“A treacherous friend is the most dangerous enemy.”
And this, Constant Reader, is because Tom Jones is an insanely long book – 871 pages, to be exact.
It’s one of those books I’ve wanted to read for a while and have finally got an excuse to do so (being an English student does have its rewards). One of the earliest novels in English, it follows Tom Jones, foundling, as he is adopted by a country gentleman and is later kicked out for various indiscretions. As he crosses England in search of his True Love Sophia, we are treated to endless repetitions of the following scene:
Tom sleeps with someone/writes an incriminating letter/says something stupid. Sophia walks in/reads the letter/hears the gossip and renounces Tom for ever. Tom is heartily sorry…
…until the next time, that is.
Repeat ad infinitum, throw in some broadly-sketched paragons of virtue and vice (Mr Allworthy, Mr Blifil, I’m looking at you), add some highly unlikely coincidences and plot twists and you get Tom Jones. It’s true that Fielding is often brilliantly sarcastic (“with a voice as sweet as the evening breeze of Boreas in the pleasant month of November”. HA. Take that, Miss Allworthy) and occasionally hilarious, but…actually, not that often. It doesn’t help that there are a lot of contemporary, political references that I’m really not sure I understood.
Tom Jones is very much like an early prototype of Dickens: not so well characterised, with equally strange coincidences that yet seem much less believable, and LONG. Really, really long. It’s not exactly the most accessible of eighteenth-century novels, and Fielding-as-narrator is pompous, long-winded and, as a kind of bonus, hates critics with a passion.
But, you know, he’s dead. And I’m not. So that gives me the advantage, I believe.
(Seriously, though, don’t read Tom Jones unless you have a LOT of patience and a lot of time to spare.)