Cicero’s Topics of Invention in Fielding’s Preface to Joseph Andrews

Author: Dodd, Kirk
Title: Cicero’s Topics of Invention in Fielding’s Preface to Joseph Andrews
Review/Collection: "International Journal of the Classical Tradition", 29
Editor: Springer
Year edition: 2022
Pages: 168-189
Keywords: Héritage - Fortuna - Legacy, Rhétorique - Retorica - Rhetorics, Stylistique et genres littéraires - Stilistica e generi letterari - Stylistics and literary genre
Description: [Dodd, Kirk][Abstract] The unique six-page preface to Henry Fielding’s novel Joseph Andrews (1742) has generated great acclaim for supplying an adroit analysis of classical genres and the several subspecies of comedy in its proposal that his novel should be considered a ‘comic Epic-Poem in Prose’. Judith Frank has suggested that Fielding’s preface might be “at once the most assigned and [yet] least analyzed discussion of the aesthetics of the novel in English studies”, alluding to both the importance of the preface for undergraduate conceptions of the novel genre and the inimitable vagaries of Fielding’s articulate style. Where critical understandings of the preface might therefore be disproportionate to its acclaim, and where only two articles have previously examined Fielding’s applications of formal rhetoric in his work, this paper addresses both lacunas by proposing that Fielding made use of Cicero’s scheme of topical invention (from his Topica) to assist with the composition of his preface. Cicero’s topical scheme is a system of sixteen prescribed loci or ‘topics’ (places for locating or inventing arguments) and these were promoted as a universal and comprehensive scheme for discovering the best arguments for any subject under consideration. This paper demonstrates that Fielding’s preface engages with ten out of sixteen of Cicero’s topical terms and displays an informed understanding of the logical processes pertaining to those topics. It also demonstrates that Fielding makes use of a fountain metaphor in much the same way that Cicero used a fountain metaphor in his Topica, and furthermore, that the sequence of topical terms in Fielding’s preface run in much the same sequence as promoted by Cicero in the Topica. Where the new logic and rhetoric of the eighteenth century rejected the informal processes of topical invention for their relative focus on probable arguments, the applications of Cicero’s topics in the preface to Joseph Andrews helps characterize Fielding as both a dedicated classicist and a Ciceronian rhetor.
Author initials: Dodd 2022