Tom Jones

by Henry Fielding

Other authorsJohn Bender (Editor), Simon Stern (Editor)
Paperback, 1998



Call number





Oxford University Press, USA (1998), Paperback, 968 pages


Tom, a foundling, is discovered one evening by the benevolent Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget and brought up as a son in their household; when his sexual escapades and general misbehavior lead them to banish him, he sets out in search of both his fortune and his true identity. Amorous, high-spirited, and filled with what Fielding called "the glorious lust of doing good," but with a tendency toward dissolution, Tom Jones is one of the first characters in English fiction whose human virtues and vices are realistically depicted. This edition is set from the text of the Wesleyan Edition of the Works of Henry Fielding.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Tom Jones was one of the first forthrightly fictional novels in English, where the author didn't try to frame it as a true story, such as Moll Flanders or Robinson Crusoe. I think the best way to appreciate it is like a connoisseur of early cars such as the Model-T. It has its own beauty and grace, yet is largely impractical by modern standards. It allows one transport to another age. It is fragile and delicate, yet full of a spirit missing in the modern world. The best way to enjoy it is to pretend you are a reader from the mid-18th century, and new vistas of understanding will come forth. History books often talk about the nature of the period as family oriented, locally oriented, manorialism, class distinctions - in Tom Jones it comes to living light, every page is a gold mine to understand the world just on the cusp of the Revolutions of the 19th century (political and economic). As a work of art its significance is hard to overestimate - Dickens for example was clearly influenced. As a narrative the length is difficult but makes the climaxes that much sweeter. As a writer Fielding was a genius, and knew so, and said so, and was right., his novel has become immortal.… (more)
LibraryThing member Terpsichoreus
Who reads this and laughs not at all may be forgiven only as a simpleton, and does not comprehend.

Who reads this and laughs but a little is too dour and prideful to be of much use, and only laughs when he cannot help it.

Who reads this and laughs a score is the wretched false-wit, and only laughs when it suits his crowd.

Who reads and laughs but once a chapter has a mirthful soul, if no great love for words.

Who reads and laughs at every page shall be my boon companion, and a kiss for each grinning cheek.

Who reads and laughs at twice and thrice a page shall be my worthy better, and may they forgive my endless queries.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a very early novel, published in 1749, and it's telling in several ways this was written when the form was young. There are eccentric spellings, erratic capitalizations, and dialogue isn't set off in the convention we're used to, but has various speakers lumped into one paragraph. There are archaic formulations such as "says he" rather than "he said" and such archaic words as nay, doth, hath, yon, thou, thee, etc. Swear words such as "damn" are presented as "d--n." I felt the various parts of the narration--description, dialogue, thoughts, action--are much better balanced in later novels. And the omniscient narrator here, sometimes breaking the fourth wall into first person, is very, very intrusive, with long digressions, some chapter-length, on such subjects as the novel's form or the nature of love. Some parts to my tastes were far too preachy, but having just read Robinson Crusoe before this, that religiosity is just another feature of the era. This did make for rather tedious going at times, especially before I got acclimated to the style, but for the most part the plot and comic aspects kept me chugging along.

It helps that Tom himself is much more likable than I expected from what I had heard of the novel--or even the description on the back of the book. I'd heard this was a picaresque tale with a hero that could be called a rake. But although he's no monk, I wouldn't describe Tom that way. He's neither rapist nor callous seducer. In fact, he's usually the seduced rather than the seducer. And he is young, after all; no older than twenty-one at the end of the novel. He says of himself:

Nor do I pretend to the Gift of Chastity... I have been guilty with Women, I own it; but I am not conscious that I have ever injured any--Nor would I, to procure Pleasure to myself, be knowingly the Cause of Misery to any human Being.

When Tom seemingly gets Molly Seagrim pregnant, he's quite willing to stand by her and marry her, even though she's poor. He'd been raised as a gentleman, and even though being base-born and not the heir doesn't mean he can look to marry the lady-of-the-manor next door, he could have done materially better than that. It's not until he finds out she's being unfaithful that he breaks things off with her. He shows himself generous and compassionate throughout. Tom's greatest fault indeed seems a naivete that allows others to take advantage of him.

I felt more mixed about the female characters and especially Tom's love Sophia Western. She's a bit too blushing and apt to swoon--on the other hand, she doesn't let herself be rolled over but takes action to change her fate. It's obvious Fielding does have respect for women and although like the men, they might be fools, often his female characters are more intelligent and better educated than their male counterparts. Note the maid Jenny Jones, who is more learned than the schoolmaster who taught her. To be honest, it's the secondary comic characters that have the most vividness like the Sancho Panza like Mr Partridge or the affected Aunt Western and uncouth Squire Western.

