Essay about Nature and Purpose of Digression in Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews

Essay about Nature and Purpose of Digression in Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews

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Nature and Purpose of Digression in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews  


It is perhaps a development of Henry Fielding’s verbose writing style that he includes so many digressions in the pages of Joseph Andrews. As an author, he is certainly not afraid to slow the pace of his tale for the development of a moral point, and although this most often takes the place of a paragraph or two within the main story, he does occasionally dedicate entire chapters to matters which are completely unrelated to the plot development but which expound ethical or theological ideas related to the themes of the text as a whole. Also, at the beginning of the first three books, Fielding himself gives a commentary on some aspect of the literary art, in digressions (perhaps prefaces would be a better word) which are fundamentally different in nature to all the others in that they explore ideas relevant to the construction of the book itself, rather than of its themes. They cover such topics as the reason for which the book is being written, the advantages of splitting a book into chapters and the wonders of biography as a literary form; and can almost be considered as explanations by the author as to why he wrote the book the way he did, rather than providing any development of the themes of the text themselves.

Something which holds true for all of the major digressions within the text is that they all occur, to some extent, to relieve the reader: the tale of Leonora is related directly after an intense theological discussion; Wilson’s tale after a rather long chapter containing "several wonderful Adventures"; the discourse between the poet and player after a chapter "containing surprizing and bloody Adventures", and the final digression, that of...


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... isolated ideas, but ideas which are integral to the plot, and, as such, help us to understand the story better as a whole. The digression told by the Poet and the Player, for example, talks of the nature of plays and poetry and their quality as seen in the contemporary theatres; this is later developed by the next chapter, where a discussion occurs between Adams and Joseph on the subject of the performing arts. As usual, Fielding sees no reason not to point this connection out to us directly, as he writes at the end of the digression "the next Chapter ... is a sort of Counterpart to this." This relevance to the book as a whole is common to all of the digressions, Leonora’s tale exploring loyalty, Wilson’s tale exploring personal reformation and forgiveness, and Lennard and Paul’s tale exploring honesty, all of which are themes very much appropriate to the text.

 

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