I try to read at least one major classic novel a year. They take more work than a contemporary book, but these are the greats, and there’s a reason they’ve lasted for so many years. I’ve long looked forward to reading The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. It’s on so many greatest-ever lists. It was also published around the time of Lawrence Sterne’s hilarious, creative The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which I absolutely loved.
I was disappointed to find that Tom Jones isn’t in the same creative vein as Stern’s masterpiece or Don Quixote: Translated by Edith Grossman, which preceded it by more than a century. Henry Fielding’s classic is a well-structured picaresque novel about the roguish but essentially good-hearted Tom Jones and his comical pursuit of his beloved Sophia. I found it somewhat difficult to get into, but really enjoyed it by the end. Once you get to around page 500, the last 300 pages fly by. But that’s still 500 pages. It has a very intricately plotted story and, when things finally start clicking together, it moves forward at a relentless pace. The characters are thinly sketched, but you come to like many of them.
One warning is that each of the 18 books that make up the novel begins with an introductory chapter best used to cure insomnia. These self-indulgent, rambling discourses about writing and such have nothing to do with the story and just aren’t particularly interesting. Overall, though, this book is definitely worth the effort. It’s a bawdy, funny, and generally great book to spend some time with.