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The History of Tom Jones - Henry Fielding

            Henry Fielding's novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) is told through the voice of a narrator. This third person perspective is quite different from the novels written by novelists Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson. Ian Watt, author of The Rise of the Novel (1957) argues that one reason Fielding's novel is problematic is because the novel distances itself from the reader through the third person narration; the novel has lost some of its realism. If the criterion for realism is psychological verisimilitude, then yes, the novel Tom Jones has lost a realistic quality. However, Watt does not say specifically that psychological verisimilitude is a criterion for the novel of the eighteenth century. Nor does he say that for the novel to be realistic the text must show a deep, disclosed psychological truth of the character(s). Watt has set up the premise that in the eighteenth century the text of the novel must follow the guidelines of realism. Watt has prescribed the text should be authentic, with detailed characters and particulars of the time and place of the characters actions1. Fielding's novel Tom Jones follows these minimal criteria; thus Fielding's novel is not in conflict with the criteria for realism laid out by Watt. .
             In The Rise of the Novel, the chapters preceding the analysis of Tom Jones, Watt hints at the importance of psychological verisimilitude in creating a realistic text. Fielding, contrary to Defoe and Richardson, does not delve deep into the psyche of his characters. Both Richardson's and Defoe's characters speak to us "from the heart" (such as through a journal or letters), the reader then receives a thorough account from the acting character. But Fielding does not provide a personal insight from the characters' perspective, rather we learn about the characters through their actions and words and through an objective narrator. This gives a realistic perspective of his characters as would be seen by a peeping tom.

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