This was a surprisingly enjoyable novel on the whole, even if I wasn't as enchanted by it as I was by its comic descendents by Austen and Thackeray. I immediately felt the kinship to books such as Sense and Sensibility and Vanity Fair in the sparkling wit, the ironic tone, and wickedly sharp satire, even if Fielding is more genial than Thackeray, and more bawdy than Austen.
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LibraryThing member jclemence
I first picked up Tom Jones in college. I only got a few hundred pages in when I lost interest and put the book down. A few months ago, however, I found a cheap copy at a used-book store and decided to try my luck again. This time, my experience was markedly different: I was hooked within a few pages. Fielding writes in a very engaging manner; it feels like one is listening to a close friend relate a personal story rather than reading a 250-year-old book. The characters are robust: The über-benevolent Squire Allworthy, the absolutely knuckleheaded Squire Western, the heroic, noble Tom Jones--who has got to be one of the unluckiest men ever in fiction-dom--and the lovely Sophia, who must suffer under her father's irrational love. The plot is superlative: Throughout the course of the book, I found myself thinking about the characters (and actually being concerned for their welfare!) in between reading sessions. I had to know what happened to them, and how everything was going to work out happily in the end. (Indeed, with about 40 pages left, I was starting to get very worried.) The love, sex, betrayal, and plain-old human nature of the plot is such that if one updated the scenery, it might be a book written to describe present-day events. Fielding complements his fine character creations with a sharp wit that is apparent on almost every page. I laughed out loud quite a few times throughout the book, and I got the distinct feeling that the author was winking at me almost non-stop. I can imagine that Mr. Fielding would be a riot in a pub with a few drinks under his belt!

In an era whose modus operandi is instant gratification, it can require extra discipline to make it through this lengthy work that at times uses some unfamiliar language. Nevertheless, reading Tom Jones is completely worth the effort, as you will enjoy a master storyteller at his best.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
So, I give this five stars, but, you know, not every five star book should be read by every person. If you have great patience, and are willing to admit that your tastes have been formed by the nineteenth century novel and then by certain aspects of modern literature; if you're willing to test your (my) assumption that novels are best when they're realistic or modernist; if you don't mind a bit of slap and tickle... then you should read this. If you want to judge a book based on whether its characters are 'round;' if you think the best book doesn't really have a narrator at all, let alone one who keeps talking at you; and, most importantly, if you're the sort of reader/critic Fielding spends about two pages out of every hundred mercilessly slagging off, then you should probably avoid this like the plague. If you're not sure what kind of person you are, read 'Joseph Andrews.' It's much shorter, and nowhere near as good, but a good litmus test. If you're the second kind of person listed here, don't worry, I'm not judging you for being completely bound by your historical moment. Much. But you are missing out on one of the greatest stories in English lit.… (more)
LibraryThing member pickwick817
Its been a long time since I read this book, but I remember it being long and uninteresting. Tom had a lot of adventures throughout the book, but for some reason I never got into his character and found myself looking forward finishing the book so it would be over.
LibraryThing member fuzzy_patters
It took me two tries to finish Tom Jones, but I am glad I did. When I first attempted it, I must not have been in the correct mood for it because I enjoyed it immensely in my second attempt.

The novel follows Jones through his torment of not being able to have the woman he loves. The problem lies not with her but with eighteenth century British society. Her father will only consent for her to marry a man of fortune and consents to have her instead marry Blifil. The exact relationships between these characters are complicated, and I will not go into details about them so as not to spoil the novel for those who have not read it.

Also of interest are the chapters that Fielding uses to preface each of the eighteen books that make up the novel. Some of these chapters are rather dry and all could be skipped without affecting the reader's enjoyment of the novel, as Fielding notes. However, I did find them to be worth reading both for Fielding's more serious notes about the writing process and literary criticism as well as his more humorous contributions.

The greatest strength of this novel is Fielding's unique ability to describe the exact qualities of each character. Fielding truly knew people. Despite the fact that this novel was written over 250 years ago, Fielding's characters are motivated by the motivations and act in the same ways that people would act today.
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LibraryThing member mariabustillos
This is my favorite novel, and I have read a lot of 'em. (What can I say, I'm old!)

Tom Jones offers every pleasure a reader could want; rip-roaring humor, cliffhanging suspense, a brilliant philosophical treatise from the author every so often; a tender love story, a Bildungsroman, a meditation on growing old gracefully; a magnificent cast of 18th-century rogues, strumpets, scheming noblemen, gentle girls and pompous fools; ambition, lust, malice, humor, passion, beauty, betrayal--just read it!!

