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In English literature, the novel as a form of art, appeared rather late. The English novel in its true form, is supposed to have come only in the 18th century with Richardson’s Pamela, in 1740. It was about the middle of the 18 century that the English novel reached its full flowering in the hands of the great novelists like Richardson, Fielding, Smolett and Sterne. Of these four, Henry Fielding is the greatest and he has rightly been called the “father of the English novel”. 

Henry Fielding who was a dramatist took an early opportunity of satirising the novels of Richardson. Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, Amelia and Jonathan Wild are his best known novels. They exhibit all the essential features of a successful novel. He revolutionaised the concept of plot construction. It is in him that we get for the first time a closely knit organic plot. His skill in plot architecture cannot be over praised. There is practically no superfluity in Tom Jones, the action moves rapidly and there is hardly any incident of character which does not contribute to the story. It can be said that there could be no better school for a novelist than is afforded by the study of Fielding’s plot. In this respect, all future English novelists down to Thackeray have been indebted to him. 

It is Fielding who peopled the novel with a great crowd of lively and interesting characters, and endowed them with life and vitality. Even his minor characters are singularly alive. In this respect Fielding has been equalled by few and surpassed by none. The canvas of Tom Jones alone contains forty figures. 

The picture which Fielding presents of contemporary life, society, dress habits and manners is epical in its range, sweep and variety, Every aspect of contemporary life has been presented with rare force and realism, and this makes his four novels, more especially Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews important social document. Fielding is the first writer to focus the novel in such a way that it brought the whole world as we see it, within the scope of this new, Rapidly maturing literary form. Common life is the material of his stories but it is, handled with the freedom and imagination of a great artist. 

Fielding’s realism marks a significant advance in the history of the English novel. He went to Nature for his subjects, and reproduced it faithfully and accurately without any heightening or concealment. Fielding’s realism is also seen in the fact that he in variously gives a local habitation and a name to his scenes. He was the first English novelist to localize his scenes. 

Fielding was the first to infuse the novel, with the refreshing and preserving element of humour. Fielding’s humour is spontaneous, all pervasive, kindly, genial and tolerant. It has immense variety. He rises to pure comedy in such character as Adams and Partridge and to comedy lower and more farcical in characters like Mrs. Slipslop and Square Western. There is ample humour of situation too, in his novels. Affectation, variety and pedantry-causes of hypocrisy and vice are the objects of his satire though his satire is always mild and gentle. He sends: his satire laughing into worlds. Irony is the great weapon of his satire. And it is no exaggeration to claim that Fielding is one of the greatest ironists in European literature. 

Fielding imparted to the novel the dignity and attraction of pure literature. He is the first theorist of the English novel. When he took to writings novels, the novel was still a degraded and disreputable genre. It was a low kind, not for respectable or serious reading. Through his theory of comic epic in prose Fielding linked up the novel with classical tradition and thus secured dignity and recognition for it. The initial chapters and incidental comments scattered all through Joseph Andrew and Tom Jones reveal the richness of his brain and the thought he had given to the formulation of a theory of his own art. 

With Fielding the novel as a form of art came to establish  itself. He was concerned about the structural principles of prose fiction. Hus own success in construction was not indeed very great but he deserves the fullest credit for what he did both in theory and practice to carry over into the novel those ideas of unity and coherence. These are essential to any work of art. He was after all a moralist like Richardson, a social satirist and teacher But there is between the calculating moral code of Richardson and the generous warm-hearted approach to life which is admired by Fielding. 

In fine, Fielding gave to the novel a larger, wider, higher and deeper range. There is enormous range of suggestion in Fielding. Almost every kind of novel exists potentially in his four novels. The range of subjects which he suggests to others is almost as inexhaustible and varied as life itself. In Fielding we are haunted by almost the whole of the English novel. Almost all the elements which have continued in the English novel date from Fielding upto the time of Meredith and our most recent contemporaries, the English novel has followed Fielding’s law. His contribution to English literature and his influence on the novelist after them are beyond any doubt or dispute. 


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