Published in 1749, "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling", or just "Tom Jones", as it was known as a satirical novel by Henry Fielding. It has been named one of the ten greatest novels of all time. The book is broken up into eighteen sections and each section begins with a chapter that usually has nothing to do with … [Read more...] about Tom Jones
Born in 1707 in Sharpham, Somerset, England, Henry Fielding was a novelist, playwright and a magistrate. He studied law at the University of Leiden. He and his half brother, John formed the Bow Street Runners which led to the first police force in London. His mother died when he was eleven and after a court order, Henry was taken away from his father and sent to live with his grandmother. His father, Lt. General Edmund Fielding was an irresponsible father, but charming. Henry often visited with his father and kept a relationship with him.
When he was eighteen, Henry he tried to abduct his cousin, Sarah Andrews and then left London so he wouldn't be arrested. But then three years later, after studying law and the classics in Leiden, he returned to London due to poverty.
In London he started writing plays for the theater. Because he used his work to publicly criticize the Prime Minister, the Theatrical Licensing Act was passed in 1737. This act made political satire almost impossible. Since Henry was now not as popular in the theater, he decided to go back to the law so he could support his wife, Charlotte and their children.
Because Henry was not very good with finances, he was often aided by Ralph Allen, who he based the character Allworthy in Tom Jones. Although working as a magistrate, Henry kept writing satires on politics and current books, stories and plays. He wrote under the pen name, Captain Hercules Vinegar for papers and magazines. His views were very liberal for the time.
Henry's breakthrough into novels came almost by accident. Henry wrote a satire over a popular novel by Samuel Richardson because he had become angry with the author. The book by Richardson was Pamela and Henry named his satirical novel, Shamela. After that he wrote a novel about Pamela's brother and named it Joseph Andrews. Although the novel was meant to be a parody it became a more serious novel and introduced Henry as a more serious novelist.
While his writing became more popular, Henry continued to work as a magistrate. Soon he was appointed London's chief magistrate. He became famous for his impartial judgments. He was compassionate for the poor and those who were forced by their circumstances into crime. He was also incorruptible and not impressed with status. Since he refused to accept payment from the poor, his own income from his job as a magistrate was low. He and his brother, John worked towards improving prisons and judicial reform.
As Henry's health failed due to gout, asthma and cirrhosis of the liver, he continued his commitment to justice and humanitarianism. He wrote treaties stating his belief that the neglect of Christianity and the greed of a more materialistic world was the reason for the upswing in crime and murders. Finally his health sent him to Portugal in 1754 to find a cure, where he died in Lisbon two months later. There he was buried in the city's English Cemetery, St. George's Church.