Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This Day in Literary History

The 10th volume of Henry Fielding's novel Tom Jones was printed on this day in 1749.

The novel, serialized in 10 small volumes, told the humorous story of the attempts of the illegitimate but charming Tom Jones to win his neighbor's daughter, despite her father's objections to his uncertain parentage. The novel boasted a vast cast of characters chasing each other across England and provided a sweeping comic portrait of 18th century England.

Henry Fielding supported himself as a successful playwright after he lost his family's financial support when he dropped out of Eton at age 17. He wrote some 25 plays, but his career as a playwright was truncated when his satire Historical Register, For the Year 1736 (1737) earned Fielding the prime minister's ire. In search of a new livelihood, Jones studied law and edited a newspaper for several years.

Meanwhile, Samuel Richardson's epistolary novel Pamela was published to enormous popularity in 1740. A spoof on the book, called Shamela (1741), was generally credited to Fielding, although he never admitted authorship. He did admit to writing Joseph Andrews, another satire, in 1742.

In 1748, the year before Tom Jones was published, Fielding was appointed justice of the peace for Westminster and Middlesex. He played an important role in breaking up criminal gangs. He published one more novel, Amelia (1751), before his death in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1754.

Originally published on History.com

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