from the diary: “Wednesday 8/27/86
“Pretty much spent the day at home. Started Tom Jones and States of Desire.”
Two days later: “… reading s’more Tom Jones, which is good but which I can’t read great portions of at one sitting – oh, well, I planned to renew and renew it. The library’s not likely to yank it from me cuz someone’s requested it.”
9/13: “Still reading Tom Jones.”
In my memory the library had instituted its renewal limits by this time. Guess not. Once I started the fall semester, however, I saw there was no way I would be able to keep up with Tom Jones. I remember contendedly chuckling away over the book while soaking my feet before bed (conquered athlete’s foot that way and learned to like it). There are essays Henry Fielding throws in at the beginning of each “book” (the text is divided into sections, which, I suppose, were originally published as separate volumes). Fielding even says if you don’t like your narrative interrupted just skip the essays. But they were fun. Some of the easiest essays I’d come across. So I didn’t want to skip them. Yet they stopped the story dead and it was hard to get myself into the swing of the narrative again. It was a fat book besides, and I was a slow reader. I don’t remember how far I got. Not halfway, I think.
Published in England in 1749, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling is often called one of the first novels. Not that I really know what people who say that mean. The full text is available online.
A few years ago I found a cheap paperback. I much prefer a hardcopy book to scrolling along on a computer. So someday, soaking my feet before bed some chilly winter night, I’ll chuckle along to Tom Jones again.