Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)

by Rachel Baker on October 22, 2013

The Guardian’s fifth book in the 100-week series on the 100 best novels written in English is Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, published in 1749.

Tom Jones, however, might have been made for the screen. Never mind its numerous chapters and teeming cast of misfits and scoundrels, the central character is an attractively unbridled young man of fierce temper and unrestrained sexuality who pursues true love through contemporary Britain in a sequence of scandalous and hilarious adventures. Published in the mid-18th century, Tom Jones is a classic English novel that captures the spirit of its age and whose famous characters – Squire Western, the chaplain Thwackum, the scheming Blifil, seductive Molly Seagrim and Sophia, Tom’s true love – have come to represent Augustan society in all its loquacious, turbulent, comic variety.

The secret of Tom Jones was to be intimately connected to its contemporary audience. By the 1740s, the English novel was attracting new kinds of reader and, in turn, new kinds of writer. Not only was there an explosion of print media and a booming middle-class audience, there were innovative novelists for whom this popular new genre offered the prospect of a decent living. Many would continue to starve in Grub Street, but some had begun to make money. Samuel Johnson, famously, sold his over-earnest romance, Rasselas, to pay for his mother’s funeral.

Book 4 of the series: Clarissa

Book 3 of the series: Gullivers Travels

Book 2 of the series: Robinson Crusoe

Book 1 of the series: The Pilgrims Progress

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