Tom Jones | Study Guide

Henry Fielding

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Tom Jones | Dedication | Summary



The novel is prefaced with a dedication to the Honorable George Lyttleton, Esquire. Henry Fielding credits Lyttleton with giving him the idea for the story as well as material support while he was writing it. The author mentions two additional benefactors who served as the models for the picture of the "benevolent mind" found in his "history." He then leans on Lyttleton's reputation to say that the reader will not find anything "prejudicial to the cause of religion and virtue" and "nothing inconsistent with the strictest rules of decency." His work seeks to teach people that it is in their interest to pursue virtue. Finally "virtue and innocence" can be injured by "indiscretion," and he intends to use "wit and humour ... to laugh mankind out of their favourite follies and vices."


Henry Fielding speaks as the author and takes the opportunity to express gratitude, a virtue he held in high esteem. He ascribes all the good characteristics of Squire Mr. Allworthy—the novel's Christian exemplar—to three men he considers to be his benefactors. But Mr. Allworthy has his shortcomings, so Fielding is shrewd to spread his inspiration among them. Fielding takes pains to emphasize that his is a moral tale, joining a host of authors who, in the name of virtue, nevertheless provide ample entertainment from the exercise of vice. At the outset he brings to the reader's attention that virtue and innocence are most often hindered by indiscretion—or lack of prudence—which snares people in "deceit and villainy." Tom Jones, the eponymous hero, famously lacks discretion. But once the story is underway these moral snares turn up in a variety of places and often trip up even the most innocent characters—including the virtuous squire, Mr. Allworthy.

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