Go on, read it right now!
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LibraryThing member ctpress
This book has a solid place in the history of literature. I was entertained but not very engaged emotionally in the fate of the characters - and one should be when it is so long and epic a tale. It is a very clever plot with some nice surprises in the end - but also absurd with its many coincidences - it reads more like a farce or satire - and feels like a stage play (reminded me of some of the stories by Chaucer). Fielding comments and elaborates on the story and the characters all the time - and it gets a little annoying after a while - just tell the story!!

What can one say about Tom Jones? A heart of gold - yet so easily tempted by women. Heroic and courageous - yet so unstable. I liked Mr. Allworthy - and also Sophia - her concluding remarks on Jones' character really says it all.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling has become known over the decades as simply Tom Jones and is a humorous novel by Henry Fielding. It was first published in 1749 and is considered to be one of the earliest of English novels. While the humor is often presented as a farce and at times seems downright silly, it nevertheless made for a fun and interesting read.

The author presents his story with many asides to the reader and often telegraphs his intentions in advance with his descriptive chapter descriptions or the colourful names he gives his characters. So we are assured that Squire Allworthy is a very good man, while Mr. Thwackum is heavy handed and likes to dole out physical punishments. Personally I found Tom Jones rather an insipid character but he was the perfect canvas to help reflect the many vivid characters that he came into contact with.

At over 900 pages, the book at times was rather tedious, but the author’s clever use of words, his satire of both the day’s social and political conventions, and the many turbulent yet comic events kept the pages turning. Often touted as a history of bastardism, fornication and adultery, Tom Jones is also a romance with two star-crossed lovers, the lusty Tom and the strong-willed Sophia battling the odds to obtain their happy ending.

I listened to an audio version of this classic, as read by Bill Homewood, who did an excellent job of bringing this book to life, and, I am positive, raised my rating with his reading style. Reflective, philosophical yet lively and very entertaining I found [Tom Jones] to be an immersive reading experience that was well worth the time invested.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
I thought this book was a rip-roaring read, full of action, romance, humour and suspense, all set in the English countryside of eighteenth century England and London. Cant see anyone who would like this book.
LibraryThing member rab1953
This was another pleasure to read in that slow, reflective 18th century style that is filled with humour, character, incident and social observation. The plot is convoluted but easy to follow, and the main story of Tom’s sexual misadventures on the way to virtuous love is never really in question – the only issue is how many diversions he will have to go through before he gets where he should be.
The characters are satires, mainly of the landed gentry and the titled, although it’s always clear where the lines of power and authority lie (so much clearer than in our contemporary times.) Much of the humour and enjoyment of the novel comes from Fielding’s ironic descriptions of his characters’ motivations and actions, and his observations on the society they live in – apparently hypocritical at all levels.
Through the satire and his ongoing commentary, Fielding points to the inequality of women in society, while also pointing out that many of the women are more intelligent and well read than the men they are linked to. The strongest storyline aside from Tom’s is the conflict between the strong-minded Sophia and the idiot father she loves, but who wants to command her obedience. It ends only when their two interests finally come together in the union of two large estates.
Fielding also shows the stark contrast between the wealthy and the common people, although with no suggestion that that inequality might be a problem. Poor people struggle with their lot, and sometimes don’t make it, just like the higher class people who run out of money. But there are both good and venal lower class people as well as upper class ones. In fact, one of the interesting features of the book is that many of the characters have complex morals. They may at times be venal, and at other times generous and loyal. In this way, they are less stereotypes than the characters in many other novels where most characters except for the leading ones are either good or bad, with little shading. One of the few exceptions is the good Squire Allworthy, whose kindness and generosity are exceeded only by his wisdom and honour. He’s a bit godly, and a contrast to the more realistic common characters. The other exception is his evil nephew, whose unscrupulous lies, greed and lack of honour are also unmixed.
Tom’s early relatively carefree life and his kind nature set him up as a good person with a natural morality, but it seems that that’s not enough. Fielding makes a strong argument for morality in the last parts of the novel, and his favoured morality is Christian. (The Christian clerics, however, don’t come off well – in fact, of the representatives of Christian and “natural” morality, although both are extremes, it’s the natural philosopher who comes off best after his deathbed conversion to real Christianity.) And while it seems that Tom’s natural inclination to enjoy life, including his relationships with women, is at first carefree, it later gets him intro trouble and he has to renounce his free sexuality to enter a relationship with his true love. (Much like Fielding did, the introduction suggests.) Interestingly, however, while Tom is a willing participant in a range of sexual adventures, it seems to be the women who initiate the relationships and get Tom in trouble. So Tom is a sort of innocent, much in contrast to the reality of young men of privilege, I suspect. The story of his parentage, however, shows that women cannot enjoy the same carefree sexuality that he does.
I’m glad to have read this after Mason & Dixon, because it shows how closely Thomas Pynchon copied an 18th century style in his writing, with the absurdity, authorial commentary and extraordinary characters. The formal style of Tom Jones is quite different from the informality of Mason & Dixon, but both have a complex plot, complex characters, and long discourses on side topics. But in spite of the rambling stories, it was always a pleasure to come back to both of these novels because their worlds are so rich and full of enjoyment.
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LibraryThing member pfolaros
Fielding is a master of portraying the foibles of the human condition. His sense of the comic underpinnings of all serious endeavors is acute.
LibraryThing member shabacus
When reviewing a classic, I try to discuss not the books own merits (which can be easily found elsewhere) but rather its accessibility to the modern reader. Mid-18th century English is not so far removed from Shakespeare, and it definitely took effort to parse the long, flowery sentence structure. Once that is accomplished, the reader must also distinguish the bare meaning of the words being said with the overblown, superlative laden verbal mannerisms of the age.

