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Henry Fielding (1707–1754)

Author of Tom Jones

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About the Author

Henry Fielding, 1707 - 1754 A succcessful playwright in his twenties, Henry Fielding turned to the study of law and then to journalism, fiction, and a judgeship after his Historical Register, a political satire on the Walpole government, contributed to the censorship of plays that put him out of show more business. As an impoverished member of the upper classes, he knew the country squires and the town nobility; as a successful young playwright, the London jet set; as a judge at the center of London, the city's thieves, swindlers, petty officials, shopkeepers, and vagabonds. As a political journalist (editor-author of The Champion, 1739-1741; The True Patriot, 1745-1746; The Jacobite's Journal, 1747-1748; The Covent-Garden Journal, 1752), he participated in argument and intrigue over everything from London elections to national policy. He knowledgeably attacked and defended a range of politicians, from ward heelers to the Prince of Wales. When Fielding undertook writing prose fiction to ridicule the simple morality of Pamela by Samuel Richardson, he first wrote the hilarious burlesque Shamela (1741). However, he soon found himself considering all the forces working on humans, and in Joseph Andrews (1742) (centering on his invented brother of Pamela), he played with the patterns of Homer, the Bible, and Cervantes to create what he called "a comic epic poem in prose." His preface describing this new art form is one of the major documents in literary criticism of the novel. Jonathan Wild, a fictional rogue biography of a year later, plays heavily with ironic techniques that leave unsettled Fielding's great and recurring theme: the difficulty of uniting goodness, or an outflowing love of others, with prudence in a world where corrupted institutions support divisive pride rather than harmony and self-fulfillment. In his masterpiece Tom Jones (1749), Fielding not only faces this issue persuasively but also shows for the first time the possibility of bringing a whole world into an artistic unity, as his model Homer had done in verse. Fielding develops a coherent and centered sequence of events-something Congreve had done casually on a small scale in Incognita 60 years before. In addition he also relates the plot organically to character and theme, by which he gives us a vision of the archetypal good person (Tom) on a journey toward understanding. Every act by every character in the book reflects the special and typical psychology of that character and the proper moral response. In Tom Jones, Fielding affirms the existence of an order under the surface of chaos. In his last novel, Amelia (1751), which realistically examines the misery of London, he can find nothing reliable except the prudent good heart, and that only if its possessor escapes into the country. Fielding based the title character on his second wife, with whom he was deeply in love. However, ill himself, still saddened by the deaths of his intensely loved first wife and daughter, and depressed by a London magistrate's endless toil against corruption, Fielding saw little hope for goodness in that novel or in his informal Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (1755). Shortly after traveling to Lisbon for his health, Fielding died at the age of 47, having proved to his contemporaries and successors that the lowly novel was capable of the richest achievements of art. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
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Works by Henry Fielding

Tom Jones (1749) 7,977 copies
Joseph Andrews (1742) 1,745 copies
Joseph Andrews and Shamela (1741) 1,477 copies
Jonathan Wild (1741) 514 copies
Amelia (1751) 372 copies
Tom Jones (2/2) (1749) 171 copies
Tom Jones (1/2) (1749) 148 copies
Anti-Pamela AND Shamela (1741) 99 copies
Shamela (1741) 92 copies
Pamela/Shamela (1980) 51 copies
Tom Jones [Penguin Readers] (1999) 34 copies
Joseph Andrews (1/2) (2006) 31 copies
Amelia (2/2) (1902) 23 copies
Joseph Andrews (2/2) (2007) 22 copies
Tom Jones [abridged] (1948) 19 copies
The Grub-Street opera (1963) 18 copies
Amelia (1/2) (1968) 16 copies
[unidentified works] (2009) 8 copies
Miscellanies (1993) 6 copies
Henry Fielding : Romans (1964) 6 copies
The Female Husband (2010) 6 copies
The Lovers Assistant (2010) 4 copies
Amelia (3/3) (1903) 4 copies
Tom Jones (4/4) — Author — 4 copies
Tom Jones (1/3) (1966) 3 copies
Amelia (1/3) (1903) 3 copies
Amelia (2/3) (1903) 3 copies
The Mock Doctor (2004) 3 copies
Tom Jones (3/4) — Author — 3 copies
Pasquin 3 copies
Tom Jones (3/3) — Author — 2 copies
Tom Jones (2/3) — Author — 2 copies
Rape Upon Rape (2019) 2 copies
The wedding-day 2 copies
Farsy 2 copies
The Grub Street Opera (1968) 1 copy
Tom Jones (2/4) — Author — 1 copy
Tom Jones (1/4) — Author — 1 copy
The Modern Husband (2004) 1 copy
Izbrannye sochineniia (1989) 1 copy
South Wind 1 copy
The Works (2016) 1 copy
Amelia. Vol I (2008) 1 copy
Miscellanies and poems (1872) 1 copy
Фарсы 1 copy

