Fielding’s Tom Jones

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss “The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling” (1749) by Henry Fielding (1707-1754), one of the most influential of the early English novels and a favourite of Dickens. Coleridge wrote that it had one of the ‘three most perfect plots ever planned’. Fielding had made his name in the theatre with satirical plays that were so painful for their targets in government that, from then until the 1960s, plays required approval before being staged; seeking other ways to make a living, Fielding turned to law and to fiction. ‘Tom Jones’ is one of the great comic novels, with the tightness of a farce and the ambition of a Greek epic as told by the finest raconteur. While other authors might present Tom as a rake and a libertine, Fielding makes him the hero for his fundamental good nature, so offering a caution not to judge anyone too soon, if ever.

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  • Judith Hawley 14 episodes
    Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Henry Power No other episodes
    Professor of English Literature at the University of Exeter
  • Charlotte Roberts 2 episodes
    Associate Professor of English Literature at University College London

Reading list

  • Henry Fielding: A Life
    Martin C. Battestin with Ruthe R. Battestin (Routledge, 1989) Google Books →
  • The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840
    J. M. Beattie (Oxford University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century
    S. Dickie (University of Chicago Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Oxford Handbook of the Eighteenth-Century Novel
    J.A. Downie (ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • The History of Tom Jones
    Henry Fielding (ed. John Bender and Simon Stern) (Oxford University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon
    Henry Fielding (ed. Tom Keymer) (Penguin Classics, 1996) Google Books →
  • The Life of Henry Fielding: A Critical Biography
    Ronald Paulson (Wiley Blackwell, 2000) Google Books →
  • Epic into Novel: Henry Fielding, Scriblerian Satire, and the Consumption of Classical Literature
    Henry Power (Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • Henry Fielding and the Augustan Ideal under Stress
    Claude Rawson (Routledge, 2021) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge Companion to Henry Fielding
    Claude Rawson (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2007) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. The history of Tom Jones, a foundling by Henry Fielding, is one of the most influential of the early English novels.