The series got a lot of interest and continues that way, because it’s taken a new approach. There is no rewriting. The author’s work remained exactly as he wrote it, apart from some updating of punctuation (“Tom Jones” is very confusing in the original, because Fielding didn’t use speech marks, or separate who was speaking on a separate line!). instead, the co-author has to add the naughty bits!
It’s been a really amazing exercise. The editors expected the new author to blend her work in as seamlessly as possible with the original, which means using the original author’s style.
So why “Tom Jones”? For me, it’s the natural choice. I’ve studied the Fieldings and that era of history for most of my life, and I’ve been in love with it since I was nine years old. The Fielding brothers are vital and colourful characters who revolutionised the way we now think about justice and criminal procedures. My “Richard and Rose” series started with my desire to write something about crime and punishment at that time. Both Fieldings became magistrates of Bow Street, first Henry the novelist and failed entrepreneur, then his brother John, the “Blind Beak.” Henry Fielding started the Bow Street Runners, commissioning twelve (or twelve pair – the wording is unclear) in 1749, to pursue crimes that crossed county boundaries, principally smuggling, poaching and counterfeiting.
And during all that, he found time to write some of the greatest novels ever written. “Tom Jones” bursts with life. The characters live and breathe before you, and in Tom Fielding creates a hero we can root for. Not to mention the love of his young life, Sophia, who is no shrinking miss, but takes life in both hands and rides it hard.
Re-reading this novel made me recall how absolutely I fell for this when I first read it. Coming after the morally suspect “Pamela,” it was a breath of fresh air, although when I first read “Pamela” in my early teens, I fell in love with the story of the maid who seduces her rakish master by her goodness and moral uprightness.
Fielding wrote a robust response to “Pamela” – two, in fact, in the parody “Shamela” and then the wonderful “Joseph Andrews,” the story of Pamela’s brother. So fanfiction has been gong a lot longer than most people think! Or anti-fan fiction, maybe?
Then he wrote “Tom Jones.” Most people remember the Tony Richardson film and the scene of Tom and the landlady seducing each other over the dining table. There are numerous instances in the book that seem like Fielding’s skipped or maybe even cut out a sex scene. It just works, and written in the right spirit, I hope it adds something to the text.
It might well be that originally Fielding intended to add more explicit scenes. The mid-eighteenth century didn’t have that meanness of spirit and hypocrisy that the later Victorians specialised in. The Church advocated high moral behaviour, but most people had an earthy realism that allowed for honest, uncomplicated sexual enjoyment. But in the same year that “Tom Jones” was released, so was one of the most scandalous books in the English language – “Fanny Hill.” (please note I’m using the shorter titles of the books – I’m aware that the original titles are much longer!). there was a huge scandal when this book came out, and later in the year, Cleland released a heavily censored version. Could it be that Fielding held back when he came to write his bawdier passages?
It’s an intriguing thought.
Anyway, “Tom Jones” will be out in January at Clandestine Classics. Do take a look!
Read about the book here