I cannot, Dear Reader, conceive a more worthy employment for a gentleman of academic background -- or, as honesty compels me to confess, a more unusual one -- than the pursuit of literary fame through the means of writing something that is actually pleasant to read. I have in mind one Mr. Bob Coleman, currently resident in San Diego, who has earned himself a proper university degree through the diligent study of Literature. With the evidence of his scholarship securely fixed above his desk -- though it matters little, for no force upon earth can wrest from a man his education -- this Coleman, whose main study has been the literature of the 18th century, has undertaken to tread in the foosteps of a greater Author than himself. In short, he has written a Novel entitled "The Later Adventures of Tom Jones."
All those who -- like thee and me, Dear Reader -- take pleasure in the innocent turning of pages chronicling adventures that may be deemed somewhat less than perfectly innocent must be intrigued by Coleman's daring. Who would not want to hear more of the estimable Mr. Jones? Yet, who would think it possible to duplicate the Style -- one might even say, the voice, for he is a very chatty and personable Author -- of Henry Fielding?
Wise Bob has essayed the task with a will, presenting before the reader's view a tale made up in equal parts of misadventure, misunderstanding, mistiming and misdeed. The whole is not without imperfection. (Oh, Reader, if thou but knew the yearning in the Reviewer's heart to cry, for once and all, "This is the perfect book!") Even so, Coleman has acquitted himself well, and we, his readers, though denied the hearty dinner for which we might have hoped, can enjoy -- if I may add another course to the gastronomic metaphor -- an amusing meal of literary tidbits.
At the very outset, Coleman promises a tale of "virtue rewarded, villainy punished, and chastity -- treated as it deserves." His time is the spring of 1775, and he at once sets before us the Tom Jones we knew of old. Time, however, has done its work, and Tom, though his eye is still clear, his jaw still firm and his figure still fine, is now a prosperous country squire, aged 44, a widower and father of three offspring. Tom determines to cast off his listlessness by means of travel, and perhaps, through lucky chance, by consort with the fairer gender.
No sooner has he taken to the road than the plot begins twisting itself into a tangle of mischance and deception, of virtue direly threatened, villainy rampant and chastity hard to locate. His son Rob is gone off, destination unknown, to seek his fortune. His fair daughter Amelia -- a paragon of goodness and intelligence, both ruled by a strong will -- instantly finds all her father's estate, and possibly even his life, placed in jeopardy by the evil plans of those whom her good-natured father most trusted. And who should be the mastermind of the plottings against dear Tom but his very own flesh, his elder son, Hacksem!
Amelia, facing adversity like the feisty heroine she is destined to be, at once sets off in search of Tom to bring him back and save the day. She is aided in this endeavor by her faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Limeslices, her trusty friend, Mrs. James, the recent death of whose husband appears to bring murder into the plot, and adoring Mr. Adams, a clergyman nearly as devoted to Amelia as he is to his God. This small army encounters more trials and confrontations than ancient Hannibal leading his elephants across the Alps, and we are presented with a full serving -- How hard it is to abandon a tasty metaphor! -- of near-disasters, wily and daring ruses and the most attractive instances of feminine cleverness.
But where, thou may well ask, is Tom Jones all the while? After diligent searching through many pages of Amelia's adventures, Tom is at last to be found, first in London, then in Paris, then Marseilles, then wrapt in spying and in various political complexities in the rebellious colonies of America, and wrapt, at least as often and certainly more pleasantly, in the arms of assorted chambermaids (ever tender and true) and highborn ladies (ever wicked and false). It is a fault of the book that we see far too little of Tom himself (and too little also of the chambermaids and ladies) but in Amelia we have a fine and charming substitute. There are constant surprises (including wounds and frightening reverses, and brief appearances by Dr. Johnson, Ben Franklin and other notables) to pique the appetite, and, in the end, a cordial finish, the whole recounted in a voice very like that of Mr. Fielding himself.
The volume is not, in truth, a surfeiting banquet, but rather a most satisfying meal with a pleasing host, one whose offering bears out, to borrow a phrase of his own, "the triumph of his policy and the affirmation of his charm."