Historical Space in the "History of": Between Public and Private in Tom Jones

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit


Publication Date

Fall 1999


History remembers places as well as times, and the space of history is profoundly social rather than purely phenomenal or material. It is not produced wholly by individual psychology and yet cannot be reduced to abstract or natural space. Literary realism tends to be measured by one or the other of these extremes, as psychological realism or realism of naturalistic detail. Thus placing Fielding in the realist pantheon requires considerable exertion, if not outright violence. His scenes are starkly devoid of naturalistic detail, and he is far less concerned with accumulating the minutiae of psychological response than is his rival Richardson. But Fielding makes no claim to be a realist: his aim is to describe “not Men, but Manners.” And yet it is precisely by describing manners—by turning to the realm of the social rather than the psychological or the natural—that Fielding is able to represent historical space. In what follows, I will look at Fielding’s construction of scenes, and at the theory of history that informs his representation of manners. Ultimately, Fielding’s conception of scene—and of space—is a function of his theory of history: he rejects both the great man theory of history that relies on individual psychology, and the naturalistic detail of “mere topographers”. For Fielding, history is best explained by the social structures and strategies that constitute manners.


This article was originally published in English Language History. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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© 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press