Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Jones. It's a good-humored 18th century novel about growing up and making some bad choices along the way.

This early passage foreshadows the story of poor Tom, who is kindhearted, noble, and prone to sleeping with cute girls, even though he loves only Sophia.
Goodness of heart, and openness of temper, though these may give them great comfort within, and administer to an honest pride in their own minds, will by no means, alas! do their business in the world. Prudence and circumspection are necessary even to the best of men.

Tom's antagonist is his brother Master Bilfil, who is apparently virtuous but who is actually coldhearted and scheming.
To say the truth, Sophia, when very young, discerned that Tom, though an idle, thoughtless, rattling rascal, was nobody's enemy but his own; and that Master Blifil, though a prudent, discreet, sober young gentleman, was at the same time strongly attached to the interest only of one single person; and who that single person was the reader will be able to divine without any assistance of ours.
Squire Western is the father of gentle Sophia. He was a bluff rustic, hard-drinking and profane, always insisting that he loved his daughter with all his heart and would gladly give her world, on one condition - that she would marry exactly whom he chose. There are shades of Jane Austen in this plot, with a parent determined to make his child's fortune through marriage, disregarding any feelings of love or attachment.

I enjoyed Fielding's side observations as much as the story. This one is about how little philosophy changes people's actions.
Philosophers are composed of flesh and blood as well as other human creatures; and however sublimated and refined the theory of these may be, a little practical frailty is as incident to them as to other mortals. It is, indeed, in theory only, and not in practice, as we have before hinted, that consists the difference: for though such great beings think much better and more wisely, they always act exactly like other men. They know very well how to subdue all appetites and passions, and to despise both pain and pleasure; and this knowledge affords much delightful contemplation, and is easily acquired; but the practice would be vexatious and troublesome; and, therefore, the same wisdom which teaches them to know this, teaches them to avoid carrying it into execution.

Fielding distinguishes between love and lust / hunger. Tom Jones hungered after many women but loved only one, but his many trials eventually taught him to tame that hunger and direct it.
What is commonly called love, namely, the desire of satisfying a voracious appetite with a certain quantity of delicate white human flesh, is by no means that passion for which I here contend. This is indeed more properly hunger; and as no glutton is ashamed to apply the word love to his appetite, and to say he LOVES such and such dishes; so may the lover of this kind, with equal propriety, say, he HUNGERS after such and such women.

The essence of wisdom, in his view:
Wisdom, in short, whose lessons have been represented as so hard to learn by those who never were at her school, only teaches us to extend a simple maxim universally known and followed even in the lowest life, a little farther than that life carries it. And this is, not to buy at too dear a price.
On boring books: "for the dullest writers, no more than the dullest companions, are always inoffensive."

And this almost sounds like a modern day supermodel.

Neither her person nor mind seemed to him to promise any kind of matrimonial felicity: for she was very tall, very thin, very ugly, very affected, very silly, and very ill-natured.


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