blackboard.
First Three Authors/Texts:
Method of Evaluation:
Close-reading exercise (3-4 pages, 750-1000 words), due Oct. 11 (20%)
Three responses/questions to the day’s reading (200 words each, total 20%) posted on Blackboard’s discussion page by 9 a.m on your assigned day. I will write the first one or two as an example.
Final paper (8-10 pages, 2000-2500 words), due Nov. 29 (45%)
Active and informed participation in discussion (15%)