Home Forums General Discussion the complexity of Fielding’s characters

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    Dear Mr Coe

    I LOVED your piece about comic novels. So funny, so necessary. It’s very frustrating to me that "seriousness" (and boredom) should be so prized among literary critics. (and HA on your masterful calling out of J. Wood). I hope you will write a great big book on this vital issue!! We need one.

    I also write to take issue a little bit with your remarks about Fielding. Many of the characters in Tom Jones are as "round" as anything to be found in any 20th or 21st-c. comic novel. Let’s take for example Aunt Western, who spends most of the book bragging about how brilliant and good-looking she is–the broadly-drawn caricature of a vain, pompous, silly woman. But when she tries to bully her niece Sophia into marrying that horrible lech, Lord Fellamar, Sophia cleverly appeals to her aunt’s vanity, pointing out that she, Aunt Western, had refused dozens of suitors: might not Sophia, too, expect another and better proposal? Had not Aunt Western once refused a coronet?

    “’It is true, child,’ said she, ‘I have refused the offer of a title; but it was not so good an offer; that is, not so very, very good an offer.’"

    Sophia presses her advantage, and flatters her aunt more and more, until at last:

    “Sophy, you know I love you, and can deny you nothing. You know the easiness of my nature; I have not always been so easy. I have been formerly thought cruel; by the men, I mean. I was called the cruel Parthenissa. I have broke many a window that has had verses to the cruel Parthenissa in it. Sophy, I was never so handsome as you, and yet I had something of you formerly. I am a little altered. Kingdoms and states, as Tully Cicero says in his epistles, undergo alterations, and so must the human form.”

    The way Aunt Western breaks down and just barely lifts the veil on her true feelings is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking; he’s suddenly inflating her into roundness, exactly the way Forster describes Austen as doing with her secondary characters. The unexpectedness of moments like this–and they happen very often in Tom Jones–have always struck me as the most refined, delicate and perfect kind of humor; maybe it’s just so very much to my taste, and other effects are more difficult to achieve, "better" somehow, but no, I don’t know of anything better. Not even Wodehouse, whom I have been totally delirious about my whole life.

    Thank you for your wonderful books–I haven’t read all of them yet, but I am newly inspired to keep reading!!

    Your superfan,

    Maria Bustillos

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