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Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Tom Jones (1749)

by Henry Fielding

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,29563957 (3.9)360
  1. 51
    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (Widsith)
    Widsith: The obvious companion book...Shandy is funnier, but less story-driven
  2. 01
    Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (swampygirl)
  3. 05
    CliffsNotes on Defoe's Moll Flanders by Nancy Levi Arnez (espertus)
    espertus: Another 18th century bawdy picaresque novel
Satire (68)
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Tom Jones, a bastard of infamous parentage, is nevertheless raised by the kind Squire Allworthy as a gentleman. He loves the neighboring Squire's daughter, Sophia, but has no problem sleeping around with the less scrupulous common girls while waiting for his chance with her. His foster father, Squire Allworthy, loves him and has him educated alongside his nephew and heir, Master Blifil. Jones inspires the friendship and ire of those around him and, when he is seen as a threat to Blifil's inheritance of the estate, is framed as eagerly anticipating his foster father's death. Squire Allworthy reluctantly casts him off and Tom must go out to seek his fortune in the world. At the same time Squire Western wishes to force his daughter to marry Blifil so that their estates can be combined. Sophia flees with her maid. Her father and Blifil in pursuit.

Of the handful of 18th century novels I've read in the past two years, Tom Jones is the first I've enjoyed with the fewest qualifications to that word. Fielding is the first English novelist to understand how a story is supposed to work. Sterne's Tristram Shandy was more interested in its own cleverness than including the reader in the joke; Richardson's Pamela is drivel; and the candidates for first novel ever! are worth reading but Gulliver's Travels
and Robinson Crusoe fail to carry a narrative from start to finish.

Fielding throws a lot in the air over this nearly 900 page novel and, with a notably boring exception (I'm looking at you Man of the Hill), the characters and their stories contribute towards the goal of illustrating Tom and Sophia's separate journeys to London with all the misunderstandings, plot twists and gross-out surprises that keep a reader interested. Here is a comic novel that is still capable of real humor and sustaining it. The plot is dense with pratfalls and fists and mistaken identities - a lie told by one character causes misfortune for another which prevents a third from bringing one of the pins from crashing to the floor.

On a serious note, the novel is concerned with hypocrisy more than anything else. Master Blifil and Thwackem in the eyes of the world are respectable, but their platitudes have no feeling behind them, their greed is so blinding they fail to see any other motivation in those around them. Hypocrisy towards sexual desire is thornier territory, but the message can be a simple as its natural, everyone wants to do it anyway, and if all participants have honest expectations and intentions and, erm, no one gets pregnant, its a good time for everybody. Thorny.

The novel works. There are a few moral wrinkles and unnecessary asides and structural problems, but Tom Jones works. I'd recommend it over many others. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
This guy Jones claims to be completely in love with one woman, but then still sleazes his way through England, sleeping with nearly every female he encounters, but oh, that's okay, he's still in love with the original young lady (who, by the way, loves him back to distraction and doesn't seem to mind his extracurriculars much at all) and after all, he's really a nice young lad and Boys Will Be Boys. Gross. ( )
  electrascaife | Oct 22, 2018 |
Somehow I had never heard of Henry Fielding or his comedic novels before our professor announced that we were going to be reading The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling for 18th Century Literature. Images of a infamous Welsh singer with lots of chest hair and shiny clothes belting out songs to women throwing their underwear popped into my head for some reason. Soon I would discover that the book and the singer of the same name had very little in common except an occasionally saucy attitude, the first of which was quite funny, the second a fun relic from the 1970s.

I wish all 18th century novels were as much fun as this deliciously humorous one. One day last week I was looking for a good laugh and went over to my bookshelf to see if I could find something suitable. And there was Tom Jones, a book I last read 20 years ago, waiting for me. It’s the kind of classic that is fresh and exciting, defying stereotypes (at least stereotypes that many students believe) that classics are boring.

