Places Discussed

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Paradise Hall

Paradise Hall. Estate of Squire Allworthy in Glastonbury in southwestern England’s county of Somersetshire. Allworthy’s estate borders that of Squire Western. Paradise Hall is just that, an Eden from which Tom Jones, Allworthy’s good-natured ward (later discovered to be his elder nephew), is banished due to his lack of prudence and the conniving of Blifil, Allworthy’s younger nephew. Paradise Hall is the allusive setting for Cain versus Abel and Devil versus Adam parallels in Blifil and Tom.

Western’s estate

Western’s estate. Home of Squire Western and his daughter Sophia. This estate is characterized by hunting, heavy drinking, singing, and an absolutist but loving father. Each estate symbolizes a political opposite: Allworthy is a sober and refined Whig; Western is a sports-loving and rough-edged Tory. Western England was dominated by Tories in the eighteenth century, hence the symbolism of the squire’s name.

Little Baddington

Little Baddington. Village that is the center of petty jealousies, vicious gossip, and a mock-epic battle. In the village the house of Partridge, the schoolmaster, and his shrewish wife extend the marriage theme. The cottage of “Black” George Seagrim, the gamekeeper, appropriately is a trap for both Tom and his hypocritical tutor, Mr. Square, caught there by the wiles of the wanton Molly, George’s daughter. The houses frame recurring types of the family theme in different social classes: contrasting parents, upbringings, siblings, courtships, and marriages.


*Salisbury. Cathedral town where Squire Allworthy’s sister dies and from which she sends a letter, intercepted and hidden by Blifil, to her brother that Tom is her son, not an orphan.

Inns and taverns

Inns and taverns. Accenting the novel’s realism is the passage of the three groups through many real places on their chases to London. Among them are Wells, Coventry, Daventry, Stony Stratford, Dunstable, and Barnet. However, it is the inns and alehouses along the way that serve the novel materially. They dramatize a hospitality theme, satirize dishonest landlords and their marriages, introduce strangers whose stories deepen the courtship, marriage, and family themes, and bring complications to the plot that unravel only at its end. These places are at Hambrook, Cambridge (in Gloucestershire, not the university town), Worcester, Gloucester, Meriden, and St. Alban’s.


Upton. Village in which the paths of the three chases finally meet. In a hilarious scene at the town’s White Lion Inn, Tom is seduced; Sophia, arriving later learns about Tom’s indiscretion and leaves angrily. Squire Western then storms in, too late to capture Sophia, while Mr. Fitzpatrick storms in, too late to capture his runaway wife, Sophia’s cousin.


Countryside. In addition to country inns, Fielding uses other places to accent his themes. For example, at a barn off the road between Meriden and Coventry, Tom and his companion Partridge encounter a band of gypsies whose society is a political satire on the Jacobite myth of the good life under an absolute monarchy. At the house of the Man of the Hill in the Malvern Mountains, Tom hears his cynical host’s life story, a parable of many of the novel’s themes: injudicious fathers, contrasting brothers, marriage, imprudent lives, selfishness, deceit, and misplaced charity. In the same way, Fielding cites the real country houses or estates of Esher, Stowe, Wilton, Eastbury, and Prior Park as examples of elegance to contrast with the more rustic estates of Devon, Dorset, Bagshot Heath, and Stockbridge. The architectural metaphor was a typical eighteenth century phrasing of the art versus nature theme personified in the artful conniving of Blifil and the natural good will of Tom.


*London. Besides the Bull and Gate Coaching Inn in the neighborhood...

(This entire section contains 957 words.)

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of Holburn where Tom spends his first night in London, other minor places add to the novel’s topographical and sociological realism. These include White’s Chocolate House, a fashionable gambling club; Will’s and Button’s Coffee House; clubs for wits and writers; Broughton’s Amphitheater on Oxford Road, a popular site for prizefighting by boxing, cudgels, and broadswords; Lombard Street, a middle-class neighborhood of bankers, merchants, and goldsmiths; the Hedge Tavern near Aldersgate and Deptford, two disreputable, low-class neighborhoods; Hanover and Grosvenor Squares, neighborhoods of the elegant upper classes; Doctors Commons, an ecclesiastical court at which marriage licenses can be obtained; and Goodman’s Fields and Drury Lane, theaters whose audiences show cross-sections of the social classes.

Three London scenes are most thematically important. One is Mrs. Miller’s house in Bond Street where Tom lodges along with another young boarder, Nightingale, whose father threatens to disown him because he wishes to marry for love rather than money. Another is the masquerade at the Opera House in the Haymarket, where Lady Bellaston begins her seduction of Tom. Considered a sinful and shameful place by Fielding and other authors, a masquerade is the perfect setting to focus themes of appearance versus reality, deceit, and subterfuge that have run through the novel.


Gatehouse. London prison in which Tom is held in a scene that frames character and theme. He is fixed there in despair because he mistakenly thinks that he has shown ingratitude to Squire Allworthy, that he has lost Sophia because of his indiscretions, that he has engaged in incest with his mother, that he has killed Fitzpatrick in a duel, and that he will be hanged for murder. The prison is the setting for Tom’s dark night of the soul when his wisdom is born and where his past good will and charity become known and his redemption becomes complete. He can then be happily reborn as the true nephew of Squire Allworthy, marry his Sophia, and return to the country and his inheritance of Paradise Hall.

