This Day In Literary History
On May 10th, 1749, the final part of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, the classic novel by the famous English novelist and playwright Henry Fielding, was published.
Like other novels of the time, it first appeared in a serialized format, published by a literary magazine. It would later be published in book form, its title shortened to Tom Jones.
The novel, a bawdy romantic comedy / adventure, told the story of its title character, Tom Jones. It opens with Squire Allworthy, a wealthy landowner, returning to his country estate in Somerset after an extended business engagement in London.
Allworthy is shocked to find an abandoned baby boy sleeping in his bed. A young woman named Jenny Jones - servant girl to the local schoolmaster and his wife - later confesses to being the baby's mother, but refuses to name the father.
The kindhearted Squire Allworthy decides to take in the baby, called Tom Jones, as his ward. Sophia Western, the neighbor's daughter, becomes Tom's childhood sweetheart.
Sophia's father and Squire Allworthy have no intention of allowing them to marry when they grow up. That's because Tom is illegitimate, and thus beneath a girl of Sophia's class.
Tom Jones grows up to have both a healthy appetite for women and a good heart like Squire Allworthy. The novel's liberal attitudes toward sexual promiscuity and prostitution made it quite controversial in its day.
Moralists decried its depiction of a hero who proves himself to be both noble and promiscuous. In reality, Tom's sexual exploits are mostly played for laughs.
The most controversial (and funniest) part of the novel finds Tom witnessing a half-naked woman being beaten by a man. Tom rescues her and brings her to an inn. The woman, Mrs. Waters, is the wife of an army captain.
She thanks her handsome young hero by making love to him. Later, Squire Allworthy reveals to Tom the horrible truth about Mrs. Waters - her maiden name is Jones. Jenny Jones. Tom slept with his long-lost mother!
Meanwhile, Tom's childhood sweetheart and first great love, Sophia Western, whom he has tried to keep in touch with, goes through her own trials and tribulations, including the prospect of marriage to a man she detests.
Lord Fellamar, a vile young nobleman, lusts after Sophia. He hatches a plan to trick Sophia into thinking that Tom Jones has been killed so that she'll agree to marry him. Rather than wait until their wedding night, Fellamar attempts to rape Sophia. Thankfully, her father arrives on the scene before he can.
True love triumphs in the end, as Tom and Sophia are reunited and another shocking secret is revealed: Jenny Jones was not Tom's mother. His real mother was Squire Allworthy's sister, Bridget.
She had been seduced by a young man named Summer - the son of Allworthy's clergyman friend. Now that he's a respectable gentleman, Tom declares his love for Sophia and she agrees to marry him, with the blessings of her father and Squire Allworthy.
Tom Jones would be adapted several times for the screen, stage, and television. The most famous adaptation would be the acclaimed 1963 British feature film directed by Tony Richardson, written by the famous English playwright John Osborne, and starring Albert Finney in the title role.
Another memorable adaptation of the novel was the opera by French composer François-André Danican Philidor.
If you would like to download the free public domain e-book version of Tom Jones, you can find it here at Munsey's archive. If you would like to download the free, unabridged public domain audiobook version of the novel or listen to the streaming feed, you can find it here at the LibriVox archive.
Quote Of The Day
"There is not a more ridiculous nor a more contemptible animal than a proud clergyman." - Henry Fielding
Today's video features a BBC radio dramatization of Henry Fielding's classic novel, Tom Jones. Enjoy!