The picaresque novel is a first-hand account of an adventurer, generally of the lower class, as he travels about. It is composed of a series of adventures and subplots in which the hero interacts with people from different social classes and tries to outwit them through lying, cheating, and stealing. The novel satirizes the values of upper-crust society as the hero constantly tries to subvert these values and lives by the codes of the lower class. This type of literature came from Spain in the 1500s, and the most famous example is Don Quixote in the 1600s.
By the 18th century, the picaresque novel was on the decline, to be replaced by novels with a deeper sense of character. However, the picaresque lived on in the 18th century in novels such as Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749), in which Tom, an orphan, grows to adulthood and witnesses the debauched nature of London at the time. The 18th century picaresque novel, like Tom Jones, combined elements of the picaresque novel with elements of the bildungsroman, of the novel of development that showed the growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. Like the picaresque novel, it featured subplots of adventure but had a tighter structure than earlier novels.