The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
Title page from the 1749 edition
|Original title||The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling|
|28 February 1749|
|Preceded by||The Female Husband, or the Surprising History of Mrs Mary alias Mr George Hamilton, who was convicted of having married a young woman of Wells and lived with her as her husband, taken from her own mouth since her confinement – fictionalised pamphlet (1746)|
|Followed by||A Journey from this World to the Next (1749)|
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones, is a comic novel by the English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. The novel is both a Bildungsroman and a picaresque novel. First published on 28 February 1749 in London, Tom Jones is among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel, and is the earliest novel mentioned by W. Somerset Maugham in his 1948 book Great Novelists and Their Novels among the ten best novels of the world. Totaling 346,747 words, it is divided into 18 smaller books, each preceded by a discursive chapter, often on topics unrelated to the book itself. It is dedicated to George Lyttleton.
Though lengthy, the novel is highly organised; S. T. Coleridge noted that it had one of the three great plots of all literature. It was received with enthusiasm by the general public of the time; some critics including Samuel Johnson took exception to Fielding's "robust distinctions between right and wrong". Tom Jones is generally regarded as Fielding's greatest book, and as a very influential English novel.
The novel's events occupy eighteen books.
The kindly and wealthy Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget are introduced in their wealthy estate in Somerset. Allworthy returns from London after an extended business trip and finds an abandoned baby sleeping in his bed. He summons his housekeeper, Mrs Deborah Wilkins, to take care of the child. After searching the nearby village, Mrs Wilkins is told about a young woman called Jenny Jones, servant of a schoolmaster and his wife, as the most likely person to have committed the deed. Jenny is brought before them and admits being the baby's mother but refuses to reveal the father's identity. Mr Allworthy mercifully removes Jenny to a place where her reputation will be unknown. Furthermore, he promises his sister to raise the boy, whom he names Thomas, in his household.
Two brothers, Dr Blifil and Captain Blifil, regularly visit the Allworthy estate. The doctor introduces the captain to Bridget in hopes of marrying into Allworthy's wealth. The couple soon marry. After the marriage, Captain Blifil begins to show a coldness to his brother, who eventually feels obliged to leave the house for London where he soon dies "of a broken heart". Captain Blifil and his wife start to grow cool towards one another, and the former is found dead from apoplexy one evening after taking his customary evening stroll prior to dinner. By then he has fathered a boy, who grows up with the bastard Tom.
Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. His first love is Molly, gamekeeper Black George's second daughter and a local beauty. She throws herself at Tom; he gets her pregnant and then feels obliged to offer her his protection. After some time, however, Tom finds out that Molly is somewhat promiscuous. He then falls in love with a neighbouring squire's lovely daughter, Sophia Western. Tom's status as a bastard causes Sophia's father and Allworthy to oppose their love; this criticism of class friction in society acted as a biting social commentary. The inclusion of prostitution and sexual promiscuity in the plot was also original for its time, and the foundation for criticism of the book's "lowness".
Sophia's father, Squire Western, is intent on making Sophia marry the hypocritical Master Blifil, but she refuses, and tries to escape from her father's influence. Tom, on the other hand, is expelled from Allworthy's estate for his many misdemeanours, and starts his adventures across Britain, eventually ending up in London. Amongst other things, he joins the army for a brief duration, finds a servant in a barber-surgeon named Partridge (who habitually spouts Latin non sequiturs), beds two older women (Mrs Waters and Lady Bellaston), and very nearly kills a man in a duel, for which he is arrested.
Eventually the secret of Tom's birth is revealed, after a short scare that Mrs Waters (who is really Jenny Jones) is his birth mother, and that he has committed incest. Tom's real mother is Bridget, who conceived him after an affair with a schoolmaster — hence he is the true nephew of Squire Allworthy himself. After finding out about Tom's half-brother Master Blifil's intrigues, Allworthy decides to bestow the majority of his inheritance to Tom. Tom and Sophia Western marry, after this revelation of his true parentage, as Squire Western no longer harbours any misgivings over Tom marrying his daughter. Sophia bears Tom a son and a daughter and the couple live on happily with the blessings of Squire Western and Squire Allworthy.
