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Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (thoughts)

July 18, 2011


Y’all, if you have yet to dip your toes into eighteenth century lit, you’re missing out! I began reading these ‘old’ novels quite recently, and I’m here to report that every single one I’ve tried so far as been completely accessible, page-turning, and more ‘modern’ feeling than the later nineteenth century stuff. Novels were just appearing around then, and there’s this giddiness and exuberance that’s difficult to describe but magical to read. And if you think Victorian lit is a bit uptight, look no further than Tom Jones for all of the bawdy, life-loving, ridiculous adventures you could desire. The eponymous Tom Jones is a bastard taken in as a newborn by a good-hearted country squire and raised as his pseudo-son. Through a series of unfortunate events, Tom loses the squire’s respect and the hand of Sophia, his lady love, so he ends up running about the countryside and later London, looking to make his way in the world. In addition to all of the ridiculous encounters he finds himself in (let me tell you, his deep and abiding love for Sophia doesn’t seem to lessen his ardour for hopping into bed with the many lusty women he meets along the way), the book includes stories from various characters he meets, a hefty dose of hilarious narrator arguments addressed directly to the reader (and in many cases, the ‘critic’), and the parallel story of Sophia’s own adventures.

The whole book is such a romp, but just when you think Fielding couldn’t be sillier, he busts out some classical allusions to remind you of his credentials. These include some truly hilarious spoofs of Homer and the gang. Here’s one such scene from early on that made me laugh so hard I cried; a peasant girl has worn a fancy dress to church, which has caused quite a stir. In fact, she ends up in a fight with some of the other women…and here’s how Fielding writes it (I’m trying to figure out how to use iPhoto to merge the three photos into one; until then, sorry about three files! click to enlarge any of them):

There’s plenty of other satire (note: this is not satire in the style of Candide or Gulliver’s Travels, in case you were worried; Fielding seems to have loved people and life and embraced their silliness with gusto), including what I imagine is a bit of a sendup of the picaresque style, and this is one of those books that I think would be made even more delightful by a good professor filling me in on some of the inside jokes. But even without a strong literary background, I loved this to pieces; I was shocked at how quickly the pages flew by and saddened to finally reach the end. Good thing I’ve already got Joseph Andrews on my Nook and several more waiting for me on Manybooks.net. In case you can’t tell, Fielding now vies with Edgeworth for my favourite eighteenth century writer. I can’t help wishing I could meet him in a tavern and enjoy a pint or two with him. I heartly recommend him to anyone who loves a good story or a tongue-in-cheek narrator. Let’s hear it for eighteenth century po-mo! ;)

Suggested Companion Reads

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011 8:15 am

    I’m so glad to see that you enjoyed this one. I read it for the first (and thus far only) time a little over two decades ago when I was first married. I was in college and one of many part time jobs I held was working at a game room in a mall. I got a lot of reading done there and I remember wandering up to the bookstore one day and coming back down with a copy of Tom Jones. I was hooked from the very beginning. I love Fielding’s use of long opening synopses of the chapter you are about to read. Considering the age of the book it does feel very modern in its bawdy sensibilities and it is full of laugh out loud passages and enough adventure and titillation to make turning the pages a joy and not a chore.

    I’ve often thought about re-reading it and I’ve also wanted to track down a good biography of Henry Fielding. I can’t help but think he must have been an interesting person.

    I second your recommendation of this book and the idea of reading 18th century lit in general. Its surprisingly not as old and stuffy as one would think.

  2. July 18, 2011 11:27 am

    Yay! As I said on twitter, if you haven’t read it yet, I think you would like Tristram Shandy. It has the gentle satire of Fielding but even more zaniness. It so much fun!

  3. Heqit permalink
    July 18, 2011 12:41 pm

    Wooooooo! I’m so glad you read and loved this one. It’s been tied with P&P for my favoritest novel ever since I read it back in college, and it’s SO worth reading the unabridged version. It’s truly hilarious and brilliant and touching and insightful all at once, and you can really feel that Fielding’s keen eye for human foibles has not lessened his affection for his fellow men (not to mention women) or appreciation of the comedy and tragedy of life. I think Fielding’s own meta-description of it in the beginning, when he describes the contents of the book as the menu at an inn (I think — it’s been a while since I re-read) and promises the reader something to delight every variety of taste, is the best summation of it: it is a book that contains and offers and delights in the whole world.

    Just a great, great book — it’s definitely on my Desert Island Booklist.

  4. July 18, 2011 4:29 pm

    I also loved Tom Jones (have you seen the adaptation? Very good). I really enjoyed the “onion style”, where there’s a story inside a story inside a story. My next 18th century read will by Moll Flanders.

  5. July 19, 2011 1:40 am

    Wonderful review, Eva! As soon as I heard that you were reading ‘Tom Jones’ I was eagerly looking forward to your review. I love the picture of the Modern Library edition you have posted. Modern Library editions are so wonderful! My favourite line from your review was this – “The whole book is such a romp, but just when you think Fielding couldn’t be sillier, he busts out some classical allusions to remind you of his credentials.” My second favourite line from your review was this – “this is one of those books that I think would be made even more delightful by a good professor filling me in on some of the inside jokes.” I didn’t know that Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’ was a gentle satirical novel. I always thought that his books were serious, dense works. Inspired by you, I have read a few pages of ‘Tom Jones’ :) I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. I also want to read the book by Gogol, Colette and Goldsmith that you have mentioned. Thanks for this wonderful review!

  6. July 19, 2011 4:00 pm

    You and I like 18th century novels for the same reasons. I’ve always felt that they were writing novels before anyone really knew what a novel was. They’re so full of experimentation and just plain old fun.

    I second the recommendation for Tristram Shandy which I’m reading one book at a time this year. It’s made up of 10 books. I also loved Michael Lewis’s The Monk, which is the most gothic gothic novel you’ll ever read. Not a funny book, but still lots of fun.

    And if you’ve never tried it, Charles Dickens first novel The Pickwick Papers is very much in line with Tom Jones. Dickens was a big fan of Fielding; you can see how much he admired him in Pickwick.

  7. July 19, 2011 8:06 pm

    I read this in college and just loved it. Have you seen the film adaptation? It’s fantastic.

  8. July 21, 2011 2:31 pm

    I’m glad you loved this. I haven’t read it yet. I really liked Gulliver’s Travles though, from your comment it sounds like that was too much satire for you? About to read Candide for my book group. Will get to this at some point too.

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