Study Guide

Tom Jones Literature and Writing

By Henry Fielding

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Literature and Writing

Helpfully, Fielding spends a bunch of his introductory chapters for the different books of Tom Jones explaining (a) what his project is in writing the novel, and (b) how it's different from the other novels of the time. What Fielding says he wants most out of his writing is believability.

But Fielding knows that no one is going to read a doorstop novel about a guy who goes to work every day and then comes home to his loving wife and kids. Fielding has to include a lot of dramatic coincidences and surprising circumstances in Tom Jones in order to keep the reader's interest. And these twists and turns can sometimes seem unrealistic… but the narrator reminds us in Book 8, Chapter 1 that truth is stranger than fiction.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. What are some of the ways that the narrator describes the "truth" of Tom Jones? In what sense is Tom Jones meant to be "true"?
  2. Why does the narrator emphasize the importance of probability and believability in novels? What contrasts does he build between probable fictions and other kinds of texts? What does believable fiction allow an author to do or to achieve in his writing? What goals does the narrator of Tom Jones set for this kind of writing?
  3. What does the narrator value about reading? What can reading teach you, according to Tom Jones? What are some of the limitations of extensive reading? How does Fielding connect his reading with his work as a writer?

Chew on This

Although the narrator focuses on believability as the main characteristic of his style of novel-writing, the far-fetched plot lines of Tom Jones undermine his creative statements about the importance of mimicking real life in fiction.

While the narrator spends several of his introductory essays discussing ways in which critics have "abused" (18.1.4) his work, his own harsh assessments of other modes of writing (such as romance and supernatural fiction) make his personal resistance to criticism appear hypocritical.

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