Book Review | The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding

Summary: A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr. Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neighboring squire—though he sometimes succumbs to the charms of the local girls. When Tom is banished to make his own fortune and Sophia follows him to London to escape an arranged marriage, the adventure begins. A vivid Hogarthian panorama of eighteenth-century life, spiced with danger and intrigue, bawdy exuberance and good-natured authorial interjections, Tom Jones is one of the greatest and most ambitious comic novels in English literature.

Final Rating: ★★★★☆

 

‘Tom Jones’ was probably one of my favorite classic books. It contained everything from angst to wit, frtom jonesom moral lessons to thought-provoking questions, from shock to laughter, from dismay to jubilation. Rarely does a book make you feel everything, while maintaining its light-hearted and realistic  essence.

I found something very interesting about this 18th century novel. Women, in those times, were usually seen as the grace of man. They were to marry where their parents wanted them to marry. They couldn’t be independent, they were forced to abide by the rules of the society, and men would think them so inherently inferior. In this novel, Fielding’s appreciation for women, and his opinions about how women are just as good as men offered some nuances into my opinion of that era. By reading this novel, I can be very confident in saying that Henry Fielding was a feminist, who was strongly against the oppression and repression of women, of judging women by their love affairs, of thinking of them as objects.

However, I will say that this book is not for everybody. It’s a beast of a read, averaging about 1000 pages, depending on what edition you read. It contains subject matter that may be offensive to some conservatives, while seeming ridiculous and pointless to most modern liberals. Going through the reviews on Goodreads, I noticed a lot of people saying that this book was silly, and in a way, I understand why people think that. But overall, I thought it was a great read.

Plot: The plot was fantastic. There is one main storyline weaving through several subplots, that seem to be scattered at first, but eventually tie together in the most intricate ways. The story is captivating. You WILL get lost in the world Henry Fielding presents in this novel. Nothing too complicated is going on; it’s a story of a bastard who is taken in by a noble, and raised like his son. It’s a story of this bastard’s love for a lady, and the repercussions of his weaknesses when it comes to infatuation and lust. It’s a story of a youthful man, who makes some terrible decisions but his heart’s in the right place. Rarely did I encounter a boring chapter, or a boring event. 5/5

Setting: The story isn’t set in one place. The novel reads like a road-trip. There are horses, money shortages, food shortages, companions, several interesting occurrences on the journey, all that jazz. The places Tom Jones visits aren’t described in much detail, so I can say that this book didn’t contain as much visual imagery as I would like. But the characters’ interactions with their environments, how the people changed with every place the protagonist visited, all that played into the setting in an effective, fascinating way. 3.5/5

Characters: UGH, the characters were amazing. None of the characters were two-dimensional. Every character had a back story, a definitive personality. The characters that seemed unimportant played huge roles to the story, and those that didn’t play into the plot per se still managed to contribute to the novel itself. There’s Tom Jones, our protagonist, who is charismatic, charming, merciful, generous yet completely lost. There’s Allworthy who’s just, warm-hearted, yet slightly oblivious. We have our heroine who is beautiful, rebellious, strong, feisty. We have Partridge, who’s loyal yet naive, lovable but annoying. We have our villains, and we have people who would like to do the right thing but circumstances provoke them to do otherwise. We have Thwackum and Square, embodying the centuries-long debate regarding philosophy versus religion, and how these two played a part during the story, how Fielding forced us to think about situations by looking through both lenses.  5/5

Writing Style: I stress that Fielding’s writing style is not for everyone. His prose is flowery, full of fluff. He is constantly there in his prose- you are aware of his presence, you are aware that you are reading someone else’s writing. Most times, it worked. Other times, I was so lost in the story that a sudden aside from the author himself would snap me out, and make it difficult to get into the story again. I generally don’t like fluffy prose- I like prose that is brief, to-the-point. Having said all that, I didn’t mind the flowery writing in this novel. I think it facilitated the story, the era, the general ambience of the story. His connections from one point to another were fascinating. In the asides I aforementioned, he would say things like, “I am sure the reader will be pleased to know…” and yes, I would be pleased. Or surprised. Or shocked. I feel Henry Fielding knew his audience, and the feelings he invoked in his audience so well that that’s what makes this book such a pleasant read. I feel that he would jump between the story lines, between the characters so abruptly, yet so adeptly (sort of like George RR Martin) that you’re left satisfied with every story line. Do I wish he would have been briefer in his writing? Yes. Did I mind it? No. 4/5

 

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