Staging Henry Fielding: The Author-Narrator in Tom Jones On Screen
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionAuthorship. 2017, 6 (1), . 10.21825/aj.v6i1.4835
As recent adaptation theory has shown, classic-novel adaptation typically sets issues connected to authorship and literal and figurative ownership into play. This key feature of such adaptations is also central to the screen versions of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749). In much of Fielding’s fiction, the narrator, typically understood as an embodiment of Fielding himself, is a particularly prominent presence. The author-narrator in Tom Jones is no exception: not only is his presence strongly felt throughout the novel, but through a variety of means, ‘The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling’ is also distinctly marked as being under his control and ownership. The two adaptations of Fielding’s novel, a 1963 film and a 1997 television series, both retain the figure of the author-narrator, but differ greatly in their handling of this device and its consequent thematic ramifications. Although the 1963 film de-emphasises Henry Fielding’s status as proprietor of the story, the author-narrator as represented in the film’s voiceover commentary is a figure of authority and authorial control. In contrast, the 1997 adaptation emphasises Fielding’s ownership of the narrative and even includes the author-narrator as a character in the series, but this ownership is undermined by the irreverent treatment to which he is consistently subjected. The representations of Henry Fielding in the form of the author-narrator in both adaptations are not only indicative of shifting conceptions of authorship, but also of the important interplay between authorship, ownership and adaptation more generally.