The Novel Form


One of the things that stand out the most while reading Henry Fielding’s Jonathan Wild, is how differently it is formatted from other works from the same period. Granted, The Beggar’s Opera is a play and thus formatted accordingly. But Moll Flanders, while obviously a novel, based on its length, narrative style, etc., was not at all formatted like the ‘modern’ novels read by the public today. Likewise, Pamela and other works from the 18th century, are also formatted like Moll Flanders. These works are broken up at most by different “books”, but are, more often than not, completely non-delineated.

Within the narrative itself, especially in the case of Moll Flanders, the reader receives clues as to when an episode has ended and a new one begun. In Moll Flanders this is usually executed by some turn of phrase similar to “I faced the world anew” or a tally of her current stock of goods and money. Jonathan Wild uses two different formatting techniques to split up the text on the page. Fielding first splits up the narratives into four “books” and then each book is split up into fourteen chapters, excepting the last book which contains sixteen.

Chapter 61

Why did Fielding choose to do this? How does it affect the narrative? It seems that Fielding uses these breaks in narrative flow to redirect the reader’s attention to specifically what he wants them to take away from every scene. Fielding’s narrator is incredibly controlling of the narrative emphasis and every section is steeped in heavy-handed irony and social commentary. Given that these two things are true, one can guess at how the chapter breaks were to be employed, both as a further means of controlling the reader’s interpretation of the text and as a way to highlight what critique in particular is to be the focus of each individual scene. Both of these intentions can be seen in the chapter headings for each section. For example, Chapter I of Book II is titled “Characters of silly People, with the proper Uses for which such are designed” (Fielding 46). This is the chapter in which Wild reunites with his schoolmate Thomas Heartfree. From the title alone, the reader is already told that the person to be introduced is to be read as ‘silly’, albeit ironically in this case, and that the thing to pay attention to is the ‘proper uses’ for these people which the narrative will lay out.

In this way, the formatting of the narrative into the more modernly familiar books and chapters, allows the author a greater control over narrative flow and reader interpretation, allowing them another opportunity to pointedly redirect attention and interpretation. It is worthwhile to consider this effect of ‘chapterization’ in modern novels, becoming aware of the fact that without them, a different reading of the text may become apparent.

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Published by rsjeffrey

Robin Jeffrey was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming to a psychologist and a librarian, giving her a love of literature and a consuming interest in the inner workings of people’s minds.

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