The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK I., Chapter v.-ix.

Fridays with the Foundling
(yeah, I know, I typically hate using actor’s images when it comes to discussing the source material…but, w/o Finney, I’m not doing this)

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6593Miss Bridget shocks the housekeeper by showing actual tenderness and affection toward the (as yet unnamed) foundling. She follows that up with what could (should?) be construed as a less than compassionate move–she hunts down his mother (a far easier task than you’d expect) and brings her before the magistrate, Mr. Allworthy. Allworthy doesn’t condemn her for what she does, he gives her a lecture on morality, assures her he’ll take care of the child better than she could’ve, and then tries to get the name of the father from her. She doesn’t give that up, but does so in a way that she earns the approbation of Mr. Allworthy, as well as Miss Bridget and the housekeeper (who were absolutely not eavesdropping, they just happened to hear what happened between the magistrate and mother.

Really not a lot happens here, and Tom is “off-screen” for almost all of it. Still, it’s good to get this kind of thing out of the way and the narrator continues to be entertaining.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK I., Chapter i.-iv.

Ugh. I can’t believe I’m late in composing this. Not the best way to start this series…

Fridays with the Foundling
(yeah, I know, I typically hate using actor’s images when it comes to discussing the source material…but, w/o Finney, I’m not doing this)

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6593

…the Excellence of the mental Entertainment consists less in the Subject than in the Author’s Skill in well dressing it up. How pleased, therefore, will the Reader be to find that we have, in the following Work, adhered closely to one of the highest Principles of the best Cook which the present Age, or perhaps that of Heliogabalus, hath produced. This great Man, as is well known to all Lovers of polite eating, begins at first by setting plain Things before his hungry Guests, rising afterwards by Degrees as their Stomachs may be supposed to decrease, to the very Quintessence of Sauce and Spices. In like manner, we shall represent Human Nature at first to the keen Appetite of our Reader, in that more plain and simple Manner in which it is found in the Country, and shall hereafter hash and ragoo it with all the high French and Italian Seasoning of Affectation and Vice which Courts and Cities afford. By these Means, we doubt not but our Reader may be rendered desirous to read on for ever, as the great person just above-mentioned is supposed to have made some Persons eat.

Having premised thus much, we will now detain those who like our Bill of Fare no longer from their Diet, and shall proceed directly to serve up the first Course of our History for their Entertainment.

So in these opening pages, we kind of meet Tom Jones, but primarily, we’re introduced to the world he will live in and those who will (I’m assuming) have care of him during his formative years. An infant is left on the metaphorical front porch of Squire Allworthy, who seems to be a kind and generous soul. He puts the infant into the care of his sister, Miss Bridget, a censorious spinster type, who enlists the housekeeper, Mrs. Deborah, to give her aid.

The first thing that occurred to me was: why did I stop reading this in the past? I got into the story right away, I loved the voice, and am eager to move on.

This narrator…he’s practically chatty. He’s not the impartial third-person type, for example:

Reader, I think proper, before we proceed any farther together, to acquaint thee that I intend to digress, through this whole History, as often as I see Occasion: Of which I am myself a better Judge than any pitiful Critic whatever; and here I must desire all those Critics to mind their own Business, and not to intermeddle with Affairs or Works which no ways concern them: For till they produce the Authority by which they are constituted Judges, I shall not plead to their Jurisdiction.

Okay, yeah, he could be more concise, sure. But you have to smile at that.

The last thing, I got a quick vocabulary lesson. At one point Miss Bridget is describing the infant’s unknown mother as “an impudent slut, a wanton hussy, an audacious harlot, a wicked jade, a vile strumpet, [and] every other appellation with which the tongue of virtue never fails to lash those who bring a disgrace on the sex.” I didn’t realize that slut and hussy were so old, same for strumpet (although I figured it was more dated than the others).

Anyway, I had fun and did have to stop myself from carrying on. That’s a good sign for this project.

Fridays with The Foundling: An Introduction

Fridays with the Foundling
(yeah, I know, I typically hate using actor’s images when it comes to discussing the source material…but, w/o Finney, I’m not doing this)

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6593My history with Tom Jones goes back to 1995 when we watched it in class for a Survey of British Literature class. It was the week before finals, and the professor thought we all (him included) could use a little less to do, and there was no way we could’ve fit the novel into our schedule. To be fair, he interrupted the movie frequently for us to learn a little about the novel.

And, really, who cares? We got to watch the 1963 classic.

But like with all good movies adapted from a book, all it really made me want to do is read the book. If for no other reason than it being one of the first things in English that is considered a novel. It literally defined the convention of what a novel is. I’ve attempted to follow through and read the book several times. But I’ve never managed to get too far into it. The reasons vary, but I’ve just not made this particular summit. One obstacle I do remember stumbling over repeatedly is the length. I’d start reading and decide there was no way I could finish the tome before it was due back at the library. Don’t ask me why it took me until 2019 to come up with the solution: buy a copy.

So, I’m going to approach it differently this year. Every Friday, I’m going to read 4 chapters. Then post about those the next week. The chapters are pretty short, so I should be able to accomplish this with little difficulty.