Abandoned child Tom Jones is discovered on the property of a very kind, wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy, in Somerset, England. Young Tom becomes a vigorous and over-sexed, yet honest and kind man. He begins to have feelings for his neighbor Sophia Western. While the story of their love reflects a type of romantic comedy that was popular in 18th-century Britain, it also is a social commentary of the times, covering everything (in an often funny and biting manner) from religion to class.

I love the chapter headings, especially this one: Containing such grave matter that the reader cannot laugh once through the whole chapter, unless peradventure he should laugh at the author.

I wish Henry Fielding had written more; his books really make me laugh! Joseph Andrews and Shamela are two of my other favorite 18th century novels, both were written by Fielding. The formality of words from so long ago combined with a timeless sense of wit just floors me!
( )
  booksandcats4ever | Jul 30, 2018 |
321/1500 ( )
  Drfreddy94 | Jul 17, 2018 |
[Be aware, should you care, that the following review contains spoilers! – Ed.]

[From Great Novelists and Their Novels, John C. Winston, 1948, pp. 61 & 70:]

Later writers have been at pains to show that Fielding was far from the dissolute creature legend has painted, but unfortunately in making him more respectable they have made him less engaging. They have been inclined to shake their heads over the obvious fact that he was a man of abundant vitality and impetuous appetites. But there is no reason to expect that a man whose books you admire you shall be a model of propriety. His moral character makes his books neither better nor worse. Life is the subject matter of the writer of fiction, and to write about it honestly he must partake of its vicissitudes to the full; he will not learn much by looking at it through a keyhole. But really there is no need to whitewash Fielding; his faults, such as they were, were very human, and only a prudish, silly person can be seriously shocked by them.


Now I should like to warn any new reader of Fielding’s greatest novel that if he is of a squeamish habit he had better not start it.

[From Ten Novels and Their Authors, Heinemann, 1954, pp. 21-43:]

The difficulty of writing about Henry Fielding, the man, is that very little is known about him. Arthur Murphy, who wrote a short life of him in 1762, only eight years after his death, as an introduction to an edition of his works, seems to have known him, if he knew him at all, only in his later years, and had so little material to work with that, presumably to fill the eighty pages of his essay[1], he indulged in long and tedious digressions. The facts he tells are few, and subsequent research has shown that they are not always accurate. The last author to deal at length with Fielding is Dr. Homes Dudden, Master of Pembroke. The two stout volumes of his work are a monument of painstaking industry.[2] By giving a lively picture of the political circumstances of the times, and a vivid account of the Young Pretender’s disastrous adventure in 1745, he has added colour, depth and substance to the narrative of his hero’s checkered career. I don’t believe that there is anything to be said about Henry Fielding that the eminent Master of Pembroke has left unsaid.

Fielding was a gentleman born. His father was the third son of John Fielding, a Canon of Salisbury, and he in turn was the fifth son of an Earl of Desmond. The Desmonds were a younger branch of the family of Denbigh, who flattered themselves that they were descended from the Habsburgs. Gibbon, the Gibbon of The Decline and Fall, wrote in his autobiography: “The successors of Charles the Fifth may disdain their brethren of England; but the romance of Tom Jones, that exquisite picture of human manners, will outlive the palace of Escorial, and the imperial eagle of the House of Austria.” The phrase has a fine resonance, and it is a pity that the claim of these noble lords has been shown to have no foundation.


