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.
Swift combines wit, humour and venom in this collection of satires that attack everything from organized religion to politicians and fellow writers. The 18th-century language and references to now-obscure people and issues do not hinder this book’s continued relevance and, in my opinion, even enhance the timelessness of Swift’s observations–one of my favourite parts of reading very old literature is realizing how little people’s basic natures change with the passage of time.
Why I read it: One of Dad’s coworkers cited “A Modest Proposal” as his all-time favourite piece of literature, which made me curious to read it. Also, I’ve been meaning to read Gulliver’s Travels for quite a while and I thought it was in this collection (which it wasn’t).
I made a couple picture quotes for this book:
I was expecting a classy, clever satire, not such a crass tale. While entertaining, witty and devastatingly sarcastic in parts, I felt that its overall tone was tasteless and shallow; there is something off-putting and ignoble about a writer putting warped versions of his opponents’ beliefs into the mouths of fools, creating too-easy targets for snide and immature insults. It seemed more the bawdy tale of a sea captain than that of a writer with any pretensions to philosophic depth.
[Why I read it: can’t remember where I actually got the book from, but I was interested in reading it because a friend had me watch the operetta version starring soprano Kristan Chenoweth.]