Tom Jones as a Picaresque Novel
The Picaresque Novel is a tale of adventures or mis-adventures of a Picaro which means a ‘rogue’ or ‘knave’. It originated in Spain in the sixteenth century as a reaction against the romance of chivalry. Lazarillo De Tormes and Guzman de Alfarache are the earliest of the Spanish picaresque novels.
Defoe’s Moll Flanders is in the picaresque tradition. It is the story of the adventures of a dissolute woman. She is the heroine of the novel. Some critics do not accept Moll Flanders as a picaresque novel on the grounds that the crimes of the protagonist are rooted in the dynamics of economic individualism. Robinson Crusoe is also rejected as a picaresque novel on similar grounds.
The chief characteristics of the Picaresque novel are a picaro and his adventures. From these emerge other characteristics. In order that a person is a picaro he should be of dubious parentage like the protagonists of ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Great expectations’. He should be restless by nature so that he may keep on moving from place to place, from country to country. To keep the story moving the novelist has to dovetail several episodes keeping the protagonist at the centre of all events. Since the scenes are shifting, different social setting becomes necessary after the change of every scene or episode.
Thus various aspects of society are painted in a picaresque novel. The protagonist has to move from place to place, from people to people, a large number of characters are to be drawn from different walks of life who may come in contact with the central figure. The hero, or the central figure is primarily a ‘rogue‘, therefore the question of any didactic nature does not arise at all, since no moral issues are involved. The main purpose of the writer of a picaresque novel is to sustain the interest of the reader in the main story and provide entertainment and delight.
Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones is a picaresque novel. The second part of ‘Tom Jones’ is purely picaresque. Tom Jones is fashioned on the model of the Spanish picaresque novels and of Gil Blas of Le Sage, a French novelist. Its structure depends on the nature of the genre. The hero is a foundling. He is thrown out of the house by his patron, Mr. Allworthy on the instigation of Blifil, the villain. The novel after this becomes purely picaresque. Tom Jones goes on moving from place to place meeting all sorts of people. His life is just a series of adventures. At the end he reaches London. The plot starts unfolding. Complications are resolved. The novel ends with the marriage of Tom with Sophia
The picaresque character of the novel is amply reflected after Tom’s expulsion from Allworthy’s house. He goes to Bristol. He meets the soldiers on way to Bristol. He accompanies them in order to become a soldier himself. Tom’s adventures begin. Tom meets Partridge. He treats Tom kindly. Tom and Partridge become companions. Tom goes to Meazart Hill. He rescues a woman from the hands of a ruffian: helps Mrs. Waters and takes her with him to the town. Tom’s life with Mrs. Waters at the in becomes scandalous. Sophia and Mrs. Honour arrive at the inn. Partridge makes some scandalous utterances to Mrs. Honour about Tom and Mrs. Waters. Susan confirms it.
Sophia meets Harriet. She accompanies her to London. Tom Jones continues his chase for Sophia. In the way, he makes up his mind to join military services. His companion, Partridge opposes his resolution. They meet a lame beggar on way. Tom buys a diary from him. To his utter surprise he discovers that the diary belongs to Sophia. The diary contained a bank-note. Tom continues his journey further. In the way he stays in a number of lodgings and inns. Tom meets a robber who threatens him. Tom gives him a good thrashing. The robber apologizes. Tom gives on two guinees on his request.
Tom arrives in London. Tom and Partridge stay at Mrs. Miller’s lodgings where they win the confidence of the land lady and the friendship of Mr. Nightingale. Tom is entrapped by Lady Bellaston, a flirt and a man hunter. Tom is tired of lady Bellaston. He wants to get rid of her. He seeks the help of Mr. Nightingale. Lady Bellaston decides to get rid of Sophia. She arranges a secret meeting between Sophia and Lord Fellanmor in order to get Sophia seduced by him because she thought that Sophia would then naturally like to marry the man who had seduced her. Sophia’s father arrives accidentally and consequently her honour is saved.
Tom Jones pays visit to Mrs. Fitzpatrick in order to know about Sophia’s lodgings. Mr. Fitzpatrick arrives. He does not recollect the face of Tom Jones. There is some sort of misunderstanding. They draw swords. A number of persons intervene. Tom Jones is delivered to the civil magistrate who orders him to be carried to a public house.
In the meantime, Mrs. Waters see Allworthy and tell all about the birth and parents of Tom Jones. This brings about a sudden turn in the story of the novel Mr. Western ultimately gives his consent for the marriage of Sophia with Tom Jones, Partridge also arrives there. He tells Mrs. Miller as well as Allworthy that he found Jones mother. He reveals that he was wrongly blamed and punished for being Tom’s father, which he was not. Tom Jones was the son of Allworthy’s sister, Miss Bridget with Mr. Summer. The mystery is resolved. Tom and Sophia get married.
The adventurous tale narrated above clearly indicates that the novel. ‘Tom Jones’ is written very much on the ‘Picaresque’ model. Tom Jones undergoes many adventures. His life is full of trials and tribulations. He becomes a sinner very often, but never a villain. Tom never loses sympathy of the readers. This is the art of Henry Fielding. It is the architectonic quality of his plot construction that the novel becomes both a picaresque novel and a comic epic poem in prose.
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