Study Guide

Tom Jones Writing Style

By Henry Fielding

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Writing Style

Wordy, Referential, Long-winded

Listen, we love Henry Fielding to death, but man, the guy can talk. His sentences are often incredibly long and involved, and he loves using SAT words on the tough end of the spectrum whenever he can.

Of course, we can't really get mad at him for his wordy descriptions, since it was fashionable in the eighteenth century in England to write this way. Check out Gulliver's Travels to see another example of this kind of dense eighteenth-century style. And honestly, once you get used to it, his fiction is really funny. Fielding is sly, and he knows how to insert complex references and imagery to poke fun at his characters.

Let's take a look at a passage:

The squire himself now sallied forth, and began to roar forth the name of Sophia as loudly, and in as hoarse a voice, as whilome did Hercules that of Hylas; and, as the poet tells us that the whole shore echoed back the name of that beautiful youth, so did the house, the garden, and all the neighbouring fields resound nothing but the name of Sophia." (10.8.13)

Fielding could have written: "The squire wanders all over his estate calling Sophia's name until it echoes." That is pretty much the gist of this whole thing. But that would be too straightforward (and boring). Instead of doing that, Fielding makes a dense classical reference to Hercules and Hylas.

Let's take this apart: Squire Western "began to roar" like Hercules did for Hylas. We know from the myth that Hercules called his beloved Hylas's name after Hylas disappeared with a bunch of river nymphs. Fielding is comparing the sound of Squire Western's voice to the sound of Hercules's. He also uses the word "whilome," which even in the eighteenth century was a really old-fashioned, uncommon way of saying, "while."

Now, Squire Western is a rough-and-tumble, angry, rude old man. He's not typically what you'd think of when you imagine an ancient Greek legendary hero like Hercules.And he's also not the kind of guy who would use formal, old-fashioned English expressions like "whilome." So the narrator is using really fancy talk to describe someone who is anything but serious or high-toned. This passage is funny because it presents a strong contrast between its plain and simple subject matter and its complicated, witty language.

Fielding asks a lot of his readers with this kind of writing, since he wants you to get the references so that you can laugh at the humor. Luckily, if you haven't swallowed textbooks of Greek mythology, Shmoop has your back: check out our list of "Allusions" to find out more about Fielding's many (many) quotations and connections.

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