What remains is a charming story, and one that is remarkable on many levels. A modern reader may find its plot simple, its ending contrived, and its characters cliched, but just consider that all of these elements were revolutionary at the time. The best way to learn from history is to read between the lines of a novel such as this, to consider the shape of the story and what sort of society might have produced it.

Well worth the effort and the time invested to read it.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member maggiechapman
One of the best books I have ever read. You are kept rivetted to the page. Henry Fielding teases you relentlessly with his story of love, bawdiness and intrigue. A very real perspective of life and events observed from so many perspectives. Rock on Tom!
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Having read Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Homer's Odyssey to name two thematically related however chronologically different literary creations I should have been ready for Fielding's foundling. However, it is taking a while to warm up to Fielding's style of storytelling. What we have is an omnipresent author/narrator whose story includes many fascinating characters, one of whom is that author/narrator himself. The reader is treated to a series of nineteen books each containing several chapters the first of which in each case is an essay by the author about the story itself or just about most anything the author feels is relevant or necessary for the reader's edification.
But I digress, under the influence of Fielding, from the story itself which is billed as a history of Tom Jones who, as the name suggests, is a sort of every-man, a more common version of Odysseus or Don Quixote for the eighteenth century. The history is a fiction and as such is populated by fictional characters. The characters surrounding him, from his teachers, Thwackum and Square, to the Squires, Allworthy and Western, are clearly drawn with wit and wisdom; lest I forget the women for Tom has a strong and healthy interest in them whether they are low like Molly or high like Sophia Western -- women continue to perplex Tom and enliven the plot. And Tom has a good opinion of himself as the narrator notes, "Can any man have a higher notion of the rule of right and the eternal fitness of things?" (Book IV, Ch. 4).
As I entered the concluding chapters of this lively novel I found myself looking for a word to sum up my experience. I think I have found that word -- cornucopia. The abundance of characters, stories, places, and all that goes with each of these can best be considered a cornucopia. These melded with Fielding's continual insertions through essays and commentaries begins to suggest to me why this novel is considered great - one of the first of its kind in modern literature.
I also find myself comparing the hero of this story to other literary heroes whose name adorns the title of their stories. For example, David Copperfield, Adam Bede, Pendennis, and Jude the Obscure come to mind. All of these owe at least a part of their literary heritage to Fielding's Tom. Even though there is a significant change in the psychology of the characters from David to Jude, the foundation for them all and many others is the History of Tom Jones.
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LibraryThing member JVioland
A ribald tale about an attractive man pursued by various women. A funny, irreverent work, well written and memorable.
LibraryThing member Porius
an author who knew his subject thru and thru.
LibraryThing member Smiley
Wonderful, if maybe a bit long by 21st century standards. Humorous throughout with a underlying seriousness of purpose. Fielding's personality and wit shine through, epecially in the introductory chapters. One of my all time favorite novels. Will read it again.
LibraryThing member zeegeezer
One of the first, and still one of best, novels in English literature
LibraryThing member mbmyhre
Way better than Clarissa, this is a satirical book about a rake that is funny and light hearted. It's faster and easier and gives you a good historical perspective
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Bored out of my mind! This is the 2nd time I have tried reading this novel. I give up!
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Fielding is a master craftsman! In this book he managed to make loving into an art and embellished it with great humor. Don't we all wish we lived life with the same vigor?!
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
A long, rollicking, bawdy, picaresque story, full of twists, turns and coincidence. The mid 18th century English prose is a challenge to follow.


Original publication date


Physical description

968 p.; 7.64 inches


0192834975 / 9780192834973

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