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In the first chapter of Tom Jones, Fielding compares the book to a feast and his headings to the menu. In the second chapter, he launches into what many readers consider the best-plotted novel in English literature. The opening part of the novel relates the discovery of the foundling, Tom Jones, his kind treatment by Squire Allworthy, and the attempts to find his parents. You are introduced to the kindly Allworthy, a wealthy English squire (a type of country gentleman). Having lost his wife and children years before, the squire now lives on his magnificent estate with his spinster sister, Miss Bridget Allworthy. Going to bed one evening after returning from a long trip, he discovers a baby asleep beneath the bedcovers.
Thematically, the story of a foundling has broad appeal. The identity of one's parents is closely linked to one's self-identity. Fielding also uses the foundling theme to comment on the idea of merit based on lineage or class. Note how Squire Western's attitude toward a marriage between Tom and Sophia changes after he discovers Tom is really Allworthy's nephew and heir.
Allworthy summons the elderly maid, Mrs. Deborah Wilkins, to care for the infant. (In eighteenth- century England the term "Mrs." could be applied to any older woman, including single women like Mrs. Deborah.) Unable to discover the child's parents, he tells his sister, Miss Bridget, that he plans to raise him as his own. He gives the boy his own name: Tom. Oddly, the dour Miss Bridget praises his generosity. Mrs. Deborah, taking her cue from Miss Bridget, falls into raptures.
While praising her master, and lavishing affection on Tom, Mrs. Deborah rails against Tom's mother and determines to find out who she is. Fielding compares Mrs. Deborah to a kite- a great bird of prey- setting all the other birds trembling as she swoops around the town. He points out that slaves and flatterers- like Mrs. Deborah- often vent the same abuse on those below them that they take from those above them.
NOTE: THE MOCK HEROIC
Not otherwise than when a kite, tremendous bird, is beheld by the feathered generation soaring aloft, and hovering over their heads, the amorous dove, and every innocent little bird, spread wide the alarm, and fly trembling to their hiding-places. He proudly beats the air, conscious of his dignity, and meditates intended mischief. So when the approach of Mrs. Deborah was proclaimed through the street, all the inhabitants ran trembling into their houses....
Note the extended comparison between Mrs. Deborah and the kite, and between the townspeople and the other birds. Also note the high-flown style, which sarcastically mocks Mrs. Deborah. These are both typical of the mock-heroic style. You will find many examples of this style as you read.
Rumors about Jenny Jones, a schoolmaster's servant, lead Mrs. Deborah to settle on her as Tom's mother. Jenny has earned the town's hostility by learning Latin from the schoolmaster and wearing a silk dress.
NOTE: The bizarrely incongruous reasons for the townspeople's jealousy- Jenny's knowing Latin and wearing silk- are a typically wry Fielding touch. Also typical is the motivation of jealousy- watch how often it comes up in the novel. Do you think jealousy is as important a motivation as Fielding makes it? Is he being overly cynical or is he realistic?
Amazingly, and to Mrs. Deborah's delight, Jenny confesses. Mrs. Deborah and the townspeople- who have gathered to enjoy the scene- hold forth against Jenny, uppity servants in general, and silk dresses.
Notice how Fielding sets up a contrast between Mrs. Deborah's handling of Jenny ("she began an oration with the words, 'You audacious strumpet!'") and Allworthy's. Fielding's subtle satire of the townspeople is worth noting as well. When Mrs. Deborah invades the town, the people tremble, and your sympathies shift to them. But when Mrs. Deborah attacks Jenny, they vent their abuse on the girl as well, applauding the very beating they themselves fear.
Mrs. Deborah hauls Jenny before Allworthy. Strictly, but with compassion, Allworthy lectures Jenny and offers to take care of the infant. Jenny weeps with gratitude, but a solemn vow prevents her from revealing the identity of the father. She assures him the man is out of reach and promises to reveal his name when appropriate. Allworthy, satisfied, gives her money to move away. When the townspeople hear of this, they turn on Allworthy himself. Rumors fly that he is the child's father.
Meanwhile, Miss Bridget and Mrs. Deborah listen at the key hole (as they do regularly, you gather). Mrs. Deborah is critical of Allworthy's leniency and says she'll discover the father's identity. Miss Bridget condemns her maid's inquisitiveness (while being inquisitive herself) and even praises Jenny for her vow of silence. Maid and mistress reconcile with a tirade against men in general.
Fielding has moved the plot along swiftly and introduced some of the novel's themes. He offers a searing portrayal of pompousness and spite with Mrs. Deborah. Balancing her, he shows the kindness, generosity and compassion of Allworthy. He has also introduced the themes of displaced vengeance, envy, and the class system. He's left you wondering who the child's father is and why Miss Bridget shows such compassion, as well as what will become of Jenny Jones.
