Sunday, April 7, 2013

Fielding a lot of Waffle

Henry Fielding
Wordsworth Classics

Wowzas! What a lot of waffle!

The history of the novel is perhaps one of a decline in the use of the Authorial Voice, which was still quite prevalent in the Victorian era. This book, written shortly after the failed second Jacobite Uprising of 1745 has more Authorial Voice than I can remember in any other novel, including even earlier works by [author:Defoe Daniel 1661?-1731|5109659] and stands as a testament to why it is undesirable: At time the story drowns in it. We are treated to 18 books, the prefatory chapter of each the author openly admits will not advance the plot or even include any narrative at all. That's 18 chapters of pointless waffle. If it was confined to those chapters it would be easy to deal with; just ignore them. However, the authorial waffle pervades the vast majority of chapters to some extent or other up to probably 75% of a chapter being authorial voice rather than narrative at times.

My enjoyment shows a clear inverse relationship to the proportion of this waffle at any given point. The most readable parts of the book being where it gives way to just getting on with the story - most notably in the final book.

The novel is intended to be comical, to which purpose, various techniques are deployed, usually repeatedly. One is exaggeration; almost everything is exaggerated, so that quite commonplace events and emotions are mock-elevated to Homeric heroics, tragedy and passions. Perhaps the single funniest part of the book, for me, was the hero-versus-army description of a common brawl in a churchyard. Another technique that is ubiquitous is to extol the virtues, intelligence or learning of some newly introduced character in description only for that character's actions and or dialogue to immediately demonstrate the opposite. Then there's just plain farce.

One trouble I had with this was that rather than finding it all hilarious I mostly found it merely faintly amusing and exponentially less so as each technique was repeated over and over.
One might ask, what with all the annoying waffle and decreasingly funny comedic aspects, why I staggered on through 700p or so? Indeed I did ask myself this, many-several times! I read three other novels whilst ploughing slowly through this one and I rarely read multiple novels in parallel, though I am almost permanently working on other types of book in parallel with a novel.

What was stopping me giving up, besides being a stubborn git? In fact, it was the plot, or more precisely, the mystery - who <i>is</i> Tom Jones? Somehow I had to know; I could not give up until I found out - so close to the end that finishing was no longer a chore. So Fielding hooked me early and never let go.
Looking back I find that the plot of the book is not only intricate but extremely clever; there is hardly an event described that does not turn out to be crucial. Such a shame those events are mostly buried under mounds of Authorial Voice...

I can't believe others will enjoy this more than I did unless they find it funnier, which is entirely possible. Unfortunately, the only way to know if you will do is to try it.

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