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Tom Jones By Henry Fielding Essays














Fielding is often considered one of the most significant contributors to the development of the English novel. His nearly seamless incorporation of drama, satire, romance, and epic into his works helped distinguish the novel as a new and unique genre quite distinct from its early influences. Fielding's long and bitter feud with rival novelist Samuel Richardson also contributed to the development of the novel form: opposed to the didactic tone and unrealistic characters and situations of his contemporaries, Fielding infused the novel with compassion, comedy, and a heightened sense of realism. His comic sense is deep and sometimes under it very serious themes may appear. Although Fielding's lasting reputation rests on his major novels, he was also a popular and important playwright, an influential journalist, and one of England's leading judicial reformers. In all of his writing, Fielding demonstrated a concern with social and moral hypocrisy, attacking not only Richardson but also dramatist and Poet Laureate Colley Cibber and Prime Minister Robert Walpole for what he considered their failure to deal openly with serious social issues, whether in literary works or as a government official. Nowadays his novels and his humor became popular again and in this work author is going to look deeply in one of the comic literary works”The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling”.


Henry Fielding is regarded as one of the greatest artists among English novelists of the eighteenth century and was instrumental in the emergence of the novel as a respected literary form. A debate has long raged regarding the relative merits of the novelistic forms developed almost simultaneously by Fielding and the London printer Samuel Richardson. Very different in upbringing and temperament, their literary innovations in prose fiction were often conceived in response to each other. While hardly the libertine he was long portrayed as being, Fielding certainly believed in enjoying life to the full. As opposed to the middle-class Richardson, Fielding came of a genteel family and enjoyed an excellent education. He was born April 22, 1707, at Sharpham Park in Somerset, and was related to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Earl of Denbigh. In April, 1718, Henry's mother died and his father, Colonel Edmund Fielding, went away to London, leaving the children in the care of his in-laws, the Gould family. A year later Colonel Fielding married an Italian widow and attempted to regain custody of his children from his mother-in-law, Lady Gould. This led to a lengthy law-suit which was finally settled in 1722, granting Lady Gould the custody of her grandchildren and securing their mother's estate for Henry and his sisters. After attending Eton, Fielding courted a young heiress, Miss Sarah Andrew of Lyme Regis, but failed to persuade her to elope with him. In 1727, his family lost much of their money through the dishonesty of a broker, and the young Fielding found himself in need of an income. Drama was the most lucrative genre of the time, and Fielding took advantage of his London connections, particularly Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, to gain an introduction to theater circles there. His first play, Love in Several Masques, was produced in 1728 at the Drury Lane Theater and published the same year. Despite this promising beginning, however, less than a month later Fielding enrolled at Leyden University, where he was entered in the faculty of letters. After only two years he returned to London, perhaps as a result of financial difficulties. Fielding's second play, The Temple Beau, (1730) was followed rapidly by three further plays, among them The Author's Farce, and the Pleasures of the Town and Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great.

