This Day In Literary History
On February 28th, 1749, the publication of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, (later shortened to Tom Jones) the classic epic novel by the famous English novelist and playwright Henry Fielding, was announced in the famous London newspaper, The General Advertiser.
This is how the announcement appeared:
THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES,
-- Mores hominum multorum vidit --
By HENRY FIELDING, Esq;
It being impossible to get Sets bound fast enough to answer Demand for them, such Gentlemen and Ladies as please, may have them sew'd in Blue Paper and Boards, at the Price of 16s. a Set, of A. Millar over against Catharine-street in the Strand.
At the time, it was customary for a novel to be published in a serialized format before it appeared in book form. Due to the controversial nature of this particular novel, it was published in book form before the serialized publication was completed.
Although it would be a hot property and sell a lot of copies, most scholars believe that the heavy demand mentioned in the newspaper ad was in fact an exaggeration designed to create a demand for Tom Jones.
The novel, a bawdy romantic comedy / adventure, told the story of its title character. 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.
Unfortunately, her father and Squire Allworthy have no intention of allowing Sophia and Tom 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 denounced the novel as immoral, decrying its depiction of a hero who proves himself to be both noble and promiscuous. In reality, Tom's sexual exploits are played mostly for laughs, as the author's sense of humor played a huge part in his fiction.
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 just 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 who lusts for her.
Fellamar 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.
Bridget had been seduced by a young man named Summer - the son of Allworthy's clergyman friend. Now 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 adaptations were the 1963 British feature film starring Albert Finney in the title role, and the opera by French composer François-André Danican Philidor.
Quote Of The Day
"Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea." - Henry Fielding
Today's video features a video presentation on the life and literary career of Henry Fielding. Enjoy!