Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546
TOM AND JERRY is a title commonly given to Pierce Egan’s LIFE IN LONDON: OR, THE DAY AND NIGHT SCENES OF JERRY HAWTHORN, ESQ., AND HIS ELEGANT FRIEND, CORINTHIAN TOM, ACCOMPANIED BY BOB LOGIC, THE OXONIAN, IN THEIR RAMBLES AND SPREES THROUGH THE METROPOLIS. The book is a minor masterpiece. Any student of history who wishes to know of life in Regency London must read it, for it is the best single source of its kind. Egan, a sporting gentleman who keenly observed the life around him, put into his picaresque narrative a detailed account of boxing, cockfighting, masquerades, and taverns. Much of the slang of the day can be found in this work—some of it still seems new—carefully explained in footnotes. At the time of publication, the innumerable puns added to the liveliness of the novel, but to most modern readers, the plays on words are often obscure and they can be disregarded. Egan’s comic spirit made him a forerunner of Surtees and Dickens.
Egan’s popularity in his own day was based on two works: BOXIANA: OR, SKETCHES OF MODERN PUGILISM (1818-1824) and LIFE IN LONDON, originally published in monthly serial form and illustrated by George and Robert Cruikshank. The book was immensely popular for a time and was the rage in London; at one point in THE ROUNDABOUT PAPERS, Thackeray pictures himself as a boy getting boxed on the ears by his schoolmaster because he is caught reading a copy of LIFE IN LONDON, which he has hidden behind a pile of Greek and Latin books. Years later, the adult Thackeray, in an article for the WESTMINSTER REVIEW, relates how he was unable to find a single copy of the book in the British Museum and five major circulating libraries. Copies of Egan’s tale are still scarce today, owing to the fact that the work lacks great literary merit; but this is unfortunate, since LIFE IN LONDON is not only highly entertaining but offers one of the most complete pictures available of life in the big city during the reign of George IV.
LIFE IN LONDON is most often classified as a picaresque novel. Although it does utilize some of the more obvious features of the picaresque, Egan did not intend to write in that genre. The two central characters, Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn, are not rogues in the usual sense but fun-loving rakes out on the town looking for a good time; Egan does not use their adventures as a tool for social satire but merely for entertainment. Furthermore, LIFE IN LONDON is humorous. The plot is fast-paced and filled with madcap action from the first page to the last. In a breathtaking whirl, readers follow Tom, Jerry, and Bob Logic from saloon to saloon, from Temple Bar to theater, from nightclub to dancing hall, as they sing, dance, drink, flirt, and generally make merry. It is said that Egan had intended to bring all three young men to ruin at the end, the proper punishment for their lives of carefree dissipation; but the young rakes are so lovable and captivating in their way that readers are grateful to Tom and Jerry’s original audience for persuading the author to settle them into happy marriages instead.
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