His farces were a great success, and his first season launched him on a prosperous career in the theater. Fielding wrote 25 plays in the eight years after his return to London, but for the most part these works have little literary merit. He did, however, adapt two works of Moliere’s to the English stage to great acclaim, The Mock-Doctor, or The Dumb Lady Cured and The Miser (1733). In 1734 Fielding married Charlotte Craddock of Salisbury, whom he had known since at least 1730, when he dedicated some verses to her. He appears to have been quite enamored of her beauty and character and later modeled the heroine of Tom Jones, Sophia Western, on his first wife. In 1736, his first daughter was born; at about this time Fielding became a managing partner of the Little Theatre in Haymarket. From March to May of 1736 he also enjoyed a huge success with his political satire Pasquin, a Dramatic Satire on the Times, which ran for over sixty performances. In this play, he attacked the corrupt administration of Sir Robert Walpole in scenes depicting bribery in election procedures. This was followed by an even more outspoken satire, The Historical Register for the Year 1736 (1737), in which his thinly disguised attacks on members of the government became so sharp that authorities grew alarmed. This led to passage of the Licensing Act of 1737, which put drama under the direct control of the Lord Chamberlain (a law which was not changed until 1968). As Walpole had intended, this effectively ended Fielding's dramatic career. He then turned to the study of law and in 1737 entered the Middle Temple. Despite a large inheritance from his wife's mother, Fielding once again found himself in financial straits and soon began editing an anti-Walpole periodical called The Champion, or British Mercury (1739-1741) under the pseudonym Captain Hercules Vinegar. Many of the articles on moral and literary topics which he wrote for this publication were forerunners of the introductory chapters in Tom Jones. In 1740, the first two volumes of Richardson's novel Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded appeared, followed by two more volumes in 1741. What Fielding perceived as the self-serving, moralistic tone of the work provoked him to blast it in satire. An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews was published in 1741 anonymously but is generally considered to have been authored by Fielding. The main character in this parody displays a calculating cynicism, talking incessantly about her "Vartue" and cleverly refusing to surrender to the blandishments of her employer (who has been transformed from Mr. B. in Richardson's work to Mr. Booby in Fielding's) until she is properly married. Despite Fielding's initial rejection of Richardson's work it was to prove influential in shaping his development of the novel: from Shamela followed the comic romance about Pamela's reputed brother, The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews (1742).

Intended as a parody of Pamela, with Lady Booby (the aunt of Richardson's squire) attempting to seduce Pamela's virtuous brother Joseph, it grew into much more than that. Fielding called for a writing style in the artistic tradition of the "comic epic poem in prose" exemplified by Don Quixote. The novel also introduces the omniscient narrator, benign but satirical, which Fielding was to use to such effect in Tom Jones. The favorable reception of Joseph Andrews inspired Fielding to bring out the following year a collection of essays, poems, plays, and prose fiction with the title Miscellanies (1743). Published as the third volume of Miscellanies was the satiric piece The Life of Jonathan Wild the Great, which has been called one of the finest examples of sustained irony in English fiction. The novel celebrates the rise and fall of a 'Great Man' (Wild was an actual London criminal who was hanged in 1725); a man who succeeds completely at his chosen field and thus achieves greatness. Fielding implies that by the rules of society, goodness is of no consequence to greatness. His contemporaries understood the parable as a political allegory on the recently ended career of Walpole as first minister. During this period, Fielding's situation was less than enviable: he continued to have financial difficulties; his health began to fail him as a result of his excesses, and his wife was often ill. In 1744 Charlotte died in Bath of a fever. Although he deeply mourned Charlotte, Fielding married his wife's former maid, Mary Daniel, in 1747; she was six months pregnant at the time. In all, his second wife bore him five children, but three of them died young. [6]Through the influence of his friend George Lyttelton and the Duke of Bedford, Fielding became Justice of the Peace for Westminster and Middlessex in 1748, largely eliminating his financial woes. The regular contact with crime had a profound effect on him, which was to be of particular influence in his last novel, Amelia. In his writing, Fielding devoted himself largely to political pamphlets and essays during this time. His periodical publications True Patriot, and History of Our Own Time (1745-1746) and the burlesque Jacobite's Journal (1747-1748) was virulently anti-Stuart, written as a response to the Jacobite uprising of 1745. This event also served as the historical background in Fielding's greatest fictional work, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), which he had already begun before he became a magistrate. It was reprinted almost at once and published again in a revised edition in the same year. The account of the fall and rise of Tom Jones, a vital but imprudent young man, is essentially a comic romance, rooted in the tried narrative conventions of romance and epic, but with an important difference. Tom is a bastard, 'a foundling,' with a generous heart but a weak will; by the standards of the time he is a rather unheroic hero. [1]

