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Fielding’s «Tom Jones» and the European Novel since Antiquity

Fielding’s «Tom Jones» as a Final Joinder


Reinhold Grimm

It is a common misunderstanding to situate the origin of the novel in early 18th-century English literature. For precisely the most accomplished and important representative thereof, Henry Fielding (1707-1754) with his Tom Jones in particular, can be shown to have been rooted, and most deeply at that, in the history of the European novel since Greek and Roman antiquity. The study uncovers these roots and traces this history from the 2nd century onward, discussing, on the one hand, Heliodorus’s Aithiopika («Egyptian Stories») and, on the other, Apuleius’s Asinus aureus («The Golden Ass») and investigating their enormous impact on European letters. In a manner of speaking, Heliodorus founded the courtly-heroic novel of the Baroque, which flourished mainly in France and Germany, while Apuleius founded the picaresque novel, which originated in Spain, but also flourished in Germany (Grimmelshausen) and France as well as in England. Cervantes – not only with his Don Quixote but likewise with his unduly neglected Persiles y Sigismunda – partook of both strands of this international development that culminated in Fielding’s masterwork of 1749. Thus, Tom Jones constitutes the final joinder of one and a half millennia of novel-writing in Europe; in fact, it even includes the respective theory.
Contents: Henry Fielding (1707-1754) and his Tom Jones – The two influential novels from Greek and Roman antiquity, Heliodorus’s Aithiopika («Egyptian Stories») and Apuleius’s Asinus aureas («The Golden Ass») – The courtly-heroic novel of the Baroque – The picaresque novel – Cervantes, Grimmelshausen, Defoe etc.