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In Tom Jones, Fielding hangs a huge and rambling tale on the life and travels of a foundling. Often cited alongside Richardson's Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded (Oxford World's Classics) as the first great novels of English literature (however innacurate that label might be), this works very differently stylistically.

Fielding breaks the cardinal rule of novel-writing ("show, don't tell") and pulls it off magisterially. Tom is a lad with a good heart but that doesn't stop him falling into all manner of bawdy situations with a combination of gusto and innocence. As a precursor to Dickens, Fielding manages to cram in a whole social panorama, and controls his story precisely.

A great C18th classic that's also a very easy, immensely good-natured, and very funny read.
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on 7 September 2009
It is odd to think that among Henry Fielding's original motives for selecting the novel as his chosen literary form was his outrage at what he saw as deficiencies in the work of his contemporary, Samuel Richardson. Richardson's `Pamela' was a popularly received work of fiction telling the story of a poor, humble and crucially, chaste, young woman sent to work in the house of a wealthy, arrogant, highly libidinous man. His attempts to rid her of her maidenhoodd and her attempts to defend it account for the action of the entire book. Ultimately, Pamela's determination prevails and she is rewarded by becoming her master's wife. Fielding took issue with the idea that Pamela's virtue was effectively portrayed as a commodity which could ultimately be bought and also with the tedious minutiae of Richardson's work as attempt after attempt on Pamela's virginity are described in achingly dull detail.

He wrote two scathing parodies of Richardson's work before attempting an entirely original work of his own in Tom Jones. The plot of this huge novel is fundamentally little more than a simple love-story which takes its protagonists meandering around southern England and finally to London where everything is finally resolved, via two or three last minute unexpected twists. It has been acclaimed as one of the first great English novels and justifiably so. Whilst the characters are largely fairly one-dimensional they are nonetheless skilfully drawn and highly engaging, particularly the eponymous Tom who's infectious joie de vivre and apparently unquenchable libido render him both extremely entertaining and highly likeable. His struggle to do the right thing and ultimately prove himself worthy of Sophia provides the novel's central dramatic tension and very much endears him to the reader.

And yet there is much more to the novel than just this simple story. Fielding enjoyed satire and took a keen interest in contemporary politics and society. Each book of the novel begins with a chapter in which Fielding directly addresses the reader, usually to mock or berate fellow authors or the likes of literary critics and journalists. There are many other occasions throughout the novel where Fielding breaks the 'fourth wall' and speaks directly to his reader. He clearly had some fun with the concept of the omniscient narrator who controls the universe he creates. Often he pretends to be entirely ignorant of events and pieces of information, at other times he claims to know every specific thought in each character's head and other times again he slowly reveals the truth of a situation, expertly building up the tension as he does so, as in the dramatic revelation of Tom's real parenthood. In reality of course, all authors do all these things and Fielding, in this very early novel, simply cleverly and playfully exposes them.

Dramatically the strongest sections of the book are the early chapters in Somerset which set the scene and introduce the characters, gently mocking unrefined country attitudes and behaviours in the process and the latter chapters in London which bring matters dramatically to a conclusion, wonderfully satirising the arrogance and hypocrisy of city life as they do so. The middle sections, which are truly episodic in nature as Tom journeys from one town to another encountering a whole range of people and stories, sag a little by comparison and perhaps meander too far from the central characters and plot.

There is no question that some readers will find this book hard -going. It is very long by modern standards and the mid-18th century language takes a considerable amount of getting used to. However, it is well worth persevering. Fielding is always witty and his willingness and ability to entertainingly describe his protagonist's sexual liaisons set him apart from many of his contemporaries and indeed from most of the huge body of 19th Century literature which was to follow. If you are interested in the history of the novel as a literary format and, perhaps more importantly, if you enjoy an entertaining, racy, well-told story, then this book is definitely for you.
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on 23 July 2006
'Tom Jones' is one of those lucky few- a book whose length is comparable in extent to its reader's enjoyment. 'Tom Jones' is a wonderfully dark, elaborately comic and utterly compelling account of the experiences of a young man as he pursues love, honour and fortune across 18th-Century England. Unlike many other novels and plays regarded as 'comic classics', Tom Jones is also genuinely funny. Seriously.

'Tom Jones' is enjoyable in and of itself- the characters and adventures are accessible, entertaining and varied. Despite this, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the introductory chapters to the novel's 18 'books'- short, usually amusing essays concerning theoretical aspects involved in the book. If you're pushed for time, you can skip them- but, much like the comic acts in certain Shakespeare plays, some of the best moments in the novel are contained in what can appear unneccessary literary 'padding'.

So don't be put off by its length, its age, its love for diversions and its complicated web of human relationships; Tom Jones is simply a fantastic read. Particularly for anyone acquainted with the historical environment the novel was written in, Tom Jones can be read as a satire on the hypocrisy of notions of honour; the scathing attack on those who marry for fortune rather than love has a peculiarly appealing modern resonance.

In the end, what's most revealing about Tom Jones is not how far the novel as a form has developed, but how little societal trends change over time. Fielding's world is one in which treachery and deceit are frequently the motives for acts of apparent benevolence, a world as hilarious as it is dangerous. If you've got a couple of weeks to spare, and a patient disposition, you could do a lot worse than to give 'Tom Jones' a try- for this price, you'd have to have a pretty good excuse not to!
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on 18 August 2011
Rather than go into a long analysis of the story, characters and style of writing, I'll just say that this has always been on of my favourite novels, and to be able to get a free copy for my Kindle was a very pleasant surprise.

