Monday, December 11, 2017

Henry Fielding: 'The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling' (1749), Part IV

Tom Jones & the Landlord. Rowlandson etching (1792). The Met

Henry Fielding (1707-1754), The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. London: Andrew Millar, 1749. 

We now continue exploring Fielding's window into another world and how it reflects back on ours. 

Some things were different in the 1740s then they are in present-day English-speaking countries. Examples follow.

[The novel is divided into eighteen "books" (sections), each with its own chapter numbers starting with "i." References will be made to book number followed by chapter number; parenthetical page numbers correspond to the Modern Library edition published in 1985.]

Suicides were then considered demons or something like that and their bodies treated accordingly.

Sophia has no interest in marrying Mr. Blifil: "'rather than submit to be the Wife of that contemptible Wretch, I would plunge a Dagger into my Heart,'" she says to Mrs. Honour.

Mrs. Honour is aghast at the idea: 

"'O lud, Ma'am . . . I am sure you frighten me out of my Wits now. Let me beseech your La'ship not to suffer such wicked Thoughts to come into your Head. O lud . . . consider -- that to be denied Christian Burial, and to have your Corpse buried in the Highway, and a stake drove through you, as Farmer Halfpenny was served at Ox-Cross, and, to be sure, his Ghost hath walked there ever since; for several People have seen him. To be sure it can be nothing but the Devil which can put such wicked Thoughts into the Head of any body . . .'" (VII: vii) (pages 349-350).

Vagrants and Paupers could be thrown in jail or impressed (drafted by force) into the Royal Navy -- one of the rationales later given for fighting the War of 1812.

Soldiers could lodge at taverns and other public places, or even in homes, without having to receive permission. (Hence the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

On the Other Hand: some things probably haven't changed (before or since):  “For when a Lady hath once taken a Resolution to run to a Lover, or to run away from him, all Obstacles are considered as Trifles.” (VII: viii) (page 352).

The Tar's Triumph, or Bawdy House Battery (1749). British Museum.
A Mix of Then and Now: here, I've heard every one of the following words used in today's 21st century world except for "quotha" and (unless as a joke) "forsooth," including, of course, "Trumpery" and the emphatic phrasing, "let me tell you that:" 

"'Hoity! toity!' cries Honour, 'Madam is in her Airs, I protest, Mrs. Honour forsooth! sure Madam . . . Ashamed to walk with me, quotha!'"

"'In the Country indeed one is obliged to take up with all kind of Trumpery, but in Town I visit none but the Women of Quality . . .'" (VII: viii) (page 355).

"'Hussy,' replied the Lady, 'I will make such a saucy Trollop as yourself, know that I am not a proper Subject of your Discourse . . .'"

"Thank Heaven, good Servants need not want Places; and if you turn away all who do not think you handsome, you will want servants very soon, let me tell you that.'"  (VIII: ix) (page 356). 

Today's Rune: Flow. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Sometimes it seems we've come a long way since those days. Other times in listening to the news it doesn't seem like we've moved an inch