By writing about an 'ordinary' person, Fielding made high conventions freshly accessible to the new middle-class reading public of the novel. Blustering Squire Western, kindly schoolmaster Partridge, and amorous Lady Bellaston are among the many memorable characters bringing Fielding's deliberately new fictional form to life and the tale of their foibles is infused with a morality of relaxed Christian benevolence. His humorous use of the devices of the picaresque tale, mock epic and romance in a narrative with a wide social range paved the way for the monumental novels of Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and William Makepeace Thackeray. In his final novel, Fielding turned from an unheroic hero to an unusually positive heroine, but the tone of this novel, Amelia (1751), remains equivocal. The plot revolves around the domestic problems created by an improvident husband, William Booth, a well-intentioned but naive young man. (His resemblance to Tom Jones has been noted repeatedly by various critics.) His loving wife, Amelia, forgives him everything from gambling to infidelity, but the happy end in this novel appears strained. The tone is so different form Tom Jones that numerous suggestions have been put forth to explain it, such as Fielding's close contact with the seamier side of life in his job as magistrate or his failing health. The large cast of characters and comic spirit of Tom Jones are missing entirely. Nevertheless, Amelia has interested many modern readers precisely because of its ambiguous texture. The novel may have indicated a transition that would have become clearer if Fielding had lived longer, but by this time he was already chronically ill. Fielding's last essay-periodical, The Covent-Garden Journal (1752), includes some of his most humorous pieces as well as two essays responding to literary attacks by Tobias Smollett. It was to prove to be Fielding's last publication during his lifetime. For nearly ten years he had suffered from gout, and he had devoted enormous energy to his job as magistrate, achieving numerous reforms which reduced robberies in his district and improved the state of the prisons.[4][2] This demanding work took its toll, however, and by 1753 he could only get about with the help of crutches. In an attempt to regain his health, he set out for Lisbon in 1754 with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, both the change of climate came too late or did him no good, and he died there Oct. 8, 1754. The journey is recorded with good humor and charm in his final work, Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, which was published in 1755. Fielding's influence on prose fiction and his place in the English literary canon has remained unshaken, but his relative importance has varied with changing modes in critical opinion on what novelistic fiction should do. While Samuel Richardson is seen as the psychological realist of the early novel, Fielding is the humorist, the inventor of the authorial narrative voice of scope and breadth.

The Victorian novel is primarily in the tradition of Fielding, and the twentieth century novel primarily in the tradition of Richardson. Fielding has maintained a certain amount of popularity with readers, however, and his two most famous works have both been filmed, Tom Jones in 1963, and Joseph Andrews in 1977.


  • 1

    "Tom Jones is the story of a man's journey from innocence, through experience, to wisdom." Which events from the text best illustrate this idea?

    This question would be best answered chronologically. His childhood experiences with the Seagrim family show a blessed innocence - he is unaware of how his kindness appears to others (and hence gets in trouble for it). His time after being banished from Allworthy is a long process of experience that leads to his imprisonment. Throughout this time, his feelings for Sophia change from affection, to love, to devotion. He finally learns that he must take responsibility for his own actions, and indeed his kindnesses early in the novel help to save him. This is his final wisdom.

  • 2

    Tom Jones can be considered a character too passionate to be a true gentleman. Choose specific evidence from the text to support or refute this claim.

    The response needs to give a clear personal opinion and include a detailed explanation of how a gentleman was perceived at the time. Tom's treatment of women, his kindness to those in need, and his willingness to forgive all make him a virtuous person. However, he is persistently uncouth and not equipped for high society, which could ultimately serve as an attack on 'gentlemen' rather than as an attack on Tom. One could also explore his relationships with major characters such as Allworthy, Squire Western, Blifil and Sophia.

  • 3

    What symbol could be said to represent the relationship between Tom Jones and Sophia Western? Explain the aspects of their relationship your choice exemplifies.

    A degree of personal choice and imagination should be employed. Obvious ideas could be the bird given to Sophia by Tom, her muff and/or her lost pocketbook. Money may also be referred to, though one would want to note that the value of the money never matters with them - all that matters is the loyalty and devotion that the money represents.

  • 4

    What attitudes towards marriage does Fielding illustrate in the novel?

