The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK III., ii.-vi.

Tom Jones Original CoverAfter enjoying things so much last week, I hate to see things slip downward again this week–but I do understand why Fielding’s doing what he’s doing (at least I think I do). But yawn. It’s not that it was bad, it’s just the kind of thing that you need to read to establish one or more things so that future chapters/events will be interesting and make sense. It wouldn’t have occurred to me at all to evaluate these chapters if it weren’t for my reading schedule making them the only things I had to read.

We start with a long disclaimer/apology from Fielding for some of his content about religion/religious people–he’s not trying to focus on the failings of the religious or the virtuous, he says. On the contrary, those who come off poorly in his writing have a lack of real religion or virtue (despite their claims) and that’s what he’s highlighting. Whether or not this is sincere on his part I don’t know (I could probably read a lot about that if I cared to), but I like the approach, and it seems to apply to those we have seen/will see in these pages.

Basically, there’s an altercation between Master Blifil and Tom, resulting in Blifil getting his nose bloodied. To draw attention away from the fact that he provoked Tom, Blifil rats him out on some of the details of Tom’s earlier hijinks (recounted as evidence that he’s the sort “born to be hanged”). Tom had refused to name his accomplices at the time, but Blifil spilled the beans. Thwackum takes this as a sign of virtue in Blifil and proof of Tom’s hooligan status. Mr. Allworthy, on the other hand, sees honor in Tom’s refusal and commends it–but even better for Tom (I imagine), this act earns him a lot of fans within the servants.

The widowed Mrs. Blifil picks up a couple of other suitors, who misreading the situation, go out of their way to prefer her son to Tom and target him for condemnation. But all the while, her affections toward Tom grow and grow.

That’s the chapters in a nutshell, not a lot actually happens. I get the impression that Master Blifil is going to be a pain in Tom’s side in the way rich, preppy kids are to plucky middle/lower-class protagonists in 80’s movies. Not a lot happens, but I’m willing to bet all this comes up later. If not in the next chapter, soon enough.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK II., viii.-Book III., ii.

Tom Jones Original CoverNow this was more like it! We start off with getting a bit more insight into Capt. Blifil, who when not having to spend time with his wife, spends his time lost in his own thoughts, which were

were entirely employed on Mr. Allworthy’s Fortune; for, first, he exercised much Thought in calculating, as well as he could, the exact Value of the whole: which Calculations he often saw Occasion to alter in his own Favour: And, secondly and chiefly, he pleased himself with intended Alterations in the House and Gardens, and in projecting many other Schemes, as well for the Improvement of the Estate as of the Grandeur of the Place. For this Purpose he applied himself to the Studies of Architecture and Gardening, and read over many Books on both these Subjects; for these Sciences, indeed, employed his whole Time, and formed his only Amusement. He at last completed a most excellent Plan: and very sorry we are, that it is not in our Power to present it to our reader, since even the Luxury of the present Age, I believe, would hardly match it.

Y’know, just in case anyone forgot what he was really in love with when he entered into this marriage. One evening, while strolling by himself, “his Heart was exulting in Meditations on the Happiness which would accrue to him by Mr. Allworthy’s Death, he himself—died of an Apoplexy.” Yup. That’s right. Forty-seven pages after his introduction—seemingly as a major impediment for Tom to overcome—he’s dead. We spent so much time on him, his relationship with his wife and brother-in-law, etc. and he just dies in a sentence. Well, that’s not true, it seems like he does, but we end up spending a few more pages on his being pronounced dead after this, but that’s beside my point. In some books, I’d be annoyed by this, but I was amused by this little bit of fakery on Fielding’s part.

The hullabaloo surrounding finding his body, trying to resuscitate him and so on does give Fielding a chance to satirize the practice of medicine, which I enjoyed.

Which brings us to Book III, which is wonderfully entitled, “Containing the most memorable Transactions which passed in the Family of Mr. Allworthy from the Time when Tommy Jones arrived at the Age of Fourteen, till he attained the Age of Nineteen. In this Book the Reader may pick up some Hints concerning the Education of Children.” That last sentence just made my day, really (as did the title to Chapter 1 “Containing little or nothing,” I like some honesty in labeling)

The Reader will be pleased to remember, that, at the Beginning of the Second Book of this History, we gave him a Hint of our Intention to pass over several large Periods of Time, in which nothing happened worthy of being recorded in a Chronicle of this Kind.

In so doing, we do not only consult our own Dignity and Ease, but the Good and Advantage of the Reader: for besides that by these Means we prevent him from throwing away his Time, in reading without either Pleasure or Emolument, we give him, at all such Seasons, an Opportunity of employing that wonderful Sagacity, of which he is Master, by filling up these vacant Spaces of Time with his own Conjectures…

Now that Tommy is a young man, we get to meet him “…shall now bring forth our Heroe, at about fourteen Years of Age, not questioning that any have been long impatient to be introduced to his Acquaintance.” Yup, I’m not alone in getting fed up with this. For the record, “Heroe” (like all the weird capitalization) is what my book has.

Tom Jones is, apparently, “universally disliked” in his community (unlike Master Blifil, who is the model citizen), in fact,

we are obliged to bring our Heroe on the stage in a much more disadvantageous Manner than we could wish; and to declare honestly, even at his first Appearance, that it was the universal Opinion of all Mr. Allworthy’s Family that he was certainly born to be hanged.

