What was the social background of 18th-century society?

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Henry Fielding's Tom Jones takes place in England in 1745. The author uses a wide range of locations as the backdrop for his stories to help further emphasize the social stratification between classes at the time. For example, the scenes which take place in the drawing rooms of grandiose London homes always make some sly commentary as to the vanity and materialism of the characters. London very much represents a shallowness the author perceives in the upper echelons of urban English society. The book also describes multiple country estates in which poor laborers are dependent on land-owning "benefactors." The author lambastes the obvious imbalance of wealth, and therefore justice, in these country estates.

Overall, the social background of England in 1745 is characterized by polarized class relations and general unrest for most of the population. Workers were discontent, and the wealthy were wallowing in their lavish delusions.

The particularly chaotic political climate of this time and place should also be noted. The royal throne was hotly contested. Parliament determined that after James II and VII went into exile into 1688, his daughter and son-in-law should rule as co-monarchs. This delegitimized the notion of a king as inheriting a divine right from God. If Parliament could make such a decision, then the role of king could not truly be a holy appointment. A political movement known as Jacobitism actively protested this and was only finally quelled in 1745—the same year Tom Jones takes place.

The 18th century is also known as the "Age of Enlightenment" because, by virtue of the Industrial Revolution, how people worked, consumed, invented, and created art was rapidly changing. Between religious disillusionment, technological advances, and the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, England in 18th century was a turbulent time and, as Fielding shows us, provided potent material for literary satire.

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The society of Tom Jones's 18th century was one in which classicism, elitism, new ways of community life, and social change was taking place.

The aristocracy, particularly the nobility was held on exaggerated high esteem, and they enjoy privileges that no typical citizen could ever dream of. Those with money enjoyed VAST amounts of it, as well as land and properties. This led to the often-witnessed fact that the upper classes were idle, ill-educated, and snobbish to the core.

This, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

The major European monarchies had no standard of uniform law, money, or weights and measures. Continental Europe had internal tolls that hampered the passage of goods. Britain however, had no such tolls. In the 18th century, the nobility of that country lived in the most magnificent luxury that the order had known. On the continent, the nobility were wealthy. However, the noble was, to some extent, better off than a prosperous peasant was. This is because the peasant tended to prosper with the rest.

So basically Tom, the foundling, was found by a clueless group of crass class and too much time to waste and money to spend. This is where the mockery of the story is move evident.

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