Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
Pamela (1740), by Samuel Richardson, is said to have been the first best-selling novel in history. It is the story of a virtuous servant girl and her valiant efforts to escape the relentless advances of her employer. The story is told through the girl’s letters. Fielding thought the novel was highly overrated, and his first two novels were parodies of it.
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Shamela (1741) is the first of Fielding’s parodies of Pamela. Fielding, too, structured his story as a series of letters, but his heroine, far from being an innocent, is lusty and manipulative.
Joseph Andrews (1742) is another, more ambitious, parody of Pamela. This time, Fielding has changed the protagonist to a male servant—the brother of Pamela—and the predatory employer is Lady Booby. This novel is considered the forerunner of Tom Jones.
Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, was first published in Spanish in two parts in 1605 and 1615 and in English in 1612 and 1620. The hilarious tale is one of the most loved novels of all time. Tom Jones shares some of its picaresque elements, and its plot centered on a symbolic journey.
Moll Flanders (1722), another picaresque novel, was written by Daniel Defoe, who, along with Fielding, is considered one of the important originators of the English novel. Defoe’s novel, too, is the story of a character who grows up without parents. Defoe’s Moll Flanders, though, is handed very different circumstances than is Tom Jones and takes a very different route in life.
Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray, was published almost exactly one hundred years after Tom Jones, in 1848. Thackeray’s classic novel deals with some of the same issues and human vices as Fielding’s—vanity and hypocrisy, especially as they are encouraged by society—but his characters are more reprehensible and his novel is darker, though far from humorless.
Twentieth-Century Interpretations of “Tom Jones” (1968), edited by Martin Battestin, is a collection of essays by modern critics who have differing views of the novel.