Tom Jones Comic Epic

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Tom Jones as ‘Comic Epic-Poem in Prose’
Maruf Billah

Enjoying the freedom of an artist, Fielding in his ‘Tom Jones’ bursts on the literary scene giving thousands of hours for a kind of writing, which is in his own words, “I do not remember to have seen hitherto attempted in our language”. His immediate inspiration was the Spanish Classic, ‘Don Quixote’. However in discussing his work Fielding refers to Homer and Aristotle, the former for practice and the later for theory. This kind of appeal to authority was extremely important during the Neo-Classical Age. The classification is most apt for this is the period of literary history in which writers and critics based their views of literature on classical figures, most important of who were, Homer and Aristotle. Alexander Pope has succinctly stated the prevailing view in one of the couplets from his ‘Essay on Criticism’, “Learn hence from ancient rules a just esteem;

To copy Nature is to copy them.”
However, ‘Tom Jones’ as Andrew Sanders puts in, “is Fielding’s most meticulous response to the challenge of Classical Epic and his most considered comic redefinition of what he called, ‘comic epic-poem in prose’, which he thus describes in his ‘Preface’ to ‘Joseph Andrews’, “Now a comic romance is a comic-epic in prose; differing from tragedy; its action being more extended and comprehensive containing a much larger circle in incidents and introducing a greater variety of characters. It differs from the serious romance in its characters, by introducing persons of inferior rank, and consequently of inferior manners, whereas the grave romance sets the highest before us; lastly in its sentiments and diction by preserving the ludicrous instead of sublime.”

Thus he outlined the concept of a comic epic-poem in prose. His ambition for prose were comprehensive; he proposed to take the wide range of character, incidents, diction and reference from the epic and to re-mould this material according to ‘comic’ rather than...
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