Tom Jones (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Tom Jones (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Reacting against the sentimentality and moralism of the earliest English novels, Henry Fielding chose to create a work whose main character contains all the complexities of a real human being: the foundling Tom Jones. Tom has been raised by the Squire Allworthy to love virtue, and he truly wants to do good. But Tom’s inability to control his temper and his hearty appetite for food, drink, and the opposite sex get him kicked out of Allworthy’s estate – and separated from his one real love, Sophia Western. So he begins a journey from the English countryside to the teeming city of London. Along the way he meets a parade of colorful characters, enjoys a series of bawdy, comic adventures, eventually discovers his true parentage, triumphs over the villainous Blifil, and rejoins the beautiful Sophia.

Soon after its 1749 publication, Tom Jones was condemned for being “lewd,” and even blamed for several earthquakes. But what really riled its critics was its supremely funny satirical attack on eighteenth-century British society and its follies and hypocrisies – which, of course, are very much like our own.

Ross Hamilton is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Barnard College, where he specializes in eighteenth-century and romantic literature. His book, The Shock of Experience: A Literary History of Accident, is forthcoming.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080709
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 05/01/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 848
Sales rank: 72,478
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Ross Hamilton's Introduction to Tom Jones

In the plot of Tom Jones, accidents or human failings pull the lives of the individual characters into disorder and then provide the means to restore them to their proper position. Everyone in the novel is subject to randomizing forces at work in the universe, but their basic natures do not change when their fortunes change. Tom's travels through England are a domestic equivalent of the continental journey designed to give a final polish to the education of a young aristocrat, but his experience does not touch his essential qualities. Fielding sees people's lives determined by the manners or speech they adopt, which—inevitably—others will interpret (or misinterpret). Therefore, in order to succeed within this tissue of social interactions, individuals must exercise prudent control over what they say and do.

This sounds like a simple principle. However, Fielding uses prudence as both an ideal and a pejorative term. In the 1740s the word was evolving from its original meaning as the supreme rational virtue of the Christian humanist tradition (prudentia) into its near opposite—the worldly wisdom of middle-class morality or even a villainous hypocrisy. Prudence was beginning to signify self-discipline, discretion, and foresight in the service of mercenary gain rather than a means to achieve self-knowledge and virtuous conduct. By deliberately complicating the meaning of this concept through his ambiguous use of it, Fielding points to the difficulty of distinguishing the high ideal of wisdom from mere cunning and deceit.

He was not the only author of the period who was preoccupied with prudentia. A direct source of Fielding's concern was the enormous praise and popularity accorded to Pamela, the work of his great rival, Samuel Richardson. Richardson's ostentatiously chaste heroine defends herself from rape, turns the rapist into her besotted lover, and ultimately marries into a much higher social class than her own. Fielding mocked Richardson's premise that artful perfection is the secret to earthly reward. He parodied the novel first in Shamela, by showing a devious and less than virtuous heroine conniving with her lover to manipulate her aristocratic admirer. Then, in Joseph Andrews, he reversed the sexes, offering Pamela's brother as his hero. Richardson's achievements in Pamela and his masterwork, Clarissa, helped goad Fielding to develop his richly comic analysis of moral behavior in Tom Jones.

In the novel, the imprudent Tom is matched against his half brother Blifil, who exhibits precocious prudence as a matter of policy. Blifil performs to meet the standards of virtue held by his audience. Since a pretense must work on a specific target in order to succeed, Blifil must understand the person he intends to deceive and adjust his behavior to conform to their point of view. He cannot correct failings in his performance by self-examination any more than he can recalibrate his false premises. Unable to grasp a point of view far outside his own, he completely misunderstands Tom; as a result, although he deceives even the sagacious Squire Allworthy, to Tom his motives are transparent.

Richardson shows the "inside" of his heroine's mind in a stream-of-consciousness description of her experience, but Fielding believes introspection cannot tell much about the real source of a person's motives. He prefers to show his characters in action and presents them in ironically matched pairs to accentuate their differences for the reader. The contrasts between Blifil and Tom, Squire Allworthy and Squire Western, or Sophia and her cousin Harriet convey knowledge that is perceptible only when different points of view confront each other.

In book VI, the narrator tells the reader that no one can explain the genuine meaning of love to a person incapable of experiencing it. "If good by nature," he says, in effect, "you can imagine other people's feelings so directly that you have an impulse to act on them as if they were your own; and this is the source of your greatest pleasures as well as of your only genuinely unselfish actions." In the moral world of Tom Jones, love is the capacity to conceive (and act on) what is best for the beloved person. Fielding is constantly aware of the difficulty of distinguishing this kind of love from appetites like sexual desire, the need to be envied for a romantic conquest, or the yearning to be comforted by an affectionate relationship.

Fielding calls goodness of heart the capacity to value another person's good not only as equal to one's own happiness but as the deepest source of that happiness. Although a good-hearted person has an intuitive regard for others, to act in accordance with this sensitivity requires a prior effort of will. To go beyond merely responding to the impulses of a good heart and to act appropriately involves a sophisticated level of ethical maturity. Tom possesses abundant warmth and high spirits, but Fielding demonstrates that his innate goodness of heart is not sufficient as a guide to conduct.

In theory, prudence is a quality that is available to both Blifil and Tom, but Fielding is careful to show the complexity of using this virtue well. Blifil, who is the most single-minded character in the novel, employs prudence as a tool for realizing his destructive intentions; Tom regularly sacrifices prudence to perform an action urged by his good heart. But neither prudence nor a good heart can guarantee happiness in isolation; they must be blended. The mixture of virtues and failings exhibited by all of Fielding's characters demonstrates the great difficulty of determining how to achieve the proper mix and also emphasizes the need to forgive all-too-human frailties when judging others.

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Tom Jones 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First of all, it must be said that for anyone interested in English literature this is a must read. After having read this, it becomes apparent that so much of the literature that followed this book - in the 18th, 19th, and even the 20th centuries - is modelled on this book. Could it be that the same writer influenced Mark Twain and Jane Austen? Secondly, this book must be read for its unexptected humour and freshness - even though it was written almost three hundred years ago, its expositions on sex and violence are seen daily on Jerry Springer. True, the sentences are lengthy - and sometimes the scholarsip burdensome - but, for the most part this is a story of scandal and surprise. At the same time, though, I admit that I wished the story was a couple of hundred pages shorter: there were times, especially towards the end, when I simply stopped trying to make sense of all the loose ends and focused on the main plot. Fielding, as demonstrated by this book, is a master writer, but the folks over at Jerry Spinger could have taught him a thing or two about editing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book with lots of action and was one of the first and most influential books written in the English language. This is not a boring classic! It is a must-read in my opinion! There is action, there is romance, all in one great Bildungsroman! Plus it has short chapters!
ctpress on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
jclemence on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
charlie68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
mbmyhre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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
pickwick817 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Smiley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
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