    Reference to opinions stated by the narrator, Mrs Western, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Molly Seagrim and Mrs Miller would be useful to consider. Contrary opinions - like those of observations of Master Blifil, Captain Blifil, Squire Western Allworthy and Nightingale - would supplement. Ultimately, Fielding seems to suggest we should marry for happiness. Most of the characters who describe marriage as a financial arrangement are voicing the views of their high society - but these opinions constantly cause unhappiness and disaster in the work.

  • 5

    With close reference to Book 12, what do the incidents and discussions at the gypsy camp reflect about the political arguments of the time?

    An understanding of Fielding's political leanings and the context of the Jacobite rebellion would be useful to clarify the principles of absolute monarchy and the implications of this as expressed by the King of the Gypsies. Fielding argues in this section for an absolute monarchy, but acknowledges that a degree of personal responsibility is necessary for a strong king. He sees equality under the king as valuable, since it limits the amount of transgressions that could lead to rebellion.

  • 6

    The chapters involving The Man of the Hill have been both dismissed as irrelevant digressions and celebrated as important moral explorations. What is your view of the purpose of Book 8, chapters 10-15? Illustrate with evidence from these chapters and the text as a whole.

    The Man of the Hill chapters allow Tom Jones to reflect on events and situations which Tom could not realistically experience first hand within the course of the novel. His inclusion can be criticized in that he does not actively move the narrative forward, and his story is not so tightly woven with Tom's specific challenges. However, he does help Fielding to widen his net and cover more "human nature," and as such compliments the themes of Tom's narrative well.

  • 7

    The narrator praises English pantomime as "exquisite entertainment" in terms of the contrasts it offers. Support this view with reference to characterization and/or setting.

    Clear contrasts can be seen between the different moral outlooks of pairs like: Lady Bellaston and Sophia; Tom and Blifil; and even Allworthy and Squire Western. More subtle comparisons could be made between: Partridge and Tom; Molly Seagrim and Lady Bellaston; or Sophia and Honour. The contrast of setting could broadly refer to country and city, or a more focused analysis of the gypsy camp, playhouse or inn. Ultimately, what Fielding enjoys about contrast is it helps to illustrate the complications within all humans - we are none of us purely vicious or virtuous, but rather express contradictory impulses.

  • 8

    Explore the importance of one of the following characters in the development of Tom Jones - Black George, Mrs. Miller, Partridge or Nightingale. Consider the lessons Tom learns through his interaction with the character.

    Each exploration needs to be clear about the character's purpose and his or her contribution to the growth of Tom Jones. Black George highlights Tom's innate generosity, while his interactions with Mrs. Miller show his desire for happiness in others. Partridge is a foil to present Tom's emerging level-headedness and Nightingale shows the importance of friendship. Through all of these characters does Tom come closer to his ultimate wisdom.

  • 9

    "For tho' every good author will confine himself within the bounds of probability, it is by no means necessary that his characters, or his incidents, should be trite, common or vulgar." Does Fielding's work support or refute this statement? Use at least three specific incidents.

    Fielding does explore some 'lower' subjects in his work: incest, arrests, premarital sex, vicious flirtations, and more. This supports his intention to write about reality and "human nature." So in some ways, one could argue Fielding does go to vulgar places. On the other hand, he handles most of these with a comic and deft brush, so that they are not described in detail or focused on for too long. He shows an instinct for taste even in delving into the darker capacities of humanity.

  • 10

    In Book 14, the narrator states: "In my humble opinion, the true characteristic of the present Beau Monde, is rather folly than vice, and the only epithet which it deserves is that of frivolous." How far does the novel reflect this observation?

    Definitions of folly and vice should be established early in the response. Vice implies a darker, more malicious edge to proceedings, and could be highlighted in characters such as Lady Bellaston and Blifil. However, as the novel has a predominantly comic tone, there is more emphasis on folly as the explanation for the actions and events of the main characters in particular. Most characters sin from their own foolishness or from the foolishness taught them by a silly society. Consider how Mrs. Waters espouses a conditioned philosophy of marriage that is ridiculous next to her statements on female independence. We are all capable of terrible cruelties, but perhaps that is more because we are stupid than because we are evil.

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