Neil Mackay's Reviews > The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
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M_50x66
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Dec 16, 11

Read in December, 2011

This great novel begins as it means to continue, in a grand, yet conversational, style so characteristic of the 18th century.

I warmed to the fine style quite quickly yet Fieldings digressions (though not his prefatory chapters) started to drag towards the middle of the book, which, compounded by my impression that he is not a great writer on 'the road', where that part of the book is set, meant that the book sagged a little towards the middle and i abandoned it for some weeks before taking it up again. But i'm very glad that i did recommence because the book finishes even more strongly than it begins, leaving a warm light behind it that i can only compare to that left by Robert Fagles' translation of the Odyssey.

At times the author's observations and comments reminded me of the best subtleties of Henry James (before that author becomes infuriatingly abstruse or super-sophisticated), though at times a line or two was lost on me and i had to to reread a strange grammatical or linguistic construction, or else move on. My reading of the book was made richer and more pleasurable by some brief research into the period, the Jacobite uprisings, the Hanovarian succession, the rise of the novel and decline of the stage, the literary culture pertaining at the time etc.

Despite the above criticisms, by the time i had finished the book i had the impression it was one of the finest novels i had ever read, one of the greatest works of art i had experienced. I started the next day to read it again from the beginning. I only re-read the first two 'books'(of which there are 18) this time, but there is no doubt i will return again to the richly rewarding experience of rereading this book. And it is fully possible the central part of the book, when illuminated by the structure of the whole, will then appear in a more favourable light.

Tom Jones, Sophia, squires Allworthy and Western, servants Partridge and Honour and others are well drawn, interesting, often great characters. But as interesting is the way in which Fielding draws them, showing himself drawing them without being annoyingly obtrusive. On the contrary, Fielding speaks to us, with the great good humour of his age, as a beloved friend, or perhaps avuncularly, a nephew.

He is a great spokesman for the age his novel shows us a fiction of. I may not agree with all his views (it would be strange if i did) but i am astonished at the rich loquacity with which he expresses them and the enticing, magical, beauty of the form of the novel he reveals along with, through and in, the world of Tom Jones.
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