Author: Henry Fielding
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 1994
Number of Pages: 851
Genre: Classic, Bildungsroman
Henry Fielding’s high-spirited hero is a foundling of mysterious origins, discovered abandoned one night in the bed of the wealthy and benevolent Mr. Allworthy. Tom’s intrigues, amours and picaresque adventures, and how he pursues and wins the lovely and apparently unattainable Sophia Western, are the ingredients of a gloriously elaborate plot.
English classical works are amongst my most challenging reads. I have struggled unraveling the numerous layers of these books. Moreover, I don’t dwell on English classics because of the language, especially the 17th century to 20th century English works. This is probably the reason why I wasn’t able to appreciate classic heavyweights like Thomas Hardy’s Tess of D’Urbervilles and Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. Another reason why avoid these classics is because of the symbolism and hidden messages they seem to be riddled with. Reading them in our contemporary setup pushes readers to read related literature to be able to understand and appreciate these English works.
Nonetheless, there are English classics that I really appreciated. Among them are Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield and The Great Expectations, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. But with my aim of enriching my reading, I am slowly delving into more classical works. Doing list challenges helped me learn more of these classics that I haven’t come across previously. One such English classic is Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, or more simply referred to as just Tom Jones.
When I tumbled upon a copy of Tom Jones on a second hand bookstore, I immediately purchased it. That was two years ago. It took some time before I finally get to read it because, unfortunately. It began gathering dust as it got buried in the heaps of unread books that is piling up on my bookshelf. Fortunately, I finally got the chance to read it this year.
I am going to begin this review by saying that Tom Jones is definitely one of the best English classics that I have read so far. Since reading Robinson Crusoe, I was having a challenging time appreciating classics, not just English classics. However, when I began reading Tom Jones, I didn’t want to let the book go. I was, surprisingly, having a pleasant time reading and appreciating it.
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, as the title suggest is about the life of Tom Jones, the main character. As a baby, he was left to the care of Squire Allworthy, a prominent and wealthy statesman in Somerset, England. The Squire took him with open arms in spite of the consequences – the baby was subjected to rumors. Nonetheless, Tom Jones was raised by the Squire and his sister, Bridget, as though he was part of their family.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Blifil began courting Bridget Allworthy. Eventually, they got married and have a son, William. Due to Sergeant Blifil’s greed, he tried to malign Tom before the eyes of the Squire. However, his untimely death caused his plan to fail. Unfortunately, the death of Blifil didn’t end Jones’ misfortunes, instead, it is the advent of his misadventures. Tom Jones’ interesting adventures and misadventures kept me hooked from beginning until the end.
The novel highlights the contrasting personas of Tom Jones and William Blifil. On one hand, we have Tom Jones, the adopted one, who was crude and unrefined but has a golden heart. On the other hand, we have William Blifil who, on the outset is refined and cultured but was as calculating as his father. The young Blifil completed what his father wasn’t able to accomplish before his untimely death – discrediting Jones while reaping benefits of Jones’ labors. He also tried to Jones’ love interest, Sophia Western.
The two central characters aside, the novel also explored human virtues. The Squire, aside from Tom, is one outstanding character whose golden heart and sense of justice transcends all the negative traits that were interspersed all throughout the story. One such negative trait is hypocrisy, especially on how Tom Jones was treated. When he was just a foundling, nearly everyone resented and detested him. However, when everyone learned the truth, they began seeing him on a different light. Moreover, for a book that is set in conservative England, it did slightly touch base on promiscuity, of women.
On a microscopic scale, it was able to portray modern and past society. Henry Fielding populated the book with people we encounter on a daily basis. There are the good Samaritans (Squire Allworthy), the shady characters (Sergeant Blifil), the promiscuous ones, and even the gossip mongers. Above them, there is Tom Jones, a treasure of a friend, who was both perfect and flawed at the same time.
In spite of its length, the book is very organized. Compared to some lengthy novels that I have read, it has a very straightforward plot. Some novels, due to their length, tend to become confusing because of the sharp turns that all over the place. Tom Jones is lengthy but never did I feel that it was too wordy nor confusing. This straightforwardness played a key role in my appreciation of the book.
The book is divided into 18 smaller books, with each book having an introductory chapter. There are also commentaries that are interspersed all over the book. These commentaries are preludes to further themes. This is one thing that I found unique about the book. Henry Fielding, for instance, dealt a lot about bad critics and bad writers. Some of the themes are unrelated to the story but his personal touch makes the novel a more personal conversation between the author himself and the reader.
Lastly, what made me really like the book is the ending, when the truth and mystery shrouding Tom Jones’ birth was finally unveiled. The long and winding story climaxed to an unexpected ending which made me like the book even better. The ending made the book all worth the long narrative. The ending has a feel of fairy tale to it because “they all lived happily ever after.”
Overall, Tom Jones is a great comic story that I recommend. It is lengthy but it is light read. It is straightforward and easier to understand than most English classics. Tom Jones, I must say, is a gem of a read. Happy reading!
Rating: 4 Stars
About the Author
Henry Fielding was born in April 1707 at Sharpham Park, near Glastonbury in Somerset. The son of General Edmund Fielding and Sarah Gould, he became a prolific dramatist and writer. His botched attempt to abduct a beautiful young heiress ended in him settling in London. In London, he earned his living as a dramatist. Love in Several Masques, his first play, was performed successfully in 1728. He would go on and write 25 more plays, some of which are satirical in nature and critical of the government. Unfortunately, the Stage Licensing Act got enacted in 1737, effectively ending Fielding’s career as a playwright.
After getting married to Charlotte Cradock, he began editing The Champion. Soon after, he wrote Shamela, ridiculing the moral hypocrisy of Richardson’s Pamela. After his wife’s untimely death in 1744, he began working on his greatest masterpiece, Tom Jones, completing it in 1748. While writing his masterpiece, he remarried in 1747 to Mary Daniel, a close friend of his late wife. Aside from writing, Fielding got his hands full by being involved in suppressing crime in London. He and his brother, Sir John Fielding, developed plans for London’s first police force. Henry Fielding passed away in October 1754 after suffering from severe gout.