NOTE: Fielding is considered a master of plot construction. Some readers, however, while admiring the plot of Tom Jones, believe that it dominates the book to excess, that Fielding sacrifices emotional depth and even credibility to keep his plot moving along. As you read further, you'll be able to make your own judgment.
The generous Allworthy entertains many guests at his estate. He especially favors men of learning. Two brothers, Captain and Dr. Blifil, come to stay, and encouraged by his brother, the Captain marries Miss Bridget so he can inherit the Allworthy estate. Having gained position, he then makes his brother feel so unwelcome that Dr. Blifil leaves and dies of a broken heart.
Notice the way Fielding toys with the Captain (and you) when describing the Captain's love for Miss Bridget. "Long before he had discovered any flattering symptoms in Miss Bridget, he had been greatly enamoured; that is of Mr. Allworthy's house and gardens." Also, the notion of the scheming Captain's brother suffering from a broken heart caused by disappointed greed is wonderfully ludicrous.
NOTE: WILLIAM HOGARTH
Fielding says Miss Bridget served as a model for the woman in a Hogarth print, an ugly lady who has a starved foot-boy carry her prayer book. The comparison describes not only Miss Bridget's ugliness but her pious selfishness as well. Fielding's pleas of authorial incompetence make her seem even more awful- she's so ugly he can't even manage a description of her.
Fielding often refers to Hogarth's work in Tom Jones. Looking at Hogarth's paintings and engravings can help you imagine the costumes and settings of the novel. Hogarth's famous works include two series of paintings, A Harlot's Progress (1731-32) and A Rake's Progress (1735), and the six paintings called Marriage A la Mode (1743).
The narrator devotes the first chapter of Book II to the theory of narrative. In the following chapters, he introduces Blifil, Mrs. Bridget's son, who is raised with Tom, and relates the dismissal of Partridge, Tom's supposed father.
NOTE: Fielding devotes the first chapter of each book to an essay, usually on a subject related to writing: on the theory of narrative, critics, those who try to write novels, plagiarism, and so on. Although many readers feel these chapters contain some of Fielding's best writing, later novelists generally abandoned this convention of intermittent essays not closely related to the plot.
Eight months after the wedding, Miss Bridget (now Mrs. Bridget Blifil) gives birth to a boy. Mr. Allworthy offers to raise him with the foundling, whom he has given his own first name, Tom, and Jenny's last name, Jones. Despite the displeasure of Captain Blifil, Tom Jones and young Master Blifil are raised together.
NOTE: A foil is a character who highlights, by contrast, another character. By having young Blifil raised with Tom Jones, Fielding has set up a way of illuminating his protagonist. As the two boys grow up, note how Blifil contrasts with Tom. Fielding's use of foil characters is one of many ways in which he makes his plot exhibit the neoclassical ideal of balance and symmetry.
Mrs. Deborah continues her restless search for Tom Jones' father. Fortune and spite play into her hands. Jenny Jones had worked as a servant to a schoolteacher, Mr. Partridge. Mr. Partridge's jealous wife believed that he had an affair with Jenny and kicked her out of the house. When Jenny confessed to being Tom's mother, her suspicions were confirmed. She badgered her husband so much that he confessed to an affair with Jenny.
Mrs. Deborah brings the news to the Allworthy household.
NOTE: Note the discussion about charity between Captain Blifil and Allworthy in Chapter 5. Charity is one of the central Christian virtues, the greatest, according to Saint Paul. Fielding presents a similar view. One of Allworthy's most noble attributes is his charity, demonstrated many times in the novel. You'll notice this theme again as the story progresses.
Squire Allworthy, the town magistrate, summons Mr. Partridge before him. Mrs. Partridge testifies that Partridge has confessed his guilt to her. But Partridge claims he only confessed because his wife had convicted him anyway and was making his existence a living hell. Enraged, Mrs. Partridge testifies that she found Partridge and Jenny in bed together and accuses her husband of wife-beating.
Allworthy convicts Partridge and sadly dismisses him, withdrawing his salary. As a result, the Partridges fall on hard times. Mrs. Partridge eventually dies of smallpox, and Partridge moves away.
Meanwhile, the marriage between Captain Blifil and Bridget has become unhappy. Marriages, says Fielding, usually provides one of two pleasures: the joy of pleasing someone you love, or the satisfaction of tormenting someone you hate. The Captain and Bridget's marriage has lost the honey of the first, and even the salt of the second. Captain Blifil consoles himself with dreams of the wealth he will inherit. One day, blissfully occupied this way, he dies. In death, according to the narrator, he "regained the lost affections of the wife."
