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Contrasting doctrines of the heart : a study of egocentricity and benevolence in novels by Fielding and Sterne Hagan, John Christian

Abstract

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes published his Leviathan. In it he analyses the passions and behaviour of men in an emerging market or competitive society. By posing his hypothetical "state of nature," he draws the conclusion that man is essentially a self-motivated creature. Lord Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, reacted to the picture of man drawn by Hobbes. In Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, and Times, first published in 1709, Shaftesbury analyses the affections or passions and concludes that man is essentially benevolent. Unlike the Hobbesian picture, the Shaftesburian analysis shows man as outward-oriented, seeking the good and company of others. These theories or the doctrines of the heart (as I call them for the purpose of this thesis) were current in the eighteenth century and at a time when Fielding and Sterne wrote Tom Jones and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman respectively. The doctrines are reflected substantially in both novels. In Tom Jones, for example, Tom becomes the epitome of the doctrine of benevolence in his persistent performance of good works; Blifil, in his selfish attempts to supplant Tom, displays Hobbesian egocentricity. Uncle Toby and Mr. Walter Shandy each reflect aspects of both doctrines in Tristram Shandy. It is my intention to show in this thesis that the doctrines of egocentricity and benevolence inform both Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, and that Fielding and Sterne react critically to the teaching of Hobbes and Shaftesbury in the process of their artistic creation. I shall approach the discussion chiefly by way of character analysis thus showing how the behaviour of the main figures in the novels suggests the thoughts of the philosophers. But the novelists' vision becomes clearer to the reader when it is seen in direct relation to the style of their works. In addition to the character analysis , therefore, I shall emphasize the narrative technique of each author, such as, the "comic- epic prose" of Fielding, the digressions as well as the "Shandean rhetoric" of Sterne, and attempt to illustrate how the style strengthens the awareness of the artistic vision.

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