The main theme of the novel is the contrast between Tom Jones's good nature, flawed but eventually corrected by his love for virtuous Sophia Western, and his half-brother Blifil's hypocrisy. Secondary themes include several other examples of virtue (especially that of Squire Allworthy), hypocrisy (especially that of Thwackum) and just villainy (for example Mrs. Western, Ensign Northerton), sometimes tempered by repentance (for instance Square, Mrs. Waters, née Jones).
Both introductory chapters to each book and interspersed commentary introduce a long line of further themes. For instance, introductory chapters dwell extensively on bad writers and critics, quite unrelated to the plot but apologetic to the author and the novel itself; and authorial commentary on several characters shows strong opposition to Methodism, calling it fanatical, heretical, and implying association of hypocrites, such as the younger Blifil, with it.
The novel takes place against the historical backdrop of the Forty-Five. Characters take different sides in the rebellion, which was an attempt to restore Roman Catholicism as the established religion of England and to undo the Glorious Revolution. At one point Sophia Western is even mistaken for Jenny Cameron, the supposed lover of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Good-natured characters are often modestly loyalist and Anglican, even Hanoverian, while ill-natured characters (Mrs. Western) or only mistaken ones (Partridge) can be Jacobites or (like Squire Western) just anti-Hanoverians.
List of characters
- Tom Jones (bastard/ward of Squire Allworthy, eventually revealed his nephew and the son of a long-deceased parson's son, Mr Summers)
- Squire Allworthy (a wealthy squire with an estate in Somerset, of irreproachable character and good nature, eventually revealed to having unknowingly been Tom Jones' uncle)
- Mrs. Bridget Allworthy-Blifil (Squire Allworthy's sister, Tom Jones' real mother)
- Captain John Blifil (Captain in the army and Bridget Allworthy's husband, with Methodist tendencies)
- Master Blifil (son of Captain Blifil and Bridget, a hypocrite and Tom Jones' foe)
- Benjamin Partridge (a teacher, later barber/surgeon, erroneously suspected to be Tom Jones' father due to the extreme ill-nature of his first wife)
- Mrs. Jenny Jones-Waters (the Partridges' servant, a very intelligent woman who is used by Mrs Allworthy-Blifil to deflect suspicions on Tom Jones' maternity from herself)
- Black George Seagrim (gamekeeper to Squire Allworthy & later Squire Western, recipient of many benefits from Tom Jones but eventually betraying him in an hour of need)
- Molly Seagrim (Black George's second daughter, Tom Jones' first lover and having a bastard, possibly by him)
- Mr. Thwackum (Reverend/school teacher to Tom and Master Blifil, a hypocrite who hates Tom Jones, favours Master Blifil and conspires with the latter against the former)
- Mr. Square (Philosopher/school teacher to Tom and Master Blifil, also a hypocrite who hates Jones and favours Blifil, but who refrains from conspiration and eventually repents)
- Squire Western (Hunter/wealthy squire who owns neighbouring estate to Squire Allworthy, a simpleton who wants to marry his daughter Sophia to Squire Allworthy's heir, first Blifil and then Jones, against her will, with quite violent, if not physical, means)
- Sophia Western (the Squire's only daughter, the model of virtue, beauty and all good qualities)
- Honour (Sophia's maid, egotistical and inconstant to her employer)
- Mrs. Harriet Fitzpatrick (ward of Mrs Western and wife of Fitzpatrick, an Irishman, abused by him, a cousin and friend of Sophia but lacking her virtue)
- Miss Western (the Squire's unmarried sister, who wrongly believes herself to 'know the World‘ both in international and national politics and in social mores, tries to impose Blifil to Sophia but with less violent means than her brother's)
- Mr. Dowling (a Lawyer)
- Lady Bellaston (Tom's lover and a leading figure in London society, who tries to force Sophia into marriage to a Lord by having her raped by him, so she would have Jones to herself)
