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Nobody's Story

In: English and Literature

Submitted By shirin16
Words 623
Pages 3
Shirin Bismillah
M.A English (Prev.) IInd Semester

One of the principal ideas of Catherine Gallagher’s essay The Novel and Other Discourses of Suspended Disbelief revolves around the ‘world outside the novel’ and how it got distinguished from other genres and previous forms of fiction. One of the most sophisticated explanation she develops across her Nobody’s Story. Gallagher argues that the condition for the emergence of the novel is the break from the scandal sheets which were scurrilous prose writings directed at real life figures. The female writers composing against the powerful patrons in the scandalous court chronicles of 1700s became the target of a degrading equation which was between a Writer and a Whore. The movement away from this degraded real life identity to the lofty observer of life changed their status from a whore to an intellectual. It is this observer who does not write of a real life personality but of a fictional Nobody who can fabricate stories and characters that are irreproducible and creations of sheer genius. Once the subject of a narrative is unrestrained from a real life identity, it eventually becomes a Nobody. This paper shall examine Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, who becomes a new citizen of England, with his status of a Foundling.
According to Gallagher, ‘fiction can and does exist independent of the novel’, which was also a response to rise of individualism and middle class that made novel a dominant form. This brings into light the question of reality in 18th century, where identity becomes problematic in each novel. Tom Jones, with a fictitious title, insists on false identity that is discovered on the property of a wealthy landowner, Allworthy. Legally a bastard Tom’s inheritance of his family fortune is threatened according to the English Law. Gallagher suggests that the rise of fiction is from this ‘nobody’ who is indeed ‘everybody’. One can not empirically associate this with a ‘somebody’, who denotes a scandalous personality whose story could only be found through the salacious pamphlets.
Tom Jones can be thought of as Nullius Filius or ‘Son of Nobody’, barred from every legal inheritance, which were also considered children of nobody by the Church. Fielding’s deliberate maneuver of keeping Tom’s legal ambiguity till the end perhaps frames Tom also as Filius Populi or ‘Son of the People’ vindicating him as someone with an obscured genealogy and not having control over his origins. An interesting parallel, which operates as an exact backdrop for Tom Jones is of the ‘Young Pretender’ Bonnie Prince Charles, seen as a bastard child, whose invasion of England in 1745 failed. This idea of being a ‘pretender’ alludes to having no legitimate claim on something but pretending to get hold of something. Tom’s legal status in conformance to this is an allegorical correspondence within and outside the text with the British history.
An allegorized ‘everybody’, Tom Jones also disrupts the notion of genealogical model of power i.e. the kinship structure with the absence of father figure. The reader does not know the real identity of Tom in the beginning which leads to a series of abuses for the supposed mother. The final exposition of Tom Jones is done through a train of events which are hardly moral suggesting the idea of virtue is class based. The misnaming of the protagonist creates a space for fiction with no change in his legal position in the end. Hence this movement away from the scandal sheet to the fictional Nobody brings into existence a new set of mental habits to read a novel where the idea of fictionality is a product of modern specularity.

Bibliography:
Gallagher, Catherine, Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820. Ocean Press, 1995.

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