Years go by. Tom and Blifil are now fourteen. As to Tom, "even at his first appearance, it was the universal opinion of all Mr. Allworthy's family, that he was born to be hanged.... He had been 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 of a ball." His vices appear all the worse contrasted to Blifil's virtues. Blifil was "a lad of a remarkable disposition; sober, discreet and pious, beyond his age. Qualities which gained him the love of everyone who knew him, whilst Tom Jones was universally disliked."
At least, that's the way things seem on the surface. But in fact Tom robbed the orchard and stole the duck from a generous motive: to help his friend the impoverished gamekeeper, Black George.
Another instance of Tom's generosity comes when, hunting with Black George, he and the gamekeeper trespass beyond the Allworthy estate and are caught poaching from their neighbor, Squire Western. Because George would lose his job if discovered, Tom covers up for him. As punishment, Tom is beaten severely by his tutor, the reverend Mr. Thwackum. Allworthy gives Tom a horse to compensate for the beating.
Notice how clearly Fielding has portrayed his characters. Tom is exuberant, mischievous, but generous (toward George)- and in that way, at least, like Allworthy. Blifil is the teacher's pet, conniving for praise. Mr. Thwackum is vindictive, pompous, with a touch of cruelty. Mr. Allworthy is right-minded but generous.
Fielding also introduces Mr. Square, who engages in lengthy philosophical discussions with Thwackum. About the only thing the two agree on is their intense dislike of Tom Jones.
NOTE: Like many other writers Fielding often uses the names of his characters to reveal something about them. For example, Allworthy's name indicates his general merit; the name Thwackum seems to imply a taste for dispensing spankings; Tom Jones' name may indicate his commonness, his anonymity, or his universality. The next book introduces the heroine, Sophia, whose name comes from the Greek word for wisdom. You'll find other names that suggest some aspect of a character further on in the novel.
With his virtues, Tom also has a temper. When called "a beggarly bastard" by Blifil, he bloodies Blifil's nose. Summoned before Allworthy, Blifil distracts him by telling him about Black George. (Notice Blifil's cleverness, often called cunning in the novel.) Allworthy dismisses George, both for poaching and for letting Tom take the blame. Tom secretly helps the poor gamekeeper, selling his own horse to help pay George's bills.
Again Fielding stresses Tom's generosity. He further emphasizes Tom's similarity to Allworthy by having Tom give away the same horse Allworthy gave him. Because of his generosity, the townspeople and servants take a great liking to Tom.
So, too, does Mrs. Blifil. (Pay close attention when you read about her affection for Tom- Fielding is giving you a hint.) She comes to despise her son Blifil because he reminds her of her husband. Meanwhile, both Thwackum and Square have taken a great liking to her- out of hopes of gaining her estate.
Mrs. Blifil does not care to marry again, but she greatly enjoys Thwackum and Square's attentions, and flirts with both. Fielding presents Mrs. Blifil as a kind of passionate spinster, a wallflower with a tremendous romantic drive. As you'll discover, she had an affair before the novel opened, and she showed great passion for Captain Blifil for a while. Perhaps she also has an affair with Square, as one critic has suggested. (Fielding is often very subtle and only drops hints. What hints can you find to support this contention?) The irony is that most of the other characters think she has a crush on Tom Jones, whom she loves for an entirely different reason, as you'll discover at the end of the novel.
Tom Jones, meanwhile, befriends Squire Western, his neighbor. Despite the fact it was on Western's land that Tom and Black George had been poaching, Tom hopes to convince Western to help poor George. For this he turns to Squire Western's daughter Sophia.
You are introduced to the heroine, Sophia Western- a beautiful, charming girl of eighteen. The narrator relates the reasons that she has come to love Tom Jones and dislike Blifil.
NOTE: Sophia is based on Fielding's first wife, Charlotte Cradock (he alludes to her in his description), who had died years before he wrote Tom Jones and whom he had loved devotedly.
Sophia has had a more worldly education than Tom, having spent three years away from the country with her aunt. But she is still somewhat naive and extremely warm-hearted.
Some readers find limitations in Fielding's description of Sophia. He seems to hop from the mock- heroic (the opening of Chapter 4) to the maudlin. This points up a more general criticism, that Fielding demonstrates much greater skill at satirizing what he dislikes than praising what he admires. What do you think?
The narrator goes back in time. When Sophia was thirteen, Tom gave her a bird that he had raised and taught to sing, and Sophia became very fond of it. One day, jealous Master Blifil sets the bird free. Heartbroken, Sophia cries out. Tom tries to rescue the bird from a tree, but the branch breaks and he falls into the canal below. Blifil claims he let the bird loose to give it freedom, and he is commended by Thwackum and Square (though for different reasons, of course). Squire Western, Allworthy, and Sophia praise Tom. Sophia's affection for Tom intensifies, as does her dislike of Blifil.