- Mr. Nightingale (a young gentleman of leisure, who is saved from ruining his first true love by Jones' entreaties)
- Lord Fellamar (a peer and socialite, who unsuccessfully conspires with Lady Bellaston to rape Sophia so as to force her into marriage)
- Mrs. Miller and her two daughters, Nancy (later Mrs Nightingale, a good-natured girl who is imposed on by Mr Nightingale and would be ruined by him, together with her family, by lack of constancy in virtue) and pre-adolescent Betty
- Mr. Summer (son of a clergyman and revealed to be the father of Tom Jones)
Adaptations and influences
1963 saw the release of Tom Jones, a film written by John Osborne, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Albert Finney as Tom. It inspired the 1976 film The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones. The book was also three times used as the basis for an opera, by François-André Philidor in 1765 (see Philidor's opera), by Edward German in 1907 (see German's opera), and by Stephen Oliver in 1975. A BBC adaptation was broadcast in 1997 with Max Beesley in the title role, dramatised by Simon Burke. The book has also been adapted for the stage by playwright Joan Macalpine.
- 1749: First edition, Andrew Millar, Britain
- 1809: J Walker, Paternoster Row and J Harris, St. Paul's Church Yard, London (two volumes hardback)
- 1917: P.F. Collier & Son, New York (Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, volume 1 and 2 hardback)
- 1950: Modern Library, UK (hardback)
- 1973: William Collins, UK (hardback, ISBN 978-0-00-423529-5)
- 1975: Wesleyan University Press, US (paperback, ISBN 978-0-8195-6048-3)
- 1992: Wordsworth Editions, UK (paperback, ISBN 978-1-85326-021-6)
- 1998: Phoenix Press, US (paperback, ISBN 978-0-460-87833-3)
- 2002: Random House, US (Modern Library, paperback, ISBN 978-0-8129-6607-7
- 2004: Barnes & Noble, US (Classics, papareback, ISBN 1-59308-070-0)
- 2005: Penguin Books, UK (paperback, ISBN 978-0-14-043622-8)
- Yardley, Jonathan (9 December 2003). "'Tom Jones,' as Fresh as Ever". The Washington Post. p. C1. Retrieved 31 December 2006.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Henry Nelson Coleridge, Specimens of the table talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London, England: John Murray, 1835), volume 2, page 339.
- Drabble, Margaret, ed. (1998) The Oxford Companion to English Literature; (2nd) revised ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; pp. 982–83
- Fielding, H (1950), "Introduction by G. Sherburn", The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, New York: Modern Library, p. viii.
- Tom Jones, Wordsworth Classics, Introduction and Notes Doreen Roberts, Canterbury: Rutherford College, University of Kent, 1999 , ISBN 1-85326-021-5.
- Words, Words, Words: From the Beginnings to the Eighteenth Century, La Spiga languages, 2003.
- Battestin, Martin. The Providence of Wit: Aspects of Form in Augustan Literature and the Arts. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.
- Hunter, J. Paul. Before Novels: The Cultural Context of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction. New York: WW Norton and Co., 1990.
- McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel, 1600–1740. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
- Paulson, Ronald. Satire and the Novel in the Eighteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.
- Richetti, John. "Representing an Under Class: Servants and Proletarians in Fielding and Smollett." The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature. Eds. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown. London: Routledge, 1987.
- Richetti, John. "The Old Order and the New Novel of the Mid-Eighteenth Century: Narrative Authority in Fielding and Smollett." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 2 (1990): 99–126.
- Smallwood, Angela J. Fielding and the Woman Question. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.
- Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
- Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.
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