If I have dwelt on his activity as a playwright, though it was after all not much more than an episode in his career, it is because I think it was important to his development as a novelist. Quite a number of novelists have tried their hands at playwriting, but I cannot think of any that have conspicuously succeeded.[3] The fact is that the techniques are very different, and to have learnt how to write a novel is of no help when it comes to writing a play. The novelist has all the time he wants to develop his theme, he can describe his characters as minutely as he chooses and make their behaviour plain to the reader by relating their motives; if he is skilful, he can give verisimilitude to improbabilities; if he has a gift for narrative, he can gradually work up to a climax which a long preparation makes more striking (a supreme example of this is Clarissa’s letter in which she announces her seduction); he does not have to show action, but only to tell it; he can make the persons explain themselves in dialogue for as many pages as he likes. But a play depends on action, and by action, of course, I don’t mean violent action like falling off a precipice or being run over by a bus; such an action as handling a person a glass of water may be of the highest dramatic intensity. The power of attention that an audience has is very limited, and it must be held by a constant succession of incidents; something fresh must be doing all the time; the theme must be presented at once and its development must follow a definite line, without digression into irrelevant bypaths; the dialogue must be crisp and to the point, and it must be so put that the listener can catch its meaning without having to stop and think; the characters must be all of a piece, easily grasped by the eye and the understanding, and however complex, their complexity must be plausible. A play cannot afford loose ends; however slight, its foundation must be secure and its structure solid.

When the playwright, who has acquired the qualities which I have suggested are essential to writing a play which audiences will sit through with pleasure, starts writing novels, he is at an advantage. He has learnt to be brief; he has learnt the value of rapid incident; he has learnt not to linger on the way, but to stick to his point and get on with his story; he has learnt to make his characters display themselves by their words and actions, without the help of description; and so, when he comes to work on the larger canvas which the novel allows, he can not only profit by the advantages peculiar to the form of the novel, but his training as a playwright will enable him to make his novel lively, swift-moving and dramatic. These are excellent qualities, and some very good novelists, whatever their other merits, have not possessed them. I cannot look upon the years Fielding spent writing plays as wasted; I think, on the contrary, the experience he gained then was of value to him when he came to writing novels.


When I consider Fielding’s life, which from inadequate material I have briefly sketched, I am seized with a singular emotion. He was a man. As you read his novels, and few novelists have put more of themselves into their books than he, you feel the same sort of affection as you feel for someone with whom you have been for years intimate. There is something contemporary about him. There is a sort of Englishman that till recently was far from uncommon. You might meet him in London, at Newmarket, in Leicestershire during the hunting season, at Cowes in August, at Cannes or Monte Carlo in mid-winter. He is a gentleman, and he has good manners. He is good-looking, good-natured, friendly and easy to get on with. He is not particularly cultured, but he is tolerant of those who are. He is fond of the girls and is apt to find himself cited as a co-respondent. He is not one of the world’s workers, but he sees no reason why he should be. Though he does nothing, he is far from idle. He has an adequate income and is free with his money. If war breaks out, he joins up and his gallantry is conspicuous. There is absolutely no harm in him and everyone likes him. The years pass and youth is over, he is not so well-off anymore and life is not so easy as it was. He has had to give up hunting, but he still plays a good game of golf and you are always glad to see him in the card-room of your club. He marries an old flame, a widow with money, and, settling down to middle age, makes her a very good husband. The world to-day has no room for him and in a few years his type will be extinct. Such a man, I fancy, was Fielding. But he happened to have the great gift which made him the writer he was and, when he wanted to, he could work hard. He was fond of the bottle and he liked women. When people speak of virtue, it is generally sex they have in mind, but chastity is only a small part of virtue, and perhaps not the chief one. Fielding had strong passions, and he had no hesitation in yielding to them. He was capable of loving tenderly. Now love, not affection, which is a different thing, is rooted in sex, but there can be sexual desire without love. It is only hypocrisy or ignorance that denies it. Sexual desire is an animal instinct, and there is nothing more shameful in it than in thirst or hunger, and no more reason not to satisfy it. If Fielding enjoyed, somewhat promiscuously the pleasures of sex, he was not worse than most men. Like most of us, he regretted his sins, if sins they are, but when opportunity occurred, committed them again. He was hot-tempered, but kind-hearted, generous and, in a corrupt age, honest; an affectionate husband and father; courageous and truthful, and a good friend to his friends, who till his death remained faithful to him. Though tolerant to the faults of others, he hated brutality and double-dealing. He was not puffed up by success and, with the help of a brace of partridges and a bottle of claret, bore adversity with fortitude. He took life as it came, with high spirits and good humour, and enjoyed it to the full. In fact he was very like his own Tom Jones, and not unlike his own Billy Booth. He was a very proper man.

