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The Custom of the Country
Edith Wharton, Linda Wagner-Martin
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Leo Tolstoy, Louise Maude, Alymer Maude

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (Penguin Classics)

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling - Henry Fielding, Alice Wakely Tom Jones, generous and likable, emerges as Tom Sawyer “grown up,” a version of what Leslie Fiedler termed the “Good Bad Boy.” From the beginning, Fielding tells us that Tom is a “bad” boy, but undercuts this by citing exaggerated examples such as his being “already convicted of three robberies, viz., of robbing an orchard, of stealing a duck out of a farmer’s yard, and of picking Master Blifil’s pocket out of a ball” (77). The pattern Fielding puts into motion of recounting Jones’ various crimes in contrast to his essential good-heartedness sets us up to look at his later “romps” with Lady Bellaston or Mrs. Waters (Jenny Jones) in the same genial light.

The concept of self in Tom Jones operates in the arena of a comprehensible world populated with comprehensible characters. Tom, basically good, is rewarded. His story enacts the “Foundling” myth articulated by Marthe Robert where the hero finds or learns of his true parents and rises in station.

Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778), also portrays the Foundling myth. Evelina, nearly as bland a character as Tom Jones (she is wittier), does not share his vices. At worst, Evelina commits a few social gaffes on her way to becoming socially educated. Like Tom Jones, Evelina’s story ends with the mysteries of her birth cleared up, her corresponding rise in social station and her marriage to Lord Orville. The concept of self as it emerges in the novels of Fielding and Burney (or Smollett’s Humphry Clinker, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, and Richardson’s Pamela) show characters that may succeed on their merits since they function in worlds perceived as mostly judicious and comprehensible, where the good are rewarded and the evil punished.