My affair with Henry and Tom is finally over! I started reading The History of Tom Jones A Foundling by Henry Fielding somewhere around November of 2011. That’s right, 19 months ago. In my defense, it was an on-again-off-again kind of relationship. When it was on, I only read about two pages a night. Henry is totally cool, but Tom is…let’s go with youthful instead of stupid.
Published in 1749, Tom Jones is one of the first novels ever written. Of course, like any first, it’s a free for all. By today’s standards, there are three glaring flaws:
- There are constant asides from the author which will often make me smile.
- Books are prefaced with chapters (read essays) introducing a concept which the characters will face in the next chapters. The prefaces offer an 18th century perspective on philosophy, morality, antiquity, current events, etc. While interesting, they are definitely from Henry’s perspective. He’s not a character in the book, but he kind of is. He’s a memorable narrator who takes every opportunity to voice his opinion. Think Dickens but louder and more verbose.
- Tom, first in pursuit of fun, then work, then death and glory, and finally his beloved , encounters many characters along his journey across the British countryside. They are introduced, their backstories laid out for pages and pages, then they disappear from the scene, and at times, left me wondering if they’d made any contribution to the story or Tom’s development. While the sum of the encounters are definitely a reflection of a trip and Henry uses them to further his ideas almost as much as he employs them to further the plot, the modern reader could do without them.
Despite the “errors” made by Henry, Tom Jones is a great read.
Do you like 18th century literature too? What’s the longest it has taken you to read a novel? Do you wish the rules of writing were still allowed for author interjections?