I should, however, tell the reader that the picture I have drawn of Henry Fielding does not at all accord with that drawn by the Master of Pembroke in the monumental work to which I have often referred, and to which I owe much useful information. “Until comparatively recently,” he writes, “the conception of Fielding which prevailed in the popular imagination was that of a man of brilliant genius, endowed with what is called ‘a good heart’ and many amiable qualities, but dissipated and irresponsible, guilty of regrettable follies, and not wholly unstained even by graver vices.” And he has done his best to persuade his readers that Fielding has been grossly maligned.

But this conception, which Dr. Dudden tries to refute, is that which prevailed in Fielding’s lifetime. It was held by persons who knew him well. It is true that he was violently attacked in his own day by his political and literary enemies, and it is very likely that the charges that were brought against him were exaggerated; but if charges are to be damaging they must be plausible.


Common opinion in his own day decided that Fielding was licentious and profligate. The evidence that he was is too great to be ignored. If he had been the respectable, chaste, abstemious creature that the Master of Pembroke would have us believe, it is surely very unlikely that he would have written Tom Jones. I think what has misled Dr. Dudden, in his perhaps meritorious attempt to whitewash Fielding, is that it has not occurred to him that contradictory, even mutually exclusive, qualities may exist in the same man and somehow or other form a tolerably plausible harmony. That is natural enough in one who has led a sheltered, academic life. Because Fielding was generous, good-hearted, upright, kindly, affectionate and honest, it has seemed to the Master impossible that he should have been at the same time a spendthrift who would cadge a dinner and a guinea from his rich friends, who would haunt taverns and drink to the ruin of his health, and who would engage in sexual congress whenever he had the chance. Dr. Dudden states that, as long as his first wife lived, Fielding was absolutely faithful to her. How does he know? Certainly Fielding loved her, he loved her passionately, but he would not have been the first loving husband who, when the circumstances were propitious, had a flutter on the side; and it is very probable that after such an occurrence, like his own Captain Booth in similar circumstances, he bitterly regretted it; but that did not prevent him from transgressing again when the opportunity offered.

In one of her letters Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu wrote: “I am sorry for H. Fielding’s death, not only as I shall read no more of his writings, but I believe he lost more than others, as no man enjoyed life more than he did, though few had less reason to do so, the highest of his preferment being raking in the lowest sinks of vice and misery. I should think it a nobler and less nauseous employment to be one of the staff officers that conduct the nocturnal weddings. His happy constitution (even when he had, with great pains, half demolished it) made him forget everything when he was before a venison pasty, or over a flask of champagne; and I am persuaded he has known more happy moments than any prince upon earth.”

