Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Classics Challenge: March with Henry Fielding

Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

This is the third month of the Classics Challenge, hosted by Katherine at November's Autumn.  The prompt this round involves the setting, with questions like "How has the author introduced the setting?" or "If this particular setting was changed how would it affect the course of the story?"

I am just over half-way through Tom Jones.  As I mentioned elsewhere, when I found myself starting to count the pages left to read, I decided to take a break from it.  But I do want to get back to it, and I'm hoping that writing about it will remind me what a great, entertaining book it is, and get me reading it again.

The setting of this story shifts constantly, as it follows different characters.  Though Fielding will sometimes describe a setting in some detail, he seems much less interested in his settings than in the characters who inhabit them.  Fielding spends most of the second chapter in Book I introducing us to the wise, noble and fatherly Squire Allworthy, who discovers the infant Tom Jones in his own bed.  His house in Somerset, where much of the early action takes place, is described in greater detail than any other setting, but only from the outside:
"The Gothic style of building could produce nothing nobler than Mr Allworthy's house. There was an air of grandeur in it that struck you with awe . . . It stood on the south-east side of a hill . . . In the midst of the grove was a fine lawn, sloping down towards the house, near the summit of which rose a plentiful spring . . . The left-hand scene presented the view of a very fine park . . ."
The story soon moves to a village where Tom's mother Jenny Jones lived prior to Tom's birth, then back to Mr Allworthy's house.  Next it shifts to the house of the neighboring Squire Western, where we learn much more about him and his daughter Sophia than about the house, though Tom is actually in residence there for some time.  When a misunderstanding with Mr Allworthy, and a conflict with Squire Western, force Tom to leave his home, to make his own way in the world, the story takes a picaresque turn as he decides to follow the drum as a soldier.  Traveling north to fight against the Jacobins, he meets various adventures with a large and colorful cast of characters.  Here again the characters and the action are the focus of the different episodes, rather than the settings.  I see from the next book that Tom is headed to London.  It will be interesting to see what Fielding makes of that setting.  In Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, his detailed descriptions of the areas where Moll lived and worked made me feel like I was following her through the streets.


  1. Thank you for your post, Lisa! Mr. Allworthy's Gothic home does sound rather imposing but the grove sounds just beautiful!

  2. I was thinking of Pemberly as I was typing out the passage! though I don't think Mr Darcy's house is as imposing as the Squire's. Thanks again for hosting the challenge.

  3. There seem to be a lot of shifts in setting in this novel. The London of this time period should be fascinating to read about!

  4. All the constant movement was a real surprise to me, not at all what I was expecting. I haven't read enough 18th century novels to know if this is typical - or even if there's such a thing as a typical novel! It's a whole new world to me :)

  5. I read this quite a while ago and remember it as a novel of action and characters and I don't remember much about the setting apart from the contrast between town and country.

    I have Moll Flanders to read soon. From your description it sounds very good.

  6. Margaret, Moll Flanders was such a wonderful surprise. I wasn't expecting the convoluted plot, or the pure comedy of some parts of it. I think Tom Jones is definitely more focused on the plot & characters than the setting - though that may change with the shift to London.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!