“Born to be hanged…” I’ve got to find a way to use that line.

Tommy has a propensity to many vices, but a strong tendency to robbery—and at this point has already been convicted of three of them. We get a little information about them and his refusal to name names. It’s not really commended (but you can read it between the lines), that he doesn’t give up his accessories or accomplices—even under corporal punishment. Mr. Allworthy calls it a “mistaken Point of Honour” for him to be that way, but others don’t agree.

To help get him to confess (and implicate others), his tutor is brought in to whip him,. This tutor is named, most fittingly, Mr. Thwackum. That right there is the way to name a character, ladies and gentlemen. Sure, he may go on to play an important role, he may end up showing wisdom and insight, but at the end of the day, let’s not forget—his main role is to Thwack ’em around.

In these chapters, we get Capt. Blifil killed off, we meet Tommy—and see right away that he’s going to be an atypical “Heroe” at best—and the story starts to pick up, all with some fun narration and asides (most of which I left for you to discover for yourself). Once again, I’m very tempted to keep going here. At the very least, this makes up for last week’s chapters.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK II., iv.-vii.

(for the pedants here wanting to point out that this is Saturday, I actually wrote this on Friday, but between distractions and being called away from my computer for a bit, didn’t get to hit “Publish.”)
Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original CoverIt was good that we got the warning a coule of chapters back about chapter length and focus on long/short time periods, because we got some pretty long chapters (longest yet) about a brief period of time here.

Mrs. Wilkins, Tom’s chief caretaker, is no fool. She sees a future wherein Capt. Blifil has taken the place of Mr. Allworthy as her employer and starts to curry favor with him and gives him more reasons than he already had to disapprove of Tom, which leads to a trial for a suspected father of “little Tommy.” It seems to me that an innocent man was the victim of a smear campaign started by his wife and was railroaded. But honestly, I had a hard time caring about this part and my eyes glazed over a bit—I’ll come back and revisit the chapter if it turns out to be important.

The Narrator gives a few humorous observations about marriage leading to the observation that as the Captain grows in his antipathy for little Tommy, he does so in a way that it ends up moving Mrs. Blifil to love him more—to the point that she loves him “almost equally with her own Child.”

I really didn’t connect with anything in these chapters, honestly. The writing was charming and it did make me smile a few times, but I just didn’t see why I should care about anything here. Which probably means that this is vital and in 400 pages I’ll be kicking myself for not understanding something that Fielding laid the groundwork for here.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK I., ix.-Book II., iii.

After a imposed-break last week, we’re back with a double-length post.
Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original CoverInfants, it seems, are pretty dull. Dull enough that in a book calling itself a history of a person, we’re going to ignore that person for a while, because he’s just lying around in cribs, crying, and soiling clothes (I guess). It makes sense, because we’ve got to set up problems for him to deal with when he’s of age.

The problem in these chapters is represented by a Captain Blifil, his brother, a Doctor who had some strong feelings toward Mr. Allworthy’s sister:

The doctor found himself so agreeable to Miss Bridget, that he now began to lament an unfortunate Accident which had happened to him about ten Years before; namely, his Marriage with another Woman, who was not only still alive, but, what was worse, known to be so by Mr. Allworthy.

Therefore, in an act of logic that I don’t quite grasp, the Doctor introduces his brother to her for the purposes of marriage.

To deal plainly with the Reader, the Captain, ever since his Arrival, at least from the Moment his Brother had proposed the Match to him, long before he had discovered any flattering Symptoms in Miss Bridget, had been greatly enamoured; that is to say, of Mr. Allworthy’s House and Gardens, and of his Lands, Tenements, and Hereditaments; of all which the Captain was so passionately fond, that he would most probably have contracted Marriage with them, had he been obliged to have taken the Witch of Endor into the Bargain.

He’s clearly a real keeper, right? He does discover a flattering Symptom or two in Miss Bridget, and she’s smitten, too. They get married and soon produce a child—an heir for Mr. Allworthy. I predict this will become a problem for Tom.

By the way, we see him a little bit here—and he’s given a name! We learn that he’s named Thomas after Mr. Allworthy, who spends time with the tyke daily and defends his affection for the boy against Blifil’s antagonism toward Thomas. The child then promptly disappears, and we get some more speculation into his paternity.

The narrator takes a moment to comment on his method. He’s not going to get into every detail about Tom Jones’ life the same way:

When any extraordinary Scene presents itself (as we trust will often be the Case), we shall spare no Pains nor Paper to open it at large to our Reader; but if whole Years should pass without producing anything worthy his Notice, we shall not be afraid of a Chasm in our History; but shall hasten on to Matters of Consequence, and leave such Periods of Time totally unobserved…

My Reader then is not to be surprised, if, in the Course of this Work, he shall find some Chapters very short, and others altogether as long; some that contain only the Time of a single Day, and others that comprise Years; in a word, if my History sometimes seems to stand still, and sometimes to fly.

Once again, I love the narrator’s voice, particularly when the reader is being addressed directly. I’d like a little more to be going on in the book—but Fielding’s sentences are rambling and circuitous, I’ve got to expect his novel will, too. I’m willing to wait for something to happen, but I’ll enjoy the book more when it does.

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) 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)

…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) 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?