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Henry Fielding and the Narration of Providence: Divine Design and the Incursions of Evil.

By Richard A. Rosengarten. New York: Palgrave, 2000. xx + 170 pp. $49.95 cloth.

Richard Rosengarten's Henry Fielding and the Narration of Providence is a thoughtful contribution to Fielding studies. Beyond its specific concerns with Fielding's major works, it adds to our understanding of the complications of eighteenth-century literary and religious culture in England. Rosengarten places careful readings of Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, and Amelia against a background of the polemic debates about deism of the early 1700s. Arguing persuasively that Fielding was deeply engaged by these debates, Rosengarten suggests how coping with the problem of theodicy links Fielding's major novels in ways overlooked before. The opening chapter elaborates the concept of principled diffidence, a phrase capturing the ways Fielding shared a sense of skepticism about God's presence in worldly affairs. The second chapter, summarizing eighteenth-century theological debates about rationalism, as well as the literary debates that contributed to the emergence of the novel, lays out the cultural dilemmas that Fielding worked out through his novels' narrative voices. Arguing that the narration of Amelia displaces providence from this world to the next much more fully than is the case in the earlier works, Rosengarten redeems this novel, usually seen as a weaker part of the Fielding canon. In fact, seen in its religious as well as literary context, Amelia mirrors larger developments in English culture. Whatever Amelia's literary weaknesses, Rosengarten successfully shows how its narrative tensions indicate powerfully Fielding's struggle to understand the place of evil in a rationalist yet still religious world, a struggle that indeed he shared with many of his contemporaries.
John T. O'Keefe
Harvard University
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Author:O'Keefe, John T.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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