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The Old Order and the New Novel of the Mid-Eighteenth Century: Narrative Authority in Fielding and SmollettJohn Richetti Having lost the scent of his runaway Sophia in book XV of Tom Jones, Squire Western sits brooding, his affliction doubled by the blame heaped on him by his sister. But Sophia is betrayed by a letter from her cousin, Harriet Fitzpatrick, who reveals that the runaway is harboured in London by Lady Bellaston. Throwing his pipe in the fire and "huzza[ing] for Joy," the squire proposes to reclaim his daughter, armed with his legal rights: "I have not been in the Country so long without having some Knowledge of Warrants and the Law of the Land. I know I may take my own wherever I can find it. Shew me my own Daughter, and if I don't know how to come at her, I'll suffer you to call me Fool as long as I live. There be Justices of Peace in London, as well as in other Places."1 His sister, subtle and deep politician as she fancies herself, replies that Lady Bellaston is beyond such law: "Do you really imagine, Brother, that the House of a Woman of Figure is to be attacked by Warrants and brutal Justices of the Peace?" What she counsels is properly ritualized social negotiation, conducted according to unwritten protocols of propriety and deference: As soon as you arrive in Town, and have got yourself into a decent Dress (for 1 Henry Fielding, TAe History ofTom Jones, ed. Martin Battestin and Fredson Bowers (Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1975) XV, vi, 805. References are to book, chapter, and page of this edition. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 2, Number 3, April 1990 184 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION indeed, Brother, you have none at present fit to appear in) you must send your Compliments to Lady Bellaston, and desire Leave to wait on her. When you are admitted to her Presence, as you certainly will be, and have told her your Story, and have made proper Use of my Name, (for I think you just know one another only by Sight, though you are Relations) I am confident she will withdraw her Protection from my Niece, who hath certainly imposed upon her. This is the only Method.—Justices of Peace indeed! do you imagine any such Event can arrive to a Woman of Figure in a civilized Nation? (XV, vi, 805) Aunt Western understands aristocratic power, and she here invokes a network of patrons and clients, friends in a special eighteenth-century sense, whose relationships take precedence in practice over the legal structure her brother trusts. Country magistrate and fierce enforcer of the game laws, he has heard "his Lordship say at 'Size, that no one is above the Law. But this of yours," he protests to his sister, "is Hannover Law, I suppose" (XV, vi, 806). In the world of Tom Jones, neither of the Westerns speaks the whole truth, for the social order as Fielding represents it is regulated by a variety of norms, some legal and statutory, some traditional and customary , but all in a broad sense political rather than ideological, that is to say, open to negotiation within a context of distributed power relations. All varieties of law in Tom Jones are represented as in practice subordinate to their manipulation by individual policy for an invariable and thereby comic self-interest. Fielding himself, of course, helped to systematize the loose traditional order that he satirizes, and the year the novel was published he was commissioned as a magistrate. In that capacity he was to play a key role in reforming and strengthening the machinery of law enforcement in London. But in Tom Jones at least he carries out quite another project whereby these competing varieties of enforcement and regulation he depicts are contained by a narrative structure that makes their conflicting claims part of his comic mechanism. In Tom Jones, political behaviour is not only simplified by comic symmetries but neutralized by a powerfully implicit ideology that silently transcends politics. Not that Fielding himself was above politics; quite the contrary. In spite of his youthful alignment with the Tory satirists of an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 183-196
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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