I'm very pleased to see that so much great literature from around the world is available on the Kindle at no charge, and hope this will encourage people to read more.
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on 24 January 2007
This book is fantastic, a great, long, indulgent read which carries you on a journey around eighteenth century England. Tom Jones, a good-hearted, though misunderstood and spirited foundling is cast out of the home of Squire Allworthy and left to fend for himself in the world. At the same time, his childhood sweetheart runs away from home in order to avoid a marriage to Mr Blifil, Tom's childhood companion and Squire Allworthy's nephew. The story charts the two young people's journey around the country, with plenty of moments of near meetings and reconciliations. Coincidences aplenty and Henry Fielding's dry wit make this novel both satisfying and tremendously funny. Perhaps not for the easily offended since it's pretty bawdy! (In the eighteenth century it was blamed for causing earthquakes in London and Dr Johnson was 'ashamed' to hear that a friend had read it)! Certainly different to most eighteenth century writers, Fielding has produced his masterpiece in Tom Jones. Enjoy.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 September 2010
In Tom Jones, Fielding hangs a huge and rambling tale on the life and travels of a foundling. Often cited alongside Richardson's Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded (Oxford World's Classics) as the first great novels of English literature (however innacurate that label might be), this works very differently stylistically.

Fielding breaks the cardinal rule of novel-writing ("show, don't tell") and pulls it off magisterially. Tom is a lad with a good heart but that doesn't stop him falling into all manner of bawdy situations with a combination of gusto and innocence. As a precursor to Dickens, Fielding manages to cram in a whole social panorama, and controls his story precisely.

A great C18th classic that's also a very easy, immensely good-natured, and very funny read.
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on 24 December 2009
Just finished this book and I am grinning like a loon.

There were times I thought I wouldn't finish it, but the only reason for this was it's length.

The characters made me laugh so often. Squire Western made me laugh so often, his impetuousness, his drunkenness and his complete unreasonableness. The philosopher Square arguing with the religious Thwackum made me smile a lot too. Partridge, a wonderfully superstitious man-child who irritated me at first began to come into his own - especially when he is taken to see Hamlet. And yes, I begun to love Sophia as she tried to survive everything she was put through without giving up any of her morals or scruples.

Finally, the intrusive narrator had me laughing on busses, at tube stops and anywhere where he was. So many great little quotable moments, his meditation on why when people say 'kiss my arse' they never do had me laughing out loud. Especially when he concluded it by stating that politicians kiss your arse even when they are not told to - not much changes in 250 years really.

At the beginning of the last book, Fielding compares reading it to being fellow travellers on a long coach journey. He hopes he was an entertaining traveller - he is.
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on 26 February 2013
Although Fielding has a tendency to ramble I admit that I have a special place in my heart for this book. It gives an insight of the times in which Fielding lived, and the fact that Dr Johnstone disliked the book only commends it the more.
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VINE VOICEon 25 January 2013
A classic picaresque comic yarn. I started it when I was 17 and ploughed to a stop in a few pages, up to my neck in the treacle of eighteenth-century prose. Or perhaps sawdust rather than treacle: this is dry stuff, after all. But this time, with many more years and books under my belt, I was able to enjoy and even relish the orotund sentences, the disingenuous authorial posturing and the windy dialogue.

Briefly: Tom, a bastard, is taken under the wing of the benevolent Squire Allworthy, and later falls for Sophia, pure-hearted daughter of a neighbour, the blustering Squire Western. Allworthy's nephew Blifil schemes to get Tom out of the way of any inheritance, and after numerous bawdy and domestic episodes, Tom is turned out and hits the road. Rambling across the land he has many more adventures, before fetching up in London. There the other characters gather for various reasons, and after much confusion things come to a satisfying end.

There's a lot to laugh at in this book: the passage in mock-Homeric prose about a slattern beating up a disapproving congregation in the churchyard had me choking on the bus. But then there's a lot of this book in general, and I could have done with the chuckles being closer together. Fielding paints his world in conversation and psychology: the senses are little catered for, so that, for instance, the long grey middle of the novel is a bewildering succession of inns and roads and bedrooms, with no physical descriptions to anchor the reader in the world. Reading this over months on my commute, I soon lost track of people, places and incidents. That said, it's good fun all the way along, and the close satirical observation of manners and character retains its good-natured bite across the centuries.

Much of this may be illustrated by a paragraph in which Blifil refers to the wisdom of the hypocrite priest Thwackum and the dissolute philosopher Square:

"For these reasons Mr Blifil was so desirous of the match that he intended to deceive Sophia, by pretending love to her; and to deceive her father and his own uncle, by pretending he was beloved by her. In doing this he availed himself of the piety of Thwackum, who held, that if the end proposed was religious (as surely matrimony is), it mattered not how wicked were the means. As to other occasions, he used to apply the philosophy of Square, which taught, that the end was immaterial, so that the means were fair and consistent with moral rectitude. To say truth, there were few occurrences in life on which he could not draw advantage from the precepts of one or other of those great masters."

If that doesn't draw up the corners of your lips, this novel is probably not for you!
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on 21 June 2013
One of the most significant works of English Lit well presented. It does take patience to read the book, as it is not written in modern prose, but it is certainly easy to understand. A major satire.
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