There are people who cannot read Tom Jones. I am not thinking of those who never read anything but the newspapers and the illustrated weeklies, or of those who never read anything but detective stories; I am thinking of those who would not demur if you classed them as members of the intelligentsia, of those who read and re-read Pride and Prejudice with delight, Middlemarch with self-complacency, and The Golden Bowl with reverence. The chances are that it has never even occurred to them to read Tom Jones; but, sometimes, they have tried and not been able to get on with it. It bores them. Now it is no good saying that they ought to like it. There is no ‘ought’ about the matter. You read a novel for its entertainment, and, I repeat, if it does not give you that, it has nothing to give you at all. No one has the right to blame you because you don’t find it interesting, any more than anyone has the right to blame you because you don’t like oysters. I cannot but ask myself, however, what it is that puts readers off a book which Gibbon described as an exquisite picture of human manners, which Walter Scott praised as truth and human nature itself, which Dickens admired and profited by, and of which Thackeray wrote: “The novel of Tom Jones is indeed exquisite; as a work a construction quite a wonder; the by-play of wisdom, the power of observation, the multiplied felicitous turns and thoughts, the varied character of the great comic epic, keep the reader in a perpetual admiration and curiosity.” Is it that they cannot interest themselves in the way of life, the manners and customs, of persons who lived two hundred years ago? Is it the style? It is easy and natural. It has been said – I forget by whom, Fielding’s friend, Lord Chesterfield, perhaps – that a good style should resemble the conversation of a cultivated man. That is precisely what Fielding’s style does. He is talking to the reader and telling him the story of Tom Jones as he might tell over the dinner-table with a bottle of wine to a number of friends. He does not mince his words. The beautiful and virtuous Sophia was apparently quite used to hearing such words as “whore”, “bastard”, “strumpet”, and that which, for a reason hard to guess, Fielding writes “b..ch”. In fact, there were moments when her father, Squire Western, applied them very freely to herself.

The conversational method of writing a novel, the method in which the author takes you into his confidence, telling you what he feels about the creatures of his invention and the situations in which he had placed them, has its dangers. The author is always at your elbow, and so hinders your immediate communication with the persons of his story. He is apt to irritate you sometimes by moralizing and once he starts to digress, is apt to be tedious. You do not want to hear what he has to say on some moral or social point; you want him to get on with his story. Fielding’s digressions are nearly always sensible or amusing; they are brief, and he has the grace to apologise for them. His good nature shines through them. When Thackeray unwisely imitated him in this, he was priggish, sanctimonious and, you cannot but suspect, insincere.

Fielding prefaced each of the books into which Tom Jones is divided with an essay. Some critics have greatly admired them, and have looked upon them as adding to the excellence of the novel. I can only suppose that is because they were not interested in it as a novel. An essayist takes a subject and discusses it. If his subject is new to you, he may tell you something that you didn’t know before, but new subjects are hard to find and, in general, he expects to interest you by his own attitude and the characteristic way in which he regards things. That is to say, he expects to interest you in himself. But that is not what you want to do when you read a novel. You don’t care about the author; he is there to tell you a story and introduce you to a group of characters. The reader of a novel should want to know what happens next to the persons in whom the author has interested him and, if he doesn’t, there is no reason for him to read the novel at all. For the novel, I can never repeat too often, is not to be looked upon as a medium of instruction or edification, but as a source of intelligent diversion. It appears that Fielding wrote the essays with which he introduced the successive books of Tom Jones after he had finished the novel. They have hardly anything to do with the books they introduce; they gave him, he admits, a lot of trouble, and one wonders why he wrote them at all. He cannot have been unaware that many readers would look upon his novel as low, none too moral, and possibly even bawdy; and it may be that by them he thought to give it a certain elevation. These essays are sensible, and sometimes uncommonly shrewd; and when you know the novel well, you can read them with a certain amount of pleasure; but anyone who is reading Tom Jones for the first time is well advised to skip them. The plot of Tom Jones has been much admired. I learn from Dr. Dudden that Coleridge exclaimed: ‘What a master of composition Fielding was!’ Scott and Thackeray were equally enthusiastic. Dr. Dudden quotes the latter as follows: ‘Moral or immoral, let any man examine this romance as a work of art merely, and it must strike him as the most astonishing production of human ingenuity. There is not an incident ever so trifling but advances the story, grows out of former incidents, and is connected with the whole. Such a literary providence, if we may use such a word, is not to be seen in any other work of fiction. You might cut out half of Don Quixote, or add, transpose, or alter any given romance of Walter Scott, and neither would suffer. Roderick Random and heroes of that sort run through a series of adventures, at the end of which the fiddles are brought, and there is a marriage. But the history of Tom Jones connected the very first page with the very last, and it is marvellous to think how the author could have built and carried all the structure in his brain, as he must have done, before he put it on paper.’