Historical Context

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The Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment dawned in the late seventeenth century and strongly colored the entire eighteenth century in Europe and America. The era was so named because the intellectuals who nurtured it believed that the ideas it promoted were bringing humanity out of a period of darkness in which it had been bound by superstition and ignorance. The most prominent of these ideas was that human reason—not blind faith in religious doctrines or authorities—was the path to wisdom in all areas of life.

The Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, as it was sometimes called, was sparked by new scientific discoveries (Newton’s law of gravity, for example) and by new directions in philosophy as set out by John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and others. Human reason was penetrating the mysteries of the physical world and imagining new kinds of societies. It seemed, therefore, that reason, freed from age-old superstitions, could lead humanity to a new golden age.

The shift from faith to reason was a major turning point that affected not just religion and philosophy but science, politics, economics, and other disciplines. The new philosophy was that understanding and knowledge, rather than being inborn or handed down from the past, emerge from observation and experience. This meant that every person had the ability to learn and was a strong argument for universal education. The idea that all could attain knowledge and wisdom led to the idea of equality. If all had the potential to learn and to act wisely, then all should have the opportunity to vote, to improve themselves socially and economically, to govern themselves, and so on. Not surprisingly, the Age of Reason led directly to the Age of Revolution in Europe and America.

By the time Fielding wrote Tom Jones, the Enlightenment was more than half a century old. Its ideas can be clearly seen in Fielding’s handling of his story. Tom’s maturity and his understanding of how to live are not imposed upon him by religious teachings or by religious or secular authorities; instead, they come through Tom’s own experiences and his observations of the law of cause and effect in his life. While Squire Allworthy often urges Tom to be more prudent, Tom does not really understand what this means, or why it is so important, until he has broken the law of prudence many times and has seen the results. He wins wisdom through his own experiments.

Similarly, the fact that Tom becomes Allworthy’s heir is a sign of the times. In former times, the heir would have been chosen according to societal rules, without regard for the individual traits of the persons involved. Blifil, though despicable, would have been Allworthy’s heir without question because he was Bridget’s only legitimate son. Tom’s illegitimate birth would have put him out of contention. The individualism of the Enlightenment meant that social classes gradually became less rigid and that social conventions were more often broken. Of course, the change was not absolute. Fielding shows the ongoing conflict between the old ways and the new through characters such as Squire Western, who only consents to Sophia’s marrying Tom after it is known that at least one of Tom’s parents was from the upper class and that he will inherit Allworthy’s money.

The Jacobite Rebellions The Jacobites were British citizens who sought to restore the exiled Catholic Stuart dynasty to the British throne. Their name is from the Latin for “James”; their original goal was to make James Stuart, half-brother of Queen Anne (who ruled from 1702 to 1714), the ruler of Britain in place of the Protestant George I. The unsuccessful First Jacobite Rebellion took place in 1715, after Queen Anne died and George I ascended the throne.

In the 1740s, Britain was at war with France on several fronts—in Europe, in America, in India, and at sea. The Jacobites saw the government’s distractions as an opportunity to try again to recapture the British throne for the Stuarts. Prince Charles Edward, who was the grandson of Queen Anne’s predecessor, James II, and who was known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, led Scottish soldiers in the capture of Edinburgh and marched south toward London. He hoped to gather enough English support to place his father on the throne in place of George I. He did not win widespread support in England, however, and was soon defeated.

It is the Second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 that Tom briefly joins in book VII of Tom Jones, when he has been ejected from Allworthy’s home and despairs of finding Sophia.

Literary Style

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Epic, Picaresque, and Epistolary Fielding melds elements of several traditional literary forms in Tom Jones. First, the novel borrows some elements of epic poems, such as Homer’s Odyssey. In fact, in the novel itself, Fielding, as narrator, calls the book a “prosai-comi-epic,” meaning a comic epic written in prose.

An epic has a strong protagonist who does heroic deeds and has a broad scope of action; that is, the events take place over a wide range of time and place. Tom Jones fulfills all these requirements of an epic.

Second, Tom Jones incorporates elements of the picaresque novel, which originated in Spain. A picaresque features a roguish hero (picaro in Spanish) and is episodic and more loosely structured than an epic. A picaresque is literally “one thing after another,” and the only unifying thread may be that all events befall the central character. Many picaresques center on a journey, and most satirize the society in which the story takes place.Tom is certainly a roguish character, and Tom Jones certainly satirizes the society in which he moves. The section of the novel that relates Tom’s trip to London is the most strongly rooted in the picaresque tradition.

Finally, Tom Jones, to a lesser extent, borrows the form of the epistolary novel, or novel of letters. Fielding’s first novel, Shamela, was written entirely in the epistolary form, as was the novel it parodied, Pamela. The form was popular throughout the eigh- teenth century. In Tom Jones, Fielding has many opportunities to advance his story through letters written by his characters, who are often separated by geography, intrigue, or both.

