As nothing of importance has happened in the history of Tom Jones, so he tells the reader, he intends to pass over a long stretch of time.The reader, therefore, has a chance of intelligent participation, The vacant spaces in the text, here as in Joseph Andrews, are offered to the reader as pauses in which to reflect.
They give him the chance to enter into the proceedings in such a way that he can construct their meaning. His approval of Bridget Allworthy's strict [→page 139] observation of mourning as far as her garments are concerned points in the same direction.
First of all, Iser does not meet the tone of the passage, but falls, to put it bluntly, into the trap of Fielding's irony. We should not, therefore, put too much trust in the reader's "Sagacity" nor in his ability to contribute intelligent conjectures or to participate in the construction of meaning.
According to Iser the reader of Tom Jones or Joseph Andrews is encouraged by the author-narrator to help constitute the meaning of the novel.
He sees Fielding's offer of co-operation at certain places in the novels which he calls "blanks" or "gaps." The reader is meant to fill the "Blanks" (Tom Jones II.i.76), Iser's main contention is that the novel does not explicitly state its meaning, but that it is the reader who constructs its meaning on the basis of these signs.
I cannot agree with either of these propositions but shall argue that Fielding's aim was a composite one, ruled by feeling.
[→page 138]One of Iser's main stays is a passage from Tom Jones in which Fielding expands on "the vacant Spaces of Time." In Chapter III.i Fielding addresses his reader, attributing to him, as so often, "Sagacity" (116).
Fielding’s novels, therefore, do not just serve Iser as examples to illustrate his theory but actually provide the patterns or substrata on which it is based.
This inductive method, however sound in itself, requires close attention to what the text says.
, which Fielding had previously and famously derided.
Then, responding to the long critical history surrounding the representation of experience in the novel, I argue that experience, for Fielding, is not constitutive of but superfluous to character identity.