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Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling with Rebecca Rukeyser

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Once a week Wednesdays, 6:00 pm EDT - 7:30 pm EDT October 11 to December 13, 2023

Online via Zoom

Registration for this reading group has closed.


Bawdy, odd, deeply funny, and dedicated to presenting humanity as scoundrels full of earthy appetite rather than martyrs bound for heaven or sinners bound for hellfire, Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling appeared in 1749 to scathing reviews—one critic dismissed Tom Jones as “a motley history of bastardism, fornication, and adultery”—and runaway popular success.

One reason Tom Jones elicited such strong reactions is because, according to W. Somerset Maughm, Fielding “described, for the first time in English fiction, a real man.” Tom Jones is driven by a slew of all-too-human foibles: insatiable lust, fits of pique, self-pity, tremendous compassion, wit, and intense foolishness. The people that populate his world are similarly human, a cast of characters that manage to be both flawed individuals and emblematic of 18th Century society.

Tom Jones is one of the first novels written in the English language, but its comic portrayal of the sordid lives of messy, flesh-and-blood humans makes it startlingly fresh—and this probably accounts for the fact that it’s been adapted into numerous movies, plays, operas, and TV shows.

It’s impossible to read a novel as popular, divisive, and enduring as Tom Jones without talking about its societal and cultural context. Although we’ll spend the brunt of our time discussing the events of the novel, we’ll also talk about its societal and cultural impact, from the tumultuous society into which it was published to Albert Finney’s star turn as Tom Jones in the award-winning 1963 film adaptation.

Although we’ll spend the brunt of our time discussing the events of the novel, we’ll also talk about its societal and cultural impact.

Meeting Details:
Wednesdays, 6–7:30pm ET
10/11–12/13, 9 Sessions
Online via Zoom
No Session on 11/22

We’ll be discussing two of the eighteen books of Tom Jones per week. Please read Books I and II ahead of our first meeting.

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Led by

  • Rebecca Rukeyser

    Rebecca Rukeyser

    Rebecca Rukeyser

    Rebecca Rukeyser is the author of the novel The Seaplane on Final Approach (2022; Doubleday USA/ Granta Books UK). Her work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Believer, Granta, The Guardian, and Zyzzyva, among others, and was awarded the Berlin Senate Endowment for Non-German Literature. She’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Originally from Davis, California, Rebecca lives in Germany, where she teaches creative writing at Bard College Berlin.