Tom Jones

Tom Jones

eBook - 1996
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This carefully modernized edition is based on Fielding's emended fourth edition text and offers the most thorough notes, maps, and bibliography. The Introduction uses the latest scholarship to examine how Tom Jones exemplifies the role of the novel in the emerging eighteenth-century public sphere.
Fielding's comic masterpiece of 1749 was immediately attacked as 'A motley history of bastardism, fornication, and adultery'. Indeed, his populous novel overflows with a marvellous assortment of prudes, whores, libertines, bumpkins, misanthropes, hypocrites, scoundrels, virgins, and all too fallible humanitarians. At the centre of one of the most ingenious plots in English fiction stands a hero whose actions were, in 1749, as shocking as they are funny today. Expelled from Mr. Allworthy's country estate for his wild temper and sexual conquests, the good-hearted foundling Tom Jones loses his money, joins the army, and pursues his beloved across Britain to London, where he becomes a kept lover and confronts the possibility of incest. Tom Jones is rightly regarded as Fielding's greatest work, and one of the first and most influential of English novels.
Publisher: Oxford [England] ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1996
ISBN: 9780585373928
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xliii, 916 pages) : maps
Additional Contributors: Stern, Simon 1971-
Bender, John B.


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Mar 17, 2016

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.

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