Associated Works

Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books (1909) — Contributor — 511 copies
English Poetry, Volume II: From Collins to Fitzgerald (1910) — Contributor — 480 copies
Eighteenth-Century English Literature (1969) — Author — 184 copies
Eighteenth-Century Plays (1952) — Contributor — 147 copies
The Adventures of David Simple (1744) — Preface, some editions — 137 copies
British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan (1939) — Contributor, some editions — 90 copies
Tom Jones [1963 film] (1963) — Original book — 63 copies
Eighteenth Century Plays (1928) — Contributor — 62 copies
Modern Arthurian Literature (1992) — Contributor — 30 copies
A Skeleton At the Helm (2008) — Contributor — 25 copies
Eighteenth Century Women: An Anthology (1984) — Contributor — 23 copies
Lock Up Your Daughters, Acting Edition (1967) — Original book — 15 copies
Law in Action: An Anthology of the Law in Literature (1947) — Contributor — 13 copies
Englische Essays aus drei Jahrhunderten (1980) — Contributor — 10 copies
Great Love Scenes from Famous Novels (1943) — Contributor — 5 copies
Famous stories of five centuries (1934) — Contributor — 4 copies
Joseph Andrews [1977 film] (2003) — Original book — 3 copies
Satire, burlesque, protest, and ridicule II (1974) — Contributor — 1 copy
Political operas I: Satire and allegory (1974) — Contributor — 1 copy
The medical and legal professions [ballad operas] (1974) — Contributor — 1 copy
Farce: amorous intrigue and deception I (1975) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge



Folio Archives 297: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding 2008 in Folio Society Devotees (November 2022)


"It is much easier to make good men wise, than to make bad men good."

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, as the title suggest is about the life of Tom Jones, the main character, and in truth it is an early rom-com. As a baby, Tom Jones was left to the care of Squire Allworthy, a prominent and wealthy landowner in Somerset. Despite his inauspicious start in life Tom was raised by the Squire and his sister, Bridget, as though he was part of their family.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Blifil begins courting Bridget and eventually, they are married and have a son, William. The novel highlights the contrasting personas of Tom and William Blifil. On one hand, Tom is crude and unrefined but has a heart of gold, whereas Blifil is cultured but is greedy and calculating. Bilfil tries to discredit Tom's with the latter's love interest, Sophia Western and marry her himself but is only interested in the fortune that she would bring to any marriage.

The novel is also packed with minor characters who explore different human virtues: kindness and wickedness, greed and honesty, justice and injustice. There are the good Samaritans, bullies, shady characters, the greedy and the generous, loyal and disloyal, promiscuous women and gossip mongers. Throughout, there is Tom, who is both perfect and flawed at the same time. The novel also explores the position of women in 18th-century Britain and their general lack of power.

Despite its length it has a very straightforward plot. The novel is divided into 18 smaller books, with each book having an introductory chapter, as well as commentaries scattered throughout the book. Although the truth and mystery shrouding Tom's birth was promised early on in the novel it isn't revealed until its climax and it took me totally by surprise. The ending has the feel of fairy tale to it because “they all lived happily ever after.”