Here Fielding demonstrates some differences between Tom and Blifil. Tom gives the bird to Sophia out of his unselfish affection for her. On the other hand, even Blifil's attraction to Sophia is selfish. Jealous of her affection for Tom, he lets the bird go, even though it hurts the person whose affection he craves. Tom cares for others while Blifil cares only for himself.
NOTE: THE BIRD AS A SYMBOL
You should notice, too, Fielding's description of the bird's flight: "The foolish animal no sooner perceived itself at liberty, than forgetting all the favours it had received from Sophia, it flew directly from her, and perched on a bough at some distance." As you continue the novel, see how this forgetfulness and desire for liberty remind you of Tom. Perhaps because he's often treated as an outsider, Tom seems isolated, untamed, like the bird. He must tame himself before he can earn Sophia.
As the next years go by, Sophia's affection for Tom turns to love. Tom, though admiring and liking Sophia, doesn't return her love, and fails to notice her devotion.
Tom asks Sophia, as a friend, to help Black George. She gladly says she'll try. When Tom thanks her by kissing her hand, she falls head over heels in love with him. By playing her father's favorite tunes for him that evening, she obtains the favor. Squire Western hires Black George as his gamekeeper.
Here Fielding presents two instances of devotion- an important theme in the book. Sophia's devotion to Tom helps him gain a difficult favor for Black George. Squire Western's devotion to his daughter makes him hire the very gamekeeper he had found poaching on his land. Western's devotion to Sophia is important because it makes even more bewildering his attitude about her marriage. He wants Sophia to marry for reasons of money and class, rather than for her own happiness. Fielding also shows the two ties of affection that will tear at Sophia as the novel progresses- her love for her father and her love for Tom Jones.
The narrator now discloses the reason that Tom is not in love with Sophia. He's infatuated with Black George's wild daughter Molly Seagrim. She's seduced the shy young man, playing her role so well that Tom believes he was the seducer. (Does Molly's skill at playing her role mean that she's played it before? Fielding drops a hint here.) Molly becomes pregnant, and to hide her condition, wears to church a fine dress that Sophia had given her. As she leaves church, the envious women of the village hiss, curse, and throw rocks at her. Molly turns on them, and a battle ensues. (Fielding uses his best mock-heroic style to describe the battle.) While Molly's a strong, well-built girl, the crowd is too much for her. But Tom comes to the rescue.
At Squire Western's the next day, Tom hears that Allworthy has summoned Molly to find out who her lover is. Tom quickly leaves. Western decides Tom's the culprit, and jokes with the local minister, Parson Supple about him. He laughs that Allworthy himself had a lower-class lover. For Allworthy must be Tom's real father, or why would he have raised him? Sophia, faint, begs to be excused.
Tom tells Allworthy that he's Molly's lover. The squire lectures him sternly. This isn't nearly enough for Thwackum, who condemns Allworthy's mercy and rails against Tom. Square hates Tom even more than Thwackum does; the narrator intimates that Square has private reasons for his hatred. Square tells Allworthy that now he can understand why Tom's been so generous to Black George, Molly's father. Allworthy, disturbed, admits that Square's innuendos may be correct.
Here are two good examples of Fielding's skill at spinning a plot. He's hinted that Square has a particular reason to hate Tom now that Tom has been discovered to be Molly's lover. He's also set up a reason why Allworthy might not believe Tom's later expressions of love for him. Both of these suggestions will be important further on in the novel.
Sophia resolves to give up even thinking of Tom Jones. But when she meets him, the symptoms of love return.
Squire Western has grown fonder and fonder of Sophia- so fond that he comes to love her even more than his hunting dogs. In order to enjoy them both, he takes Sophia hunting. She dislikes the sport, but goes to keep her father from breaking his neck. Instead, she almost breaks her own, for during the chase she falls off her horse. Tom Jones catches her, cushioning her fall, but breaks his arm in the process.
NOTE: Here you see a metaphor that will become important throughout Tom Jones- the portrayal of life, and love, as hunts. To Fielding, people are carried off by their emotions like hunters on horseback. Sophia joins the hunt out of love for her father, but she ends up falling into the arms of Tom Jones. She'll spend the next section of the novel hunting him down.
Tom is taken to Mr. Western's, where a physician tends him. Charmed by his gallantry (and perhaps by his physique), Sophia falls further in love with him. Tom, as he holds her in his arms, finds that he's madly in love with her as well.
Sophia's maid, Mrs. Honour, tells her that a few days