Tom Jones

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Derby, 1861
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Very large book to read.But appealing.To some extent verbose

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The History of Tom Jones
A Foundling by Henry Fielding
originally published 1749
It's been said that Tom Jones could be considered the first novel. I've read the same thing about Moll Flanders, so I don't take such statements very seriously- but the fact is, Tom Jones is one of the first novels. More like two novels- at 7 to 9 hundred pages long, Jones is an epic slog through English society circa 1750.
Whenever you read 18th century literature you need to ask yourself, "Is there some narrative form that this copies of which I am presently unaware?" In the case of Tom Jones, the answer is, "Yes." and that form is Picaresque. The basic idea of picaresque as applied to the novel is "Hero walks around and sees different types of people." Picaresque maintains a fascination with the grotesque and the odd ball- think of Hunter Thompson's characterizations of Vegas Tourists in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" for a modern analogue.
People often conflate the 18th century with the later Victorian period, but I can assure you that the 18th century was a far bawdier place. Indeed, the early novels: this one, Moll Flanders- Joseph Andrews, all share ribald plot points- both Flanders and Jones have plot points involving explicit allegations of parent/child incest. In Jones, the entire plot revolves around his desire to marry Sophia. That doesn't stop him from banging multiple chicks along the way.
The length of the novel means that Fielding has ample opportunity for human observation, dialect and moral teachings. You simply can't read 18th century British literature without discussing the morality issues. Although it is presently regarded highly for it's historical value, a debate over the artisitic merit is long standing:
Few novels, indeed, have aroused such stark and abiding evaluative disagreements as 'Tom Jones'. From the first, what some readers hailed as a refreshingly broad-spirited tolerance was denounced by others, like Richardson, as moral coarseness and special pleading. Coleridge's admiration for the book's plot (shared by Smollett and Thackeray) as one of the three most perfect in literature ... was the reverse of Dr Johnson's or Frank Kermode's dismissal of it as clockwork. The chatty asides and prefatory discourses which charmed Empson were so disliked by Somerset Maugham that his own edition of 'Tom Jones' simply left the latter out.
I def. like the "lack of fussiness" that Jones brings to his description. I do agree with Maugham's decision to omit the chatty "prefatory discourses"- I almost never understood what he was talking about.
I very much noticed Fielding's classical education at work. This is a time period when culture fields were establishing new archetypes, independent of Roman/Greece and Renaissance examples but Tom Jones is attached to those traditions more thoroughly then Robinson Crusoe, which exists largely outside of classical reference points and allusions.
Ultimately, the development of the novel as a literary form is all about plot development, and it is for the excellent development here that Jones secures his place in the canon. In the words of Roberts, again:
the main unity-promoting device is the use nearly of all the secondary characters to advance an ethos and illustrate a scheme of moral taxonomy. Fielding's moral vision operates for example between the moral polarities of appearance and reality, action (what one sees) and motive (what one deduces), reasoned principle and instinct, prudence and impulsiveness, and suspicion and trust.
It's the link between the morality lessons and plot points that make a modern novel.

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Page 19 - Suppose a secretary o' this isle, Just to be doing with a while ; Admiral, gen'ral, judge, or bishop ; Or I can foreign treaties dish up, If the good genius of the nation Should call me to negotiation ; Tuscan and French are in my head ; Latin I write, and Greek I read. If you should ask, what pleases best ? To get the most, and do the least ; What fittest for ?- you know, I'm sure, I'm fittest for a sinecure.
Page 385 - For though every good author will confine himself within the bounds of probability, it is by no means necessary that his characters, or his incidents should be trite, common, or vulgar, such as happen in every street, or in every house, or which may be met with in the home articles of a newspaper.
Page 38 - I will confess that my private affairs at the beginning of the winter had but a gloomy aspect ; for I had not plundered the public or the poor of those sums which men, who are always ready to plunder both as much as they can, have been pleased to suspect me of taking; on the contrary, by composing, instead of inflaming, the quarrels of porters and beggars (which I blush when I say hath not been universally practised), and by refusing to take a shilling from a man who most undoubtedly would not have...
Page 384 - In the last place, the actions should be such as may not only be within the compass of human agency, and which human agents may probably be supposed to do ; but they should be likely for the very actors and characters themselves to have performed ; for what may be only wonderful and surprising in one man, may become improbable, or indeed impossible, when related of another.
Page 251 - Oh ! my fond heart is so wrapt in that tender bosom, that the brightest beauties would for me have no charms, nor would a hermit be colder in their embraces. Sophia, Sophia alone shall be mine. What raptures are in that name! I will engrave it on every tree.
Page 221 - In reality, there are many little circumstances too often omitted by injudicious historians, from which events of the utmost importance arise. The world may indeed be considered as a vast machine, in which the great wheels are originally set in motion by those which are very minute, and almost imperceptible to any but the strongest eyes.
Page 160 - Her pure and eloquent blood Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought, That one might almost say her body thought.
Page 250 - Circassian beauty, drest in all the jewels of the Indies, appear to my eyes ! But why do I mention another woman? Could I think my eyes capable of looking at any other with tenderness, these hands should tear them from my head. No, my Sophia, if cruel fortune separates us for ever, my soul shall doat on thee alone.
Page 8 - that exquisite picture of human manners, will outlive ' the Palace of the Escurial and the imperial eagle of 'the House of Austria.
Page 208 - The critic, rightly considered, is no more than the clerk, whose office it is to transcribe the rules and laws laid down by those great judges whose vast strength of genius hath placed them in the light of legislators, in the several sciences over which they presided.

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