There is some exaggeration here. Tom Jones is fashioned on the model of the Spanish picaresque novels and of Gil Blas, and the simple structure depends on the nature of the genre: the hero for one reason or another leaves his home, has a variety of adventures on his travels, mixes with all sorts and conditions of men, has his ups and downs of fortune, and in the end achieves prosperity and marries a charming wife. Fielding, following his models, interrupted his narrative with stories that had nothing to do with it. This was an unhappy device that authors adopted not only, I think, for the reason I give in my first chapter, because they had to furnish a certain amount of matter to the bookseller and a story or two served to fill up; but partly, also, because they feared that a long string of adventures would prove tedious, and felt it would give the reader a fillip if they provided him here and there with a tale; and partly because if they were minded to write a short story, there was no other way to put it before the public. The critics chid, but the practice died hard, and, as we know, Dickens resorted to it in The Pickwick Papers. The reader of Tom Jones can without loss skip the story of ‘The Man of the Hill’ and Mrs. Fitzherbert’s narrative. Nor is Thackeray quite accurate in saying that there is not an incident that does not advance the story and grow out of former incidents. Tom Jones’s encounter with the gipsies leads to nothing; and the introduction of Mrs. Hunt, and her proposal of marriage to Tom, is very unnecessary. The incident of the hundred-pound bill has no use and is, besides, grossly, fantastically improbable. Thackeray marvelled that Fielding could have carried all the structure in his brain before he began to put it on paper. I don’t believe that he did anything of the sort, any more than Thackeray did before he began to write Vanity Fair. I think it much more probable that, with the main lines of his novel in his mind, Fielding invented the incidents as he went along. For the most part they are happily devised. Fielding was as little concerned with probability as the picaresque novelists who wrote before him, and the most unlikely events occur, the most outrageous coincidences bring people together; yet he bustles you along with such gusto that you have hardly time, and in any case little inclination, to protest. The characters are painted in primary colours with a slap-dash bravura, and if they somewhat lack subtlety, they make up for it by animation. They are sharply individualized, and if they are drawn with some exaggeration, that was the fashion of the day, and perhaps their exaggeration is no greater than comedy allows. I am afraid Mr. Allworthy is a little too good to be true, but here Fielding failed, as every novelist since has failed who has attempted to depict a perfectly virtuous man. Experience seems to show that it is impossible not to make him a trifle stupid. One is impatient with a character who is so good that he lets himself be imposed upon by all and sundry. Mr. Allworthy is said to have been a portrait of Ralph Allen of Prior Park. If this is so, and the portrait is accurate, it only shows that a character taken straight from life is never quite convincing in a piece of fiction.

Blifil, on the other hand, has been thought too bad to be true. Fielding hated deceit and hypocrisy, and his detestation of Blifil was such that it may be he laid on his colours with too heavy a hand; but Blifil, a mean, sneaking, self-seeking, cold-blooded fish, is not an uncommon type. The fear of being found out is the only thing that keeps him from being an utter scoundrel. But I think we should have believed more in Blifil if he had not been so transparent. He is repellent. He is not alive, as Uriah Heep is alive, and I have asked myself whether Fielding did not deliberately under-write him from an instinctive feeling that if he gave him a more active and prominent role, he would make him so powerful and sinister a figure as to overshadow his hero.

