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The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

Henry Fielding

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A baby is deposited in the bed of Squire Allworthy, a wealthy widower in Georgian England. The baby is given the name of Tom Jones and given to Allworthy’s live-in sister to raise. She soon marries and has her own son, and the two boys are raised together, with the usual household rivalries and jealousies. As Tom reaches his late teenage years, he discovers the several young ladies that surround, but especially the one that lives next door. Circumstances eventually lead to Tom being thrown out of Allworthy’s house, and the bulk of the novel is about the resulting adventures and pursuit of his beloved Sophia.

Tom Jones is many things: a coming-of-age story, a romance, a picaresque, but it is first and foremost a comedy. It is also one of the earliest English novels, and was hugely popular when it was released, going through four printings in its first year. Fielding used the first chapter of each of its eighteen “books” to weigh in on a wide-range of topics, from critics to religion, and his narrator is as important a character in the novel as Tom himself. Highly regarded and highly popular, it is still in print over three-and-a-half centuries after its initial success.

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