ix weeks. That’s how long it took me to get through this thing. Six weeks. 874 pages of tight, olde-english text. My literary albatross.
So this classic is not what you’d expect a classic to be. It’s like falling in love with a substance abuser, a love-hate relationship. And it’s massive and sprawling, but also repetitive and editorial. But what (or, better yet, who) is Tom Jones.
Tom is the son of unknown parents, smuggled into the bed of Mr. Allworthy, local landowner and (as his name implies) a just and charitable man. Well, up to the point where he believes the absolute worst about Tom (supplied by his scheming nephew Master Blifil and some toad-sucking clowns Allworthy permits to freeload in his mansion) and casts him out. But, see, Tom is in love with Sophia Western, the beautiful girl from the next estate over (who Blifil would like to marry, as well).
Now, point in fact: Tom isn’t a very heroic hero. Let me put it this way – he’s like a literal tomcat in that he fights and most certainly screws everything within thirty miles of Allworthy’s estate. Yet while he is a libertine, while he associates (and even beds) all the lower orders, he actually cares for them. Yes, he’s a corrupted fellow yet he still sacrifices for the good of those less fortunate then himself (such as Black George, the gameskeeper and poacher, who rewards Tom’s goodness by stealing from him). But suddenly he’s tossed out of doors and left to wonder and wander, a penniless drifter.
But, as luck would have it, Sophia the love intrest is fleeing to London, attempting to escape controlling forces at home who would see her advantageously wed to the despised Master Blifil. And so much of this novel is a travelling one, with Tom attempting to overtake his love, bypassing his love, just missing his love, or being caught in his usual uncompromising circumstances by his love. It’s got all the misunderstandings and misjustices classic English novels have and through it all, Tom does good deeds and ill-corruptions at every turn.
Eventually Tom gets to London where things grow quite dark. Tom saves a little family from disaster, yet gets caught in a duel and framed for a murder (though “he’s not dead yet”) he did not commit, while Sophia absolutely rejects him. Can you even save a hero at this point? But rest assured, happy endings when it all comes around to that final much-sought-after page.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m just bitching because this was such a difficult novel to get through. Scenes tend to be (as was the style) overlong and overdialogged. This isn’t helped by the author editorializing on anything that peeved him – essentially blogging – at the start of each book. So yes, I limped through the long passages and machete-hacked through the author’s overgrown verbosity (and I’m saying that, knowing what he thinks of critics). And you know what?
I still liked this novel. Very much. It was wind-baggery of the highest order, but it was also a great deal of fun. And I had to like Tom, with all his carousing and wenching – he was breath of fresh realism in this world of stilted convention. In fact, I felt sadness when I got to the author’s final editorial, at which point he admitted that this was it, we were done, and that we would soon part like travelers who have shared a carriage on a long and bumpy journey.
Yes, it was long and epic and scandalous, a vast novel with dozens of characters and millions of words. But it was also great fun. I recommend it only for my most serious of fellow readers. You’ve been warned – this is not simply a read, it’s an investment on adventure. Good luck with it.