Genia Lukin's Reviews > The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
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Mar 30, 11

bookshelves: classics, satire
Read from March 05 to 30, 2011

Tom Jones is considered the first novel. I can certainly see where it would be so, because in many ways it still has the hallmarks of a text that was not written with the flow of a story in mind.

It's interesting, entertaining, and in many ways quite sly, but it also manages to be rambly, lengthy, unnecessarily verbose - and coming from yours truly, with my own penchant for being verbose and high tolerance for purple prose and book length, this is not a compliment - and in dire need of a good, knowledgeable editor.

I read it for class, so it cannot be said, for my sins, that I was going into it with much eagerness, but at the same time i was by no means reluctant or loathe to read it, as in my experience it is always worthwhile to give books a try. On the whole, I would not say i was disappointed. I found myself entertained by the notions of the period, the historical background, and the characteristics that Fielding seems to sketch out so ably; at the same time I found myself glossing over some of the more gregarious asides, wishing that someone would take the book and 'tighten it up' so to speak to make the story flow a little better, and to make the reader a bit less inclined to flip pages as he goes.

Admittedly, the story itself takes very much second place to social satire and setting, which makes the deviations from the plot, irrelevant digressions and scene studies that much more forgivable. You don't read Tom Jones to read a fascinating or unique plot; you read it for the social comedy and the author diatribes. Thus, though it leaves much to be desired as a novel, it certainly carries its own as a book.
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly You name, in our local lingo, means "genius-looking."


Genia Lukin Genia is the Russian derivative of Eugenia. Lukin is just an unfortunate coincidence. Either way, I'm glad you found my review entertaining, seeing as it was written on a lark during period break.


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly I haven't read Tom Jones yet, my copy is really an old one (1952, used, volume 37 of the Great Books of the Western World) and it smells. More than that, however, I was intimidated right at its very first sentence:

"An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money."

How's that again, Mr. Fielding??


Genia Lukin To be fair to Fielding - who was, admittedly, very aware of the connection between artist and audience - most of the time when he speaks he is being highly sarcastic.


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly I like sarcastic authors! Like Balzac!


Genia Lukin Then I think you should attempt the book again. Fielding is about as sarcastic as a polite 18th century Brit can get - which is very sarcastic indeed.


Alex I thought Richardson's Pamela was supposed to be the first English novel. (Do NOT read that book.) And I've never been sure why Defoe doesn't take it, since he wrote Robinson Crusoe 30 years before either of them.

I gave Tom Jones four stars too, but really only because I read it in between Pamela and Sterne's Tristram Shandy, both of which I liked a lot less.

I see Jones as a blown-out Shakespeare comedy. It's more or less the same plot - just much longer. So yeah, like you, I wish they'd invented editors back then.

But Joselito, Fielding is sarcastic - and very, very funny, sometimes.

Genia, would you mind running down the rest of your Enlightenment syllabus? I'd like to see if I missed anything I regret. I did not read Wealth of Nations. I just didn't have it in me.


Genia Lukin Let's see. It's divided into two parts: French Enlightenment and English and German Enlightenment.

English and German Enlightenment
Tom Jones
Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations
Hume, Treatise on the Foundation of Morals, Human Understanding and Dialogues on Religion
Gibbon's Decline and Fall
Moses Mendelssohn Jerusalem

French Enlightenment (yet to get there)
Dangerous Liaisons
Candide
Montesquieu's letters
Diderot and the Enciclopaedia (excerpts, I should hope)
Rousseau (probably some of his political treatises)
Comte de Bufon's Historie Naturelle (also, I sincerely hope, excerpts).

And some stuff that wasn't literary works. Some opera librettis, painting and architecture, and so on.

What was your syllabus like? I'll happily look for things I missed as well. Tristran Shandy's on my list to read for myself, though it was not required in class, as is Joseph Andrews. I'll get to them after I do some "lighter" reading to unwind. I've been galloping through classics recently, and it's beginning to wear on me.

I found Tom Jones to be generally readable, though at times a bit tedious, as I said. Don't think I'd read it again, but on the whole I don't regret reading it once. I think, though, that for a concise and a much, much funnier summary thereof, you'd just need to read Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest.


message 9: by Alex (last edited May 16, 2011 08:25AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex My enlightenment shelf is here. I was forced to come up with my own syllabus, as I'm making this up as I go; the result is that I got to skip Smith and Gibbons. :)

How was Gibbons? I'm interested in it, but probably not enough to actually read the thing.

I barely decided against Dangerous Liaisons, and I already regret it.

I was not a huge Tristram Shandy fan; I summed it up with something like, "This is a clever book, and maybe even an important one, but it's a bitch to read."

Great point that Importance of Being Earnest is basically a tighter version of Tom Jones. Hadn't thought about it that way. And yeah, it's definitely funnier.

I read Diderot's Nun. Pretty good, although toward the end (this is not a spoiler) he just quits writing and kinda goes "Yeah and anyway this is what was gonna happen next but screw it," which is pretty annoying.

Rousseau is the other guy I really should have read.

Books not on your syllabus that I'd recommend:
- Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population is, of course, super important - and you can get the gist from his summary, only about 50 pages long. It's kinda tighter than the original essay.

- If you dig Candide as much as I hope you do, Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and the Birth of the Modern World is a fun, readable non-fiction book that does a good job of putting Voltaire in context.

- If you want lighter reading that's still somewhat germane, The Monk (1797) is a total blast. Ludicrous over-the-top gothic play on the Faust myth, including loads of Satanism and creepy sex. It was recommended to me by a bunch of the Bookish at a time when I was a little beaten down from slogging through Shandy, and it definitely raised my spirits.

Thanks for taking the time to post your syllabus for me!


message 10: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex (PS Since we've been talking about Shylock in the Plays thread: Candide is an interesting comparison. Voltaire is notoriously anti-Semitic, it's not rampant in Candide, but it is there, and I found it more off-putting in Candide. Maybe because Voltaire just sortof casually tosses it around. If I remember right, wasn't there a scene or two in Tom Jones that was a bit anti-Semitic as well?)


Genia Lukin It's par for the course.

The interesting bit about it is that England exiled all its Jews in 1290, and since then living rights for Jews in England have been severely limited up till much later - I can't remember the precise date.

That being the case, Shakespeare, and Fielding, were probably mostly antisemitic in principle. One can't really be sure that they've met even a single Jew in their lives. Voltaire, on the other hand, living in continental Europe, tends to show a much more concrete sort of antisemitism, and yes, it's very jarring in Candide.

As for Tom Jones, it's certainly possible. I can't recall anything too blatant, because in literature of the period I mostly let these things slip past my ears. If I were inclined to be taking notice of every "Jew usurer" and "Jew this and Jew that" I'd never stop.


message 12: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex Genia wrote: "If I were inclined to be taking notice of every "Jew usurer" and "Jew this and Jew that" I'd never stop. "

Heh. Yeah, pretty much. And what I think I'm remembering in Tom Jones is exactly that sort of casual, tossed-off epithet.

Ah, you've already read Candide. That's probably my single favorite moment in Enlightenment literature - from, admittedly, a small pool, as this wasn't my favorite period, and barely edging out Fanny Hill's breathtaking cornucopia of euphemisms for "penis."


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