Now, I reserve the right to abandon this and just finish the whole thing if I really get into the story and just can’t wait for the next regularly-scheduled reading session.

Anyone else ever read this thing? Any thoughts?

Classically Cool—Let’s Talk Classics!

Last week, Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub posted Classically Cool- Let’s Talk Classics!, and it got me a-thinkin’, what Classics would I mention as faves?

Dickens doesn’t do anything for me, ditto for the overwhelming amount of Shakespeare I’ve read, Hawthorne makes me angry, I don’t get Melville’s appeal (but I also kind of do…I just don’t want to put in the effort)…but by and large “The Classics” (aka the Canon) are Classics for a reason (not because some nameless, faceless group of (now-)Dead, White Males exercised hegemonic powers to impose their tastes, either).

Still, there are some favorites:

Starting with The Oresteia (for chronology’s sake), this is the only existing example we have of a Greek dramatic trilogy. This series showing the fall-out of the Trojan War for Agamemnon and his family/kingdom and is pretty impressive.

Call me silly, but Beowulf has always really worked for me. I don’t know how to rank the various translations, I’ve read a handful and don’t think I ever knew a single translator’s name. I’ve meant to try the Haney translation since it came out, but haven’t gotten to it yet—the same goes for Tolkein’s. From about the same time (a little later, I believe, but I’m not going to check because if I start researching this post, it’ll never get finished) is The Dream of the Rood, a handly evangelistic tool (one of the better written ones) in Old English.

Moving ahead a couple of centuries (I’ll pick up the pace, don’t worry, the post won’t be that long) and we get Gawain and the Green Knight, which is fun, exciting and teaches a great lesson. Similarly, we have that poet’s Pearl, Patience, and Purity. I don’t remember much about the latter two, beyond that I liked them, but the Pearl—a tale of a father mourning a dead child and being comforted/challenged in a dream to devotion—is one of the more moving works I can remember ever reading.

I want to throw in Tom Jones (technically, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling) by Henry Fielding here, but I’ve never actually completed it. Which says more about my patience and how distracted I can get than the book—which is an impressive work. I’ve gotta get around to actually finishing it at some point.

I can’t remember the titles for most of the Robert Burns poems I’ve read—”A Red, Red Rose” and “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” (one of the best titles in history) are the exceptions—but most of them were pretty good. And I’m not a poetry guy.

Skipping a few centuries and we get to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. If all you know is the story from movies, you’re in for a treat when you actually read this thing. I’ve read it a few times, and each time, I’m caught off-guard at how fast-moving it really is, how entertaining and exciting it can be. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel compelled at this point to mention that the book about Dumas’ father, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is a must-read for any fan of Dumas.

I don’t remember how Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott ended up on my bookshelf (I think whatever relative took me to the bookstore said I could get something silly and trashy (in their view) if I got a Classic, too). But a few years later, I finally got around to reading it at about the same time that another kid in my class (we were High School sophomores) was reading it—both of us talked about how it was pretty good, but too much work. Until we got to a point somewhere in the middle (he got there a day before I did, I think) and something clicked—maybe we’d read enough of it that we could really get what was going on, maybe Scott got into a different gear, I’m not sure—and it became just about the most satisfying thing I’d read up to that point in my life.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of my favorite books, probably belonging in the Top 3. Go ahead and roll your eyes at the idea of me saying that about a romance novel, that just means you’ve misread the book. This tale about integrity, about staying true to what one holds dear, what one believes and to what is right despite everything and everyone around you is exciting, inspiring, fantastically-written, and so-memorable. And, yeah, there’s a nice love story to go along with that 🙂

Speaking of love stories, we now get to my favorite, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I steadfastly refuse to learn anything about the actual figure, because I don’t want anything to ruin this for me. When I first read the play in junior high, I considered the best parts the lead-up to the duel in Act I, and Christian’s trying to pick a fight with Cyrano the next day. Now I know the best parts are Christian’s realization in Act IV and Cyrano’s reaction to it and then, of course, Cyrano’s death (I’m fighting the impulse to go read that now instead of finishing this post). And don’t get me started about how this play’s balcony scene leaves any other romantic balcony scene in the dust.

I can’t pass up an opportunity to praise, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s tour de force. Satire, social commentary, general goofiness and some real heart. This book has it all.

I’m not sure that Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictdionary is technically a “Classic.” But I’m counting it as one. It’s hilarious, it’s incisive, it’s a great time for those who like to subtly (and not-so-subtly) play with words. Yeah, it’s cynical—but it’s idealistic, too (as the best cynics are). If you haven’t sampled it yet, what’s wrong with you?

I feel strange dubbing anything from the Twentieth Century as a Classic, so I won’t talk much about The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, Winesburg, Ohio or Our Town (the best way short of having a dog die to make me cry is get me to read/watch Act III). But I do feel safe mentioning To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the ground-breaking, thought-shaping, moving, inspiring, and (frequently) just plain fun look at a childhood in the south.

When I started this, I figured I’d get 4-5 paragraphs out of the idea. I guess I overshot a little. Anyway, that’s what came to mind when I read W&S’ post—maybe other works would come to mind if I did this another time, but for now, those are my favorite Classics. What about you?