Overall, 'Tom Jones' is a lengthy but relatively light read. It is straightforward and easier to understand than some classics and made me smile at times. I particularly liked Squire Western's character whom I found rather comical however, I also found it a little repetitive at times, hence my rating, but I'm glad that I've finally read it.
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PilgrimJess | 95 other reviews | Aug 30, 2023 |
Be tendious for me. I did like the style of writing, the story was boring.
vdt_melbourne | 95 other reviews | Jul 16, 2023 |
Well-bred bastard Tom Jones travels across England, encounters a cross-section of humanity, and sleeps with half the women he meets.

Tom Jones is a great novel. Not for its characters (which are cardboard), not for its plot (which spins with great and soulless efficiency), and not for its themes (which are a grab-bag of universal homilies). Tom Jones is great because it has a great narrator: an omniscient, disembodied voice that boasts and preens, condescends and mocks. No high-falutin conceit can appear without the narrator troubling himself to explain things to his groundling readers in single-syllable words. No villain can appear on stage without the narrator taking the opportunity to undiegetically jab his personal enemies. The narrator elides the boring parts and cheerfully notes when he is doing so. The narrator advertises his favorites among the cast and compliments himself on his own cleverness at every plot twist. In short, Tom Jones has the finest narrator I've read since Middlemarch. (Although Middlemarch's narrator likely wins that particular steel-cage match, as Middlemarch used its omniscient narrator to a greater purpose, whereas Tom Jones' highest intention is untrammeled glee.)

Henry Fielding (who should not be confused with the narrating author, as the narrator is too much a self-conscious construction) clearly takes his inspiration from the stage, right down to the Shakespearean mix of aristocratic and groundling humor. In Tom Jones, the Latin epigrams are scattered among scenes of bawdy slapstick. Theatre and actors make repeated appearances in the text, from an evangelical Punch and Judy show to a performance of Hamlet attended by Tom Jones and his superstitious servant. The narrator uses the text as his podium to inveigh against dramatic critics and stupid narrative conventions. In many ways, Tom Jones would seem to be easily adapted to the stage -- all plot points are conveyed through dialogue; characters have no internal existence -- but for one thing: the narrator, who is so tightly (yet invisibly) entwined in everything that happens. Unless he played the Greek chorus?
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proustbot | 95 other reviews | Jun 19, 2023 |
This book is terribly long with so many digressions and drawn out descriptions, but it's an absolute treat. Full of humor, wit, and insight into human nature. Somewhat reminded me of Don Quixote, but while I considered giving up on that book many times, it never crossed my mind reading this one.
jmd862000 | 95 other reviews | Mar 28, 2023 |


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Associated Authors

Janet McAlpin Retold by
Edward Gibbon Contributor
Joseph Butler Contributor
George Whitefield Contributor
David Hume Contributor
John Toland Contributor
Voltaire Contributor
Adam Smith Contributor
Samuel Johnson Contributor
François Quesnai Contributor
Kenneth Hopkins Introduction (Tom Jones), Introduction
Derrick Harris Illustrator (Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones)
Martin Horder Introduction (Amelia)
Frank Martin Illustrator (Jonathan Wild)
Simon Brett Cover Designer (all); Illustrator (Amelia)
Harry Diamond Illustrator
Justin Rainey Activities by
James Butler Adapted by
Claude Rawson Introduction
Tom Keymer Introduction, Editor
Ralph H. Singleton Introduction
Pina Sergi Translator
Siegfried Lang Translator
Louis Kronenberger Introduction
Frank Kermode Afterword
Marja Alopaeus Translator
Edward Gorey Cover designer
T. M. Cleland Illustrator
Warren Chappell Illustrator
Fritz Göttler Afterword
Rufus Sewell Narrator
Maynard Mack Introduction
J H Plumb Foreword
Hugh Amory Editor
Daniela Fink Translator
George Cruikshank Cover artist
A. R. Humphreys Introduction
John M. Bullitt Introduction


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