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C h a p t e r 3 How to Read a Mind (Crébillon) Fielding pauses in the course of Joseph Andrews (1742) to correct readers who may think they possess the real-life keys to his characters: “I declare here once and for all, I describe not men, but manners; not an individual, but a species.” The lawyer met in a coach is not a satirical reference to “some little obscure fellow,” but the type of the selfish man, present “these four thousand years” though he may exercise different professions, worship another deity, or live in some far-off country.1 Having little relation to the pseudofactual pretense of the true story or found document, Fielding’s use of character types may well appear properly fictional: his characters tell us about our world while not being literally of that world; they are a kind of abstract transmutation of the author’s observations, “taken from life,” says Fielding, yet certainly not to be read through use of a key. This is why Catherine Gallagher seizes on Fielding’s famous declaration as an indication of a sea-change in literary practice. Sometime between Defoe’s very pseudofactual Robinson Crusoe and Fielding’s proclamation of generality, between 1720 and 1742, “new modes of non-reference” arose: “it is on the basis of [Fielding’s] overt and articulated understanding that the novel may be said to have discovered fiction.”2 It is an intriguing proposition—though as often happens with new worlds and deserted islands, there were already some footprints in the sand when Joseph Andrews came ashore. Fielding himself names a number of French predecessors, including Marivaux, whose Paysan parvenu (1734–35) contains extensive meditations on type; he then proceeds to claim not to have read or to remember them. This is no doubt more an anxious denial of indebtedness than a statement of fact, for when Fielding proposes to use his lawyer “to hold the glass to thousands in their closets, that they may contemplate their deformity , and endeavour to reduce it,” his language is boilerplate.3 At least since how to read a mind 91 Molière, the comic type was seen to set off in the viewer a salutary recognition, as we realize that the characters we initially laughed at are really just exteriorized reflections of ourselves; ridendo castigat mores. And complementing this private, moral use of the type was another more “scientific” one. In keeping with the strongly taxonomic thrust of early modern knowledge production, writers making use of character types aimed at producing what they called a tableau or a picture of humanity: Lesage called his Diable boiteux (1707) “a painting of modern mores”; a half-century later Smollett, in Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753), defined the novel as “a large diffused picture, comprehending the characters of life.”4 Fleshing out Gallagher’s remark, perhaps we can hypothesize that the novel “discovers” fiction when it drops its debt to the real heroes of tragedy and epic and aligns itself with comedy—the genre which, after all, was such a good example of poetic generality for Aristotle.5 If so, however, the alignment is surely a process that goes well beyond Fielding, the years just before 1742, or even England.6 One French predecessor whom Fielding does not name is Crébillon, whose preface to Les Égarements du coeur et de l’esprit, ou mémoires de Monsieur de Meilcour (1736–38) easily matches the comments in Joseph Andrews for an articulated understanding of the type.7 And Crébillon’s novel itself points up the extent to which Fielding’s practice of types is really quite minimal, hardly the backbone of his great novels. The lawyer, Lady Booby, Slipslop: Fielding not only flags his types with professions and symbolic names, he relegates them to the margins of his story, which otherwise, in good romance fashion, turns on steadfast love and mistaken identities, and whose literal truth the mock-epic narrator repeatedly asserts. By contrast, Crébillon presents every one of his characters as merely representative, right down to the hapless and unformed protagonist, “a man like all men are in their earliest youth.”8 And while Fielding (somewhat in the manner of Subligny) takes epic and romance peripetia and effectively brings it home to contemporary England, Crébillon deprives his novel of adventure—dismissed in his preface as “those extraordinary and tragic events that give flight to the imagination and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812205107
Related ISBN
9780812243550
MARC Record
OCLC
794700580
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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