The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

Tom Jones

Title page from the 1749 edition
Author Henry Fielding
Original title The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
Country England
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Andrew Millar
Publication date
28 February 1749
Preceded by The Female Husband, or the Surprising History of Mrs Mary alias Mr George Hamilton, who was convicted of having married a young woman of Wells and lived with her as her husband, taken from her own mouth since her confinement – fictionalised pamphlet (1746)
Followed by A Journey from this World to the Next (1749)

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones, is a comic novel by the English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. The novel is both a Bildungsroman and a picaresque novel. First published on 28 February 1749 in London, Tom Jones is among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel,[1] and is the earliest novel mentioned by W. Somerset Maugham in his 1948 book Great Novelists and Their Novels among the ten best novels of the world.[2] Totaling 346,747 words, it is divided into 18 smaller books, each preceded by a discursive chapter, often on topics unrelated to the book itself. It is dedicated to George Lyttleton.

Though lengthy, the novel is highly organised; S. T. Coleridge argued that it has one of the "three most perfect plots ever planned."[3] Although critic Samuel Johnson took exception to Fielding's "robust distinctions between right and wrong", it became a best seller, with four editions being published in its first year alone.[4] Tom Jones is generally regarded as Fielding's greatest book, and as a very influential English novel.[5]


The novel's events occupy eighteen books.

The kindly and wealthy Squire Allworthy and his sister Bridget are introduced in their wealthy estate in Somerset. Allworthy returns from London after an extended business trip and finds an abandoned baby sleeping in his bed. He summons his housekeeper, Mrs Deborah Wilkins, to take care of the child. After searching the nearby village, Mrs Wilkins is told about a young woman called Jenny Jones, servant of a schoolmaster and his wife, as the most likely person to have committed the deed. Jenny is brought before them and admits being the baby's mother but refuses to reveal the father's identity. Mr Allworthy mercifully removes Jenny to a place where her reputation will be unknown. Furthermore, he promises his sister to raise the boy, whom he names Thomas, in his household.

Two brothers, Dr Blifil and Captain Blifil, regularly visit the Allworthy estate. The doctor introduces the captain to Bridget in hopes of marrying into Allworthy's wealth. The couple soon marry. After the marriage, Captain Blifil begins to show a coldness to his brother, who eventually feels obliged to leave the house for London where he soon dies "of a broken heart". Captain Blifil and his wife start to grow cool towards one another, and the former is found dead from apoplexy one evening after taking his customary evening stroll prior to dinner. By then he has fathered a boy, who grows up with the bastard Tom.

Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. His first love is Molly, gamekeeper Black George's second daughter and a local beauty. She throws herself at Tom; he gets her pregnant and then feels obliged to offer her his protection. After some time, however, Tom finds out that Molly is somewhat promiscuous. He then falls in love with a neighbouring squire's lovely daughter, Sophia Western. Tom's status as a bastard causes Sophia's father and Allworthy to oppose their love; this criticism of class friction in society acted as a biting social commentary. The inclusion of prostitution and sexual promiscuity in the plot was also original for its time, and the foundation for criticism of the book's "lowness".[6]

Sophia's father, Squire Western, is intent on making Sophia marry the hypocritical Master Blifil, but she refuses, and tries to escape from her father's influence. Tom, on the other hand, is expelled from Allworthy's estate for his many misdemeanours, and starts his adventures across Britain, eventually ending up in London. Amongst other things, he joins the army for a brief duration, finds a servant in a barber-surgeon named Partridge (who habitually spouts Latin non sequiturs), beds two older women (Mrs Waters and Lady Bellaston), and very nearly kills a man in a duel, for which he is arrested.

Eventually the secret of Tom's birth is revealed, after a short scare that Mrs Waters (who is really Jenny Jones) is his birth mother, and that he has committed incest. Tom's real mother is Bridget, who conceived him after an affair with a schoolmaster — hence he is the true nephew of Squire Allworthy himself. After finding out about Tom's half-brother Master Blifil's intrigues, Allworthy decides to bestow the majority of his inheritance to Tom. Tom and Sophia Western marry, after this revelation of his true parentage, as Squire Western no longer harbours any misgivings over Tom marrying his daughter. Sophia bears Tom a son and a daughter, and the couple live on happily with the blessings of Squire Western and Squire Allworthy.


The main theme of the novel is the contrast between Tom Jones's good nature, flawed but eventually corrected by his love for virtuous Sophia Western, and his half-brother Blifil's hypocrisy. Secondary themes include several other examples of virtue (especially that of Squire Allworthy), hypocrisy (especially that of Thwackum) and just villainy (for example Mrs. Western, Ensign Northerton), sometimes tempered by repentance (for instance Square, Mrs. Waters, née Jones).

Both introductory chapters to each book and interspersed commentary introduce a long line of further themes. For instance, introductory chapters dwell extensively on bad writers and critics, quite unrelated to the plot but apologetic to the author and the novel itself; and authorial commentary on several characters shows strong opposition to Methodism, calling it fanatical, heretical, and implying association of hypocrites, such as the younger Blifil, with it.

The novel takes place against the historical backdrop of the Forty-Five. Characters take different sides in the rebellion, which was an attempt to restore Roman Catholicism as the established religion of England and to undo the Glorious Revolution. At one point Sophia Western is even mistaken for Jenny Cameron, the supposed lover of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Good-natured characters are often modestly loyalist and Anglican, even Hanoverian, while ill-natured characters (Mrs. Western) or only mistaken ones (Partridge) can be Jacobites or (like Squire Western) just anti-Hanoverians.

List of characters

Caption at bottom:

"Adorned with all the charms in which Nature can array her, bedecked with beauty, youth, sprightliness, innocence, modesty and tenderness, breathing sweetness from her rosy lips and darting brightness from her sparkling eyes, the lovely Sophia comes!"
This depicts the heroine of the novel, but shows her in the latest fashions of 1800, rather than in the very different historically accurate hoop skirts of 1749 – it would have been extremely difficult to jump rope in the clothing styles (and high-heeled shoes) of 1749...
The dishevelment of her clothes in the picture was not meant to contradict the word "modesty" in the caption, but was supposed to be understood as being the accidental and unintentional effect of her strenuous physical activity.

Adaptations and influences

1963 saw the release of Tom Jones, a film written by John Osborne, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Albert Finney as Tom. It inspired the 1976 film The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones. The book was also three times used as the basis for an opera, by François-André Philidor in 1765 (see Philidor's opera), by Edward German in 1907 (see German's opera), and by Stephen Oliver in 1975. A BBC adaptation was broadcast in 1997 with Max Beesley in the title role, dramatised by Simon Burke. The book has also been adapted for the stage by playwright Joan Macalpine.[7]

In the fantasy novel Silverlock by John Myers Myers, the character Lucius Gil Jones is a composite of Lucius in The Golden Ass by Apuleius, Gil Blas in Gil Blas by Alain-René Lesage, and Tom Jones.

Release history

See also



  1. Yardley, Jonathan (9 December 2003). "'Tom Jones,' as Fresh as Ever". The Washington Post. p. C1. Retrieved 31 December 2006.
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Henry Nelson Coleridge, Specimens of the table talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London, England: John Murray, 1835), volume 2, page 339.
  4. Patton, Allyson (12 June 2006). "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Book Review)". HistoryNet LLC. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  5. Drabble, Margaret, ed. (1998) The Oxford Companion to English Literature; (2nd) revised ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; pp. 982–83
  6. Fielding, H (1950), "Introduction by G. Sherburn", The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, New York: Modern Library, p. viii.
  7. "Tom Jones (Macalpine)".


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