Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Articulation (2)

The bulk of this post is taken from Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews (published in 1742):

Of Divisions in Authors.

There are certain mysteries or secrets in all trades, from the highest
to the lowest, from that of prime-ministering to this of authoring,
which are seldom discovered unless to members of the same calling. Among
those used by us gentlemen of the latter occupation, I take this of
dividing our works into books and chapters to be none of the least
considerable. Now, for want of being truly acquainted with this secret,
common readers imagine, that by this art of dividing we mean only to
swell our works to a much larger bulk than they would otherwise be
extended to. These several places therefore in our paper, which are
filled with our books and chapters, are understood as so much buckram,
stays, and stay-tape in a taylor's bill, serving only to make up the sum
total, commonly found at the bottom of our first page and of his last.

But in reality the case is otherwise, and in this as well as all other
instances we consult the advantage of our reader, not our own; and
indeed, many notable uses arise to him from this method; for, first,
those little spaces between our chapters may be looked upon as an inn or
resting-place where he may stop and take a glass or any other
refreshment as it pleases him. Nay, our fine readers will, perhaps, be
scarce able to travel farther than through one of them in a day. As to
those vacant pages which are placed between our books, they are to be
regarded as those stages where in long journies the traveller stays some
time to repose himself, and consider of what he hath seen in the parts
he hath already passed through; a consideration which I take the liberty
to recommend a little to the reader; for, however swift his capacity may
be, I would not advise him to travel through these pages too fast; for
if he doth, he may probably miss the seeing some curious productions of
nature, which will be observed by the slower and more accurate reader. A
volume without any such places of rest resembles the opening of wilds or
seas, which tires the eye and fatigues the spirit when entered upon.

Secondly, what are the contents prefixed to every chapter but so many
inscriptions over the gates of inns (to continue the same metaphor),
informing the reader what entertainment he is to expect, which if he
likes not, he may travel on to the next; for, in biography, as we are
not tied down to an exact concatenation equally with other historians,
so a chapter or two (for instance, this I am now writing) may be often
passed over without any injury to the whole. And in these inscriptions I
have been as faithful as possible, not imitating the celebrated
Montaigne, who promises you one thing and gives you another; nor some
title-page authors, who promise a great deal and produce nothing at all.

...[Four paragraphs elided]...

I will dismiss this chapter with the following observation: that it
becomes an author generally to divide a book, as it does a butcher to
joint his meat, for such assistance is of great help to both the reader
and the carver. And now, having indulged myself a little, I will
endeavour to indulge the curiosity of my reader, who is no doubt
impatient to know what he will find in the subsequent chapters of
this book.

It is to be hoped that you, kind reader, will be able to see how Fielding's discussion relates to your endeavor, for all that Fielding was writing comic fiction, and you are hoping that your work would not be similarly labeled.

Fielding says that the chapter headings might be considered signs above the doors of the inns visited by the reader, but I suggest thinking about those chapter (and section) headings as road signs: they help the reader orient him or herself within the work.

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