The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great by Henry Fielding, 2/5
This peculiarly depressing little satire flips traditional concepts of morality on its head by recasting infamous 18th-century thief Jonathan Wild as a “Great Man,” deriding all honest men as “that pitiful order of mortals who are in contempt called good-natured; being indeed sent into the world by nature with the same design with which men put little fish into a pike-pond in order to be devoured by that voracious water-hero” (73). There are a few hilarious moments but overall Fielding’s satirical style is a bit strained and tedious.
Why I read it: I can’t remember where I picked this book up from, but it probably ended up in the pile beside my bed because I really enjoyed Fielding’s Tom Jones.
This charmingly scandalous novel follows the escapades of one Tom Jones, whose good heart and good looks get him into rather more trouble than he seems to deserve. The author’s moral point of view is unusual and surprisingly modern in that his most spiteful commentary is reserved for those characters that appear saintly on the surface but are truly hypocritical, selfish and devious. Sins that have historically attracted more outspoken condemnation, such as sexual immorality, dishonesty, and theft, are all tolerantly chalked up to the imperfections of human nature in a manner that, while not condoning such behaviour, does seem surprisingly nonchalant. Despite its length and the sordidness of some episodes, the book is a light and entertaining read, thanks to the very short chapters, the author’s outspoken [often hilariously so] commitment to not boring the reader, and the artful ease with which the reader is transported between scenes. Perhaps because I have not read much 18th-century literature, Tom Jones reminds me a good deal of Tristram Shandy (written only 10 years later), but in much the same way that a beautiful rainbow might remind you of an oil puddle.
[Why I read it: It came up in conversation with Tom, a fellow choir member.]