Book 4 Chapter 5 of Tom Jones.

This is part of an ongoing project in which I will record and post one chapter per week of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones over the course of four years.

Well, oh well! Tom has finally asked Sophia help out Black George, as was first hinted at five or so chapters ago! I'd like to focus, therefore, on the use of digression as a literary device.

We've spent the past few chapters preparing the ground so that we know, to a certain extent, the hidden motives and the relationships between each of the characters involved. Now, one might think that it would be more elegant to have established all of these things beforehand, and that's very probably true. But let's for a moment discuss a different book, by a different writer, that was published about 10 years later. This was Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

Shandy took the digression device about as far as it could possibly go. In order for the narrator to discuss the events of his life, he needs to start with his birth. Realizing that things had already been conspiring before his birth to shape his existence, he moves further back, to the moment of his conception. When his conception isn't quite enough, he has to go back to the Siege of Namur of 1695. Ultimately, very little story gets told. We learn next to nothing about Shandy's life (though quite a few of his opinions) and many of the chapter he says he'll get to never actually appear in the book. Granted, Laurence Sterne died before completing it, but there is every indication that, had he continued writing the novel, we would have gotten yet more layers of digression and still more questions to be explored.

Also, I get the feeling that the songs that Squire Western really enjoys are probably terrible.

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AuthorMark Turetsky