This research paper explores Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones, which many critics identify as one of the most important texts of 18th Century Literature. The novel is highly successful and enjoyable in its own right, but it is particularly significant within the interpretive framework of examining the transition from neoclassicism to literature of sensibility. The plot of Tom Jones exhibits the increasing concern with domestic matters that would come to dominate literary texts in the latter half of the eighteenth century. However, even as emotionalism and sentimentality are highly prevalent in the narrative, Fielding also injects many elements of neoclassicism. The sprawling, epic narrative is, in fact, very strictly structured and ordered. Also, the overly emotional and sentimental title character’s entire quest in the novel is towards the achievement of prudence, the quality that Fielding asserts must temper emotionalism in order for a human being to be complete. Fielding in Tom Jones exemplifies the double-voiced discourse of the eighteenth century, vacillating between the poles of neoclassicism and sentimentality.
The research paper illustrates that the literature of the eighteenth century was not as easily categorized as the distinction between the Augustan period and Literature of Sensibility would suggest. Rather than two mutually exclusive modes of writing, these two comprise the poles of a continuum, between which much of the literature of the era fluctuated. Most of the significant texts from the eighteenth century engage in a double-voiced discourse that includes elements of both Augustan wit and satire and emotional sensibility.