Today I finished reading
This picaresque novel, first published in 1748 describes the developmental decades of the life of an apparently orphaned child during the 1730s and ’40s; an age when schooling depended on someone’s ability to pay, and not question the teaching methods; when honour and duty were of paramount importance except where duplicity and self-interest were the norm; when whoring and debauchery were fair game, although the reputation of a truly beloved was a prime consideration promoting respectful restraint; when press gangs and recruiting sergeants roamed city streets after hours, capturing drunkards who would find themselves in the morning enlisted as unwilling sailors or soldiers of the king; when a ship’s captain could rule his crewmen’s lives and death; when gentlemen could carry swords and pistols and duel for satisfaction; when the gaming tables could make or break a fortune; when power was dependent on social status rather than merit; when law favoured the rich and let the poor go hang. We learn of our eponymous hero’s schooldays, his learning and backgrounds, his paramours and his one true love; his seafaring, his soldiering, his impressment, his duels, his naval and land battles, his imprisonment, his friends and his enemies; his gullibility, his sensibility, his naivety, his impetuous temper, his loyalty and his sense of honour. The author has good descriptive skills and a dry sense of humour: all is presented in almost 500 pages of packed, yet flowing, prose, with scarcely any white paper visible; nevertheless, provided readers can tolerate such lengthy literature from an age before film, internet, and the mobile phone speeded up communication to such an extent that reading no longer fills candlelit evenings, and can manage vocabulary of three hundred years ago, yet remarkably intelligible to modern readers with the stamina for up to five unbroken printed sheets at a time, sometimes taking up a whole, albeit short, chapter, unless they are relieved by one of
Frank Martin’s skilful wood engravings that perfectly reflect the period and the text, their placement perhaps planned for precisely that purpose.
This evening we dined on Jackie’s classic cottage pie; crunchy carrots and firm Brussels sprouts, with which she and I finished yesterday’s wines.