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Literature / The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling

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The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, also known as simply Tom Jones, is a classic picaresque novel by Henry Fielding, published in 1749, telling the adventures of the title protagonist, a deeply honorable Handsome Lech. It is full of social parody both subtle and ham-handed. It has been adapted as a film (1963), a TV series (1997), and in opera form.

The 1963 film, titled simply Tom Jones, starred Albert Finney as Tom. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Tony Richardson, and Best Adapted Screenplay for John Osborne. Three of the actresses in the film got Best Supporting Actress nominations, but none of them won. The movie was also named the 51st best British film of all time by the British Film Institute.

Not to be confused with Tom Jones the singer—in fact, Tom Jones the singer took his stage name from the film.


The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Both the 1960s film and the 1990s miniseries are very faithful to the spirit of the novel and to its content to a fairly large extent (more so in the latter). The latter arguably improves on the book in its presentation of Sophia and its decision to pair Partridge and Mrs. Honour.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The film shortened the title to Tom Jones.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Blifil and Lord Fellamar for Sophia, Lady Bellaston for Tom.
  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: Fielding loves to comment on the tropes he is using.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Squire Western is a classic example, and played by BRIAN BLESSED no less in the 1990s series.
  • Bowdlerization: The 1997 miniseries lost some very explicit sex when it was aired in the United States.
  • Chick Magnet / Chivalrous Pervert / Handsome Lech: Ladies really love Tom Jones, and he usually returns the favors and, being a naturally kind-hearted fella, genuinely cares about them. At different times, he shows traits of all three tropes.
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  • Have a Gay Old Time: Hoo boy.... The amount of time spent touching, caressing, kissing, and talking about Sophie's muff.
  • Heroic Bastard: Tom himself
  • Hollywood Atheist: Inverted with Square who basically chooses atheism as an excuse for wrongdoing (because, you know, atheists are immoral) and admittedly, he reforms at the end with a death bed conversion. On the other hand, he's still always more likable than the Holier Than Thou Thwackum and it's clear that he could have been a perfectly good person following his atheistic philosophy.
  • Hot-Blooded: Western.
  • Incest Is Relative: Tom Jones, you need to be more careful about whom you sleep with...
  • Meaningful Name: Oh, where to begin...
    • Sophie = Wisdom (our hero is on a quest to...dare I say...acquire Sophie???)
    • Mr. Square = Very severe and sharp edged.
    • Squire Western = Is a pig (yes, this was intentional)
    • Squire Allworthy = Is the kindest, nicest, and actively most-good character in the story.
    • Mr. Thwackum = Need I spell it out?
  • Mud Wrestling: The 1997 BBC adaptation turns the fight in the churchyard between Molly Seagrim and Goody Brown into this.
  • Really Gets Around: Most of the ladies in the novel are not averse to promiscuity.
  • Roguish Poacher: Black George
  • Sadist Teacher: Thwackum.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Fielding's earlier novel Joseph Andrews.
  • Stylistic Suck: Honour's letter and monologues.
  • Take That, Critics!: Each of the novel's eighteen books has an introductory essay unrelated to the story. Two of them address how awful critics are.
  • Twist Ending: Lampshadedly from tragedy to happy end for Jones, and the identity of Jones's mother.

Alternative Title(s): Tom Jones


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