Allegory An allegory is a story with a double meaning; each character or event represents some other person or occurrence. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a very well-known allegory in which the main character, Christian, represents “everyman,” and his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City represents the journey from a worldly existence to heaven.

Some scholars see Tom Jones as an allegory of everyman’s quest to attain wisdom. This view is bolstered by the fact that the name Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. Tom’s long and difficult quest for Sophia, therefore, can be seen as the quest for wisdom, which he wins at last.

Compare and Contrast

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Mid-1700s: England is a largely agricultural nation and is making great advances in agricultural productivity. Farmers are discovering the value of crop rotation, and better farming tools, such as ploughs and seed drills, are being developed.

Today: England is largely industrial and commercial and imports most of its food. The economy is based on transportation, communications, and the production of steel, petroleum, coal, and electricity.

Mid-1700s: England is ruled by King George II and his appointed prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. The king rules a far-flung empire that includes not only colonies in America, India, and elsewhere but also parts of Germany, where he spends much of his time. Walpole, therefore, has great power and authority in England.

Today: England is ruled by Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair, leader of the Labour Party. The role of the monarch has shrunk over the centuries, and England’s prime minister is effectively the country’s leader.

Mid-1700s: With the spread of the Enlightenment, many people question religious teachings that had long been considered above question. Increasingly, people believe that reason is a better guide than blindly accepted doctrines. Some reject Roman Catholicism and other forms of organized religion in favor of deism, a doctrine that God exists but that organized religion is not a source of truth. In Tom Jones, the two tutors personify the division between traditional religion and deism: Thwackum is an Anglican, whereas Square is a deist.

Today: In September 2001, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Roman Catholic cardinal for England and Wales, tells the National Conference of Priests that Christianity is nearly a dead religion in Britain, having been replaced by materialism, sensuality, selfishness, and “New Age” beliefs.

Media Adaptations

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Three film versions of Tom Jones have been made in Britain. A silent film made in 1917 was directed by Edwin J. Collins and starred Langhorn Burton as Tom. A 1963 version was directed by Tony Richardson and starred Albert Finney as Tom and Susannah York as Sophia; it is available on videotape. A 1976 film entitled The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones was directed by Cliff Owen and starred Nicky Henson as Tom and Madeline Smith as Sophia; it, too, is available on video.

A television miniseries entitled The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, also made in Britain, appeared in 1997. It was directed by Metin Hüseyin and starred Max Beesley as Tom and Samantha Morton as Sophia. This version is also available on video.

Penguin Books released an unabridged audio version of the novel in 1997, with Robert Lindsay as reader. Abridged versions are available from Highbridge Classics (1998, John L. Sessions, reader) and Media Books (1999, Edward Fox, reader).

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Baker, Sheridan, ed., Tom Jones: A Norton Critical Edition, 2d ed., W. W. Norton, 1995, p. vii.

Paulson, Ronald, and Thomas Lockwood, Henry Fielding: The Critical Heritage, Barnes and Noble, 1969, pp. 172–75.

Shedd, W. G. T., Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Complete Works, Vol. VI, London, 1856, p. 521.

Further Reading Battestin, Martin C., and Ruth E. Battestin, Henry Fielding: A Life, Routledge, 1990. This book is considered the definitive biography of Fielding.

Dudden, Homes, Henry Fielding: His Life, Work, and Times, Oxford University Press, 1952. A comprehensive two-volume work, this book examines Fielding’s writing in the contexts of his society and his personal life.

Waller, Maureen, 1700: Scenes from London Life, Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2000. This book presents a huge amount of detail about daily life (and death) in eighteenth-century London, focusing on where people lived and worked, how they behaved, what they wore and ate, and how they suffered from illness and injury. The book is made up of vignettes drawn from the author’s research and by excerpts from contemporary diarists, novelists, and commentators.

Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, University of California Press, 1957. This volume looks at the early development of the novel and the roles played by Fielding and his contemporaries Defoe and Richardson.


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Dircks, Richard J. Henry Fielding. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Offers a detailed reading of the novel and its moral structures. Examines plot and structure, themes, realism, digressions, the sentimental tradition, and the novel’s characterizations.

Irwin, Michael. Henry Fielding: The Tentative Realist. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1967. Sees Fielding as a moralist who was intent on creating a new literature. In an analysis of the structure of Tom Jones, notes the didactic content of the novel’s themes. Discusses the limitations of Fielding’s characterizations.

Price, Martin. “The Subversion of Form.” In Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Sees the joining of the naïve hero and the sophisticated narrator as a source of Fielding’s humor. The result is an ironic stance that pleasantly confuses the reader’s expectations.

Reilly, Patrick. “Tom Jones”: Adventure and Providence. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Most of this book is devoted to a reading of Tom Jones. Examines the work’s Christian comedy and its use of satire. Draws some contrasts with the work of Samuel Richardson and Jonathan Swift.

Watt, Ian. “Fielding as Novelist: Tom Jones.” In Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Draws contrasts between Tom Jones and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Notes Fielding’s comparatively superficial characterizations and his somewhat greater interest in plot.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide