02 May 2007

Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding

I'm not sure what I expected when I picked this musty paperback off my shelf. I've found much in Tom Jones, including a great deal of delightful language and terrific entertainment. And I have been surprised to find much wisdom, for examples of which I offer the following.

On Karma:

"...nothing can be more reasonable, than that slaves and flatterers should exact the same taxes on all below them, which they themselves pay to all above them..."
Henry Fielding. Tom Jones Book I, Chapter VI.

On Mental Illness:

"The diseases of the mind do in almost every particular imitate those of the body."
-ibid. Book IV, Chapter XII.

On Self-Knowledge and Honesty:

"for let a man be never so honest, the account of his own conduct will, in spite of himself, be so very favourable, that his vices will come purified through his lips, and, like foul liquors well strained, will leave all their foulness behind."
-ibid. Book VIII, Chapter V.

On Confidence Men, Tricksters, and Software Marketing Executives:

"...men are strangely inclined to worship what they do not understand. A grand secret, upon which several imposers on mankind have totally relied for the success of their frauds."
-ibid. Vol. II, Book XI, Chapter II.

On Literary Criticism:

" ...the slander of a book is, in truth, the slander of the author: for, as no one can call another bastard, without calling the mother a whore, so neither can any one give the names of sad stuff, horrid nonsense, &c., to a book, without calling the author a blockhead; which, though in a moral sense it is a preferable appellation to that of villain, is perhaps rather more injurious to his worldly interest.

"Now, however ludicrous all this may appear to some, others, I doubt not, will feel and acknowledge the truth of it; nay, may, perhaps, think I have not treated the subject with decent solemnity; but surely a man may speak truth with a smiling countenance. In reality, to depreciate a book maliciously, or even wantonly, is at least a very illnatured office; and a morose snarling critic may, I believe, be suspected to be a bad man."
-ibid. Vol. II, Book XI, Chapter I.

Tom Jones is, Fielding tells us, a "history," which will deal with an exploration of "human nature." And what a wonderful history it is. This is the kind of novel for which the word "rollicking" was invented. Fielding must have been a very funny man; his insight into human foibles and shortcomings is sharp and timeless. He spares noone, noble or common, from the point of his wit.

Read Tom Jones online at Bartleby.com.

I read this book slowly over a long period of time, about 5 months. I sort of miss it now, it was a good friend over that time. I can't add to the volumes of intelligent and educated criticism of it, there has been much written about this novel in the last 258 years. One critic said words to the effect that he had never seen a more perfect plot, and I couldn't agree more.

To Henry Fielding in Heaven, thank you, sir.

No comments: