Study Guide

Tom Jones Book 9, Chapter 1

By Henry Fielding

Book 9, Chapter 1

Of Those Who Lawfully May, and Of Those Who May Not Write Such Histories As These

  • The narrator decides we need to talk about what makes an author capable of writing "true and genuine" books as opposed to "foolish" or "monstrous" (9.1.1) ones.
  • Because anyone with a pen can write a novel, you rarely find someone who works hard both to make up good stories and to tell them in a convincing and skillful way.
  • The narrator thinks about the terms "history" and "romance."
  • He's not supposed to use the word "history" for this work because it isn't based on specific facts (9.1.5).
  • And he doesn't want to use the word "romance" because his work is too serious to be compared to a lot of other books that go into that category.
  • Because of the huge number of books now produced by dull or "nasty" (9.1.5) writers, the narrator suggests that we put into place some kind of system of official qualifications.
  • Here's what the narrator says you need to be a writer:
  • (1) Genius. A genius combines invention and judgment.
  • But by "invention," the narrator does not mean making up plot lines; anyone can invent stories.
  • For the narrator, being creative really means uncovering what is already there.
  • And once you have seen into this essence of things, you can then judge what they mean.
  • So invention = looking at stuff, and judgment = evaluating exactly how some things are different from other things.
  • (2) Learning. You can't just rely on natural genius.
  • You also have to study the craft of writing ("the tools of our profession" (9.1.8)).
  • It's the job of the writer not only to study other books, but also to study real human interaction.
  • The contrasts between upper and working class people and their behaviors will make each side's faults and virtues all the more apparent.
  • (3) A Good Heart. You have to have feelings of your own to write about other people's emotions.
  • (We're now imagining what the job application to be a writer would look like. Lots of free time? Check. Glutton for punishment? Check. Willingness to work long hours in the hopes that someone, someday will read your work? Check. And most importantly: have a day job? Check.
  • But the narrator's list of qualifications for being a professional writer certainly looks different from ours!)