September 7, 2014

Book: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:56 pm

imagesA classic novel review after a while. This is a romantic comedy and of course, the language is that of the old times (the book, after all, was published in 1749). This is considered by many to be the best book written by Henry Fielding and is definitely the most popular.


For all the passing of time, this book remains surprisingly readable, like for instance, The Great Expectations by Dickens. The language also does not jar much and is very much contemporary, unlike Gulliver’s Travels for example. Which is nice.


The story revolves around the eponymous protagonist, Tom Jones. He was found at the doorstep of a wealthy man called Mr Allworthy, who is  a model citizen, kind, helps others, very pious, and decides to take him in and raise him as his own son.


Allworthy’s sister is courted by a man called Mr Bilfil and they get Master Bilfil, who considers himself the rightful heir of Allworthy, and has a cause to resent Tom Jones.


Sophia Weston,  daughter of a neighbouring landlord, falls for Tom and Tom for her. But this is a story about a man with a lot of weaknesses, and Tom is always up to some mischief or the other. He gets Molly, daughter of Black George the gamekeeper of Allworthy, pregnant.
Mrs honour maid of Sophia, is loyal to Sophia and to no other, not even her father.


As we said, Tom and Sophia realize that they love each other.  He has a broken arm in an accident when this love blooms.


Molly has had affairs with another boy before and with Square, a priest, when Tom goes to see her!


The story gets a bit weird and completely contrived. For example, in more than one instance, people fall dead at the least pretense, exactly when they are creating trouble. (Very conveniently for some major characters)


Tom Jones again tries to have an affair with Molly almost got caught and fights with the parson and Master Bilfil. This is not normally the behaviour of a hero, even in a comedy, and so this makes it very interesting.


Sophia falls for Tom Jones and Sophia’s aunt thinks it is for Bilfil that she pines and arranges marriage. When Sophia rebels, her father gets mad.


The dialogs are easily understood but that does not mean that the sentiments are ordinary. They reflects the times and are quaint when read now. One example, where Sophia’s father says “Wealth is as necessary to a marriage as the opposite sexes”.



Some innocuous remarks can be seen out of context too. Take this example “Though he [Master Bilfill] was not the man who would eat every woman he met….”


The story wanders off. Tom is banished, his money stolen by Gamekeeper George and he is penniless.


Sophia plans elopement with Honor, the maid, who is herself not very trustworthy initially.


The author frequently spews venom on critics whom he seems to hold is low estimation… Don’t miss footnotes in Tom Jones because they are funny too. A ‘critic’ in footnotes is explained as ‘anyone who can ever read’.



Tom joins the army as a volunteer or tries to and gets into a tussle with a sentry. He saves a man who was trying to save his friend from gambling debts and then saves a damsel in distress, Mrs Fitzpatrick, who is a lose woman married to an army captain. She promptly tries to seduce him and with Tom Jones, finds it very easy to do so. Sophia unexpectedly comes in at the wrong time and flees Tom Jones in disgust.

A friend,  Nightingale, appears and there is more bizarre sentiments. For instance, Nightingale seduces Nancy, makes her pregnant and then says that he cannot marry her because she has no virtue, even if the cause for that is himself!


Tom convinces him to marry Nancy to eternal gratitude of her mother.


Mr Warren is all this time in hot pursuit and finally captures Sophia and locks her in a room. His sister rescues her.


When Tom writes a note to Mrs Fitzpatrick to marry her, this story becomes the comedy of errors that it sets out to be from the beginning. The whole letter was a ruse to cool the ardour that the woman feels for Tom but it reaches Sophia who is repulsed by his repeated infidelities. Everyone falls for Jones. He kills the husband of Mrs Fitzpatrick who dies and Jones ends up in prison.


The book is full of comments that reflect those times but sit odd with the reader today; Allworthy praises Sophia since she has “no pretenses of wisdom”, which ‘becomes a woman as much as the pretenses become an ape’. Also she is wonderful because, when asked “as a test” to adjudicate among differences between two of his friends, she modestly declined stating “how can you even assume that I am capable of solving the differences of opinion between two gentlemen!”. Wow!


Another oddity : Tom is in prison yet, people go in and out constantly to meet him as if he is staying in a restaurant!


Odd phrases abound too. Forget about the two families having “the most agreeable intercourse among them”. What about the father in law saying to Tom Jones “Give me thy fist…it is as honest a cock as any that can be found in the kingdom”?


A satisfying but unconvincing end. All Sophia’s reservations, determination to avoid Tom etc. melt away conveniently and there are a lot of hurried coincidences to bring the story to an abrupt but happy end.


A surprisingly good read with too many holes in the story.   6/10
– – Krishna


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