Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Fielding’s best-plotted novel, his masterpiece, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, probably was begun in 1746. When the novel finally appeared, it was “enthusiastically received” by the general public, though not by two groups, the Tory journalists, who strongly disliked Fielding for supporting the House of Hanover, and Richardson and his group, who saw Fielding as a “filthy and immoral writer,” even to the point of slandering Fielding himself, particularly for “marrying his cook.”
This novel can be labeled pseudoautobiographical: Tom Jones, the main character and hero, is to a large degree a fictionalized version of his creator’s own boyhood experiences, as well as Fielding’s own psychological responses to those experiences. The narrative structure moves, through the journey to London that Tom makes, from innocence to experience. Fielding, in this novel, used a central plot interspersed with seemingly peripheral incidents or subplots, all of which helped the central plot to move steadily toward a desired terminal objective. These peripheral episodes thus fit into the main plot—seeming detours, but all part of the route that Tom must take on his road to knowledge. Using the tight construction of a well-made play, Fielding produced in Tom Jones one of the best-plotted novels in English.
Fielding himself called Tom Jones a “comic epic poem in prose,” though others say it is “essentially a...
(The entire section is 1173 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Squire Allworthy lives in retirement in the country with his sister Bridget. Returning from a visit to London, he is surprised upon entering his room to find an infant lying on his bed. His discovery causes astonishment and consternation in the household. The squire is a childless widower. The next day, Bridget and the squire inquire in the community to discover the baby’s mother. Their suspicions are shortly fixed upon Jenny Jones, who spent many hours in the squire’s home while nursing Bridget through a long illness. The worthy squire sends for the girl and in his gentle manner reprimands her for her wicked behavior, assuring her, however, that the baby will remain in his home under the best of care. Fearing malicious gossip in the neighborhood, Squire Allworthy sends Jenny away.
Jenny was a servant in the house of a schoolmaster, Mr. Partridge, who educated the young woman during her four years in his house. Jenny’s comely face made Mrs. Partridge jealous of her. Neighborhood gossip soon convinced Mrs. Partridge that her husband is the father of Jenny’s son, whereupon Squire Allworthy calls the schoolmaster before him and talks to him at great length concerning morality. Mr. Partridge, deprived of his school, his income, and his wife, also leaves the country.
Shortly afterward, Captain Blifil wins the heart of Bridget. Eight months after their marriage, Bridget has a son. The squire thinks it would be advisable to rear the baby and...
(The entire section is 1915 words.)
The narrator introduces Squire Allworthy, telling readers that he “once lived (and perhaps lives still)” in Somerset and that he was not only one of the richest men in England but also kind and intelligent. His wife had died, and their three children had all died as infants, so the squire lived with his sister, Bridget, who had never married.
The narrator further relates that on one occasion the squire was away from his estate on business for three months and, on the day he returned, found a baby in his bed. Squire Allworthy had a servant, Deborah Wilkins, take care of the baby. The next morning, he told his household that he would rear the foundling as his son. He put Bridget in charge of the baby boy and sent Mrs. Wilkins out to find out the identity of his mother.
A servant named Jenny Jones, who had recently worked both for the local schoolmaster and as a nurse to Bridget, is quickly accused and admits to being the child’s mother. Squire Allworthy, who is the local magistrate, lives up to his reputation for kindness. Instead of sending her to jail, as he could do, he arranges for her to move away to a place where no one will know of her past. He even accepts her refusal to name the baby’s father. She does tell him that someday he will know the father’s identity. Allworthy names the baby Tom Jones.
The local physician, Dr. Blifil, introduces Bridget to his brother, Captain Blifil. Since Bridget is...
(The entire section is 3182 words.)