On its appearance, Tom Jones was an immediate success with the public, but the critics were on the whole severe. Some of the objections were rather touchingly absurd: Lady Luxborough, for instance, complained that the characters were too like the persons “one meets with in the world”. It was on its supposed immorality, however, that the novel was generally condemned. Hannah More in her memoirs relates that she never saw Dr. Johnson angry with her but once, and that was when she alluded to some witty passage in Tom Jones. “I am shocked to hear you quote from so vicious a book,” he said. “I am sorry to hear you have read it: a confession which no modest lady should ever make. I scarcely know a more corrupt work.” Now, I should say that a modest lady would do very well to read the book before marriage. It will tell her pretty well all she needs to know about the facts of life, and a lot about men which cannot fail to be useful to her before entering upon that difficult state. But no one has ever looked upon Dr. Johnson as devoid of prejudice. He would allow no literary merit to Fielding, and once described him as a blockhead. When Boswell demurred, he said: “What I mean by his being a blockhead is that he was a barren rascal.” “Will you not allow, Sir, that he draws very natural pictures of human life?” answered Boswell. “Why, Sir, it is of very low life. Richardson used to say that had he not known who Fielding was he should have believed that he was an ostler.” We are used to low life in fiction now, and there is nothing in Tom Jones that the novelists of our own day have not made us familiar with. Dr. Johnson might have remembered that in Sophia Western Fielding drew a charming and tender portrait of as delightful a young woman as ever enchanted a reader of fiction. She is simple but not silly, virtuous but no prude; she has character, determination and courage; she has a loving heart, and she is beautiful. Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, who very properly thought that Tom Jones was Fielding’s masterpiece, regretted that he did not perceive that he had made his hero a scoundrel. I suppose that she referred to the incident that has been looked upon as the most reprehensible in the career of Mr. Jones. Lady Bellaston took a fancy to him, and found him not unprepared to gratify her desires, for he regarded it as a part of good breeding to behave with “gallantry” with a woman who showed an inclination for sexual commerce; he hadn’t a penny in his pocket, not even a shilling in his pocket to pay for a chair to convey him to her abode, and Lady Bellaston was rich. With a generosity unusual with women, who are apt to be lavish with the money of others but careful with their own, she handsomely relieved his necessities. Well, it is doubtless not a pretty thing for a man to accept money from a woman; it is also an unprofitable one, because rich ladies in these circumstances demand much more than their money’s worth; but morally it is no more shocking than for a woman to accept money from a man, and it is only foolishness on the part of common opinion to regard it as such. Our own day has found it necessary to invent a term, gigolo, to describe the male who turns his personal attractiveness into a source of profit; so Tom’s lack of delicacy, however reprehensible, can hardly be regarded as unique. I have no doubt that the gigolo flourished as hardily under the reign of George the Second as he did under that of George the Fifth. It was characteristic, and to Tom Jones’s credit, that on the very day on which Lady Bellaston had given him fifty pounds for passing the night with her, he was so moved by a hard-luck story which his landlady told him about some relations of hers that he handed her his purse and told her to take what she thought needful to relieve their distress. Tom Jones was honestly, sincerely and deeply in love with the charming Sophia, and yet felt no qualms about indulging in the pleasures of the flesh with any woman who was attractive and facile. He loved Sophia none the less for these episodes. Fielding was much too sensible to make his hero more continent than the normal man. He knew we should all be more virtuous if we were as prudent at night as we are in the morning. Nor was Sophia unreasonably vexed when she heard of these adventures. That in this particular she showed common sense unusual to her sex is surely one of the most engaging of her traits. It was well said by Austin Dobson, though with no elegance of style, that Fielding “made no pretence to produce models of perfection, but pictures of ordinary humanity, rather perhaps in the rough than in the polished, the natural than the artificial, his desire is to do this with absolute truthfulness, neither extenuating nor disguising defects and shortcomings.” That is what the realist strives to do and, throughout history, he has always been more or less violently attacked for it. For this the two main reasons, so far as I know, are as follows: there is a vast number of people, especially among the elderly, the well-to-do, the privileged, who take up the attitude: “Of course we know that there is a lot of crime and immorality in the world, poverty and unhappiness, but we don’t want to read about it. Why should we make ourselves uncomfortable? It is not as though we could do anything about it. After all, there always have been rich and poor in the world.” Another sort of people have other reasons for condemning the realist. They admit that there are vice and wickedness in the world, cruelty and oppression; but, they ask, is this proper matter for fiction? Is it well that the young should read about things which their elders know, but deplore, and may they not be corrupted by reading stories which are suggestive if not actually obscene? Surely fiction is better employed in showing how much beauty, kindness, self-sacrifice, generosity and heroism there is in the world. The answer the realist makes is that he is interested in telling the truth, as he sees it, about the world he has come in contact with. He does not believe in the unalloyed goodness of human beings; he thinks them a mixture of good and bad; and he is tolerant to idiosyncrasies of human nature which conventional morality reprobates, but which he accepts as human, natural, and therefore to be palliated. He hopes that he depicts the good in his characters as faithfully as the bad in them, and it is not his fault if his readers are more interested in their vices than in their virtues. That is a curious trait in the human animal for which he cannot be held responsible. If, however, he is honest with himself, he will admit that vice can be painted in colours that glow, whereas virtue seems to bear a hue that is somewhat dun. If you asked him how he could defend himself against the charge of corrupting the young, he would answer that it is very well for the young to learn what sort of a world it is that they will have to cope with. The result may be disastrous if they expect too much. If the realist can teach them to expect little from others; to realise from the beginning that each one’s main interest is in himself; if he can teach them that, in some way or other, they will have to pay for everything they get, be it place, fortune, honour, love, reputation; and that a great part of wisdom is not to pay for anything more than it is worth, he will have done more than all the pedagogues and preachers to enable them to make the best of this difficult business of living. He will add, however, that he is not a pedagogue or a preacher, but, he hopes, an artist.

[From Great Novelists and Their Novels, John C. Winston, 1948, pp. 74-75:]

On reading over these pages I find myself fearing that I have given the reader of this introduction the impression that Tom Jones is a rough, coarse book, dealing with adventures and loose women, and vulgar. That would be a very false impression. Fielding knew life too well to take people at their face value and his experience had shown him that it is not in human nature to be entirely disinterested. Complete unselfishness is beautiful, but it is not of this world and it is ingenuous to expect it.


I do not think I can end this introduction better than by quoting the words of that wise critic George Saintsbury:

“Tom Jones is an epic of life – not indeed of the highest, the rarest, the most impassioned of life’s scenes and phases, but of the healthy average life of the average natural man; not faultless nor perfect by any means, but human and actual as no one else but Shakespeare has shown him in the mimic world.”

[1] “An Essay on the Life and Genius of Henry Fielding, Esq.” in The Works of Henry Fielding, Esq., first published in 1762 in 12 volumes, later reprinted numerous times in 10 volumes. Ed.
[2] F. Homes Dudden, Henry Fielding: his life, works, and times, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1952, 2 vols., 1183 pages. Reprinted in 1966 “with permission in an unaltered and unabridged edition” by Archon Books (Hamden, Connecticut). Ed.
[3] Maugham himself was, of course, very successful as both novelist and playwright, but his natural modesty prevented him from even alluding to this fact. Ed.
  WSMaugham | Jul 12, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fielding, Henryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alopaeus, MarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bender, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chappell, WarrenIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cleland, T. M.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cleland, T.M.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gravelot, Hubert FrançoisIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hutchins, Robert MEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kermode, FrankAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keymer, TomEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kronenberger, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kronenberger, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
La Place, Pierre-Antoine deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mutter, R.P.CEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rawson, ClaudeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saintsbury, GeorgeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sergi, PinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sherburn, George WileyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singleton, Ralph H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Lawrence BeallIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stern, SimonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wakely, AliceEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140430091, Paperback)

Tom Jones isn't a bad guy, but boys just want to have fun. Nearly two and a half centuries after its publication, the adventures of the rambunctious and randy Tom Jones still makes for great reading. I'm not in the habit of using words like bawdy or rollicking, but if you look them up in the dictionary, you should see a picture of this book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:34 -0400)

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Chronicles the romantic adventures of mysterious orphan Tom Jones, a reckless yet personable young man, as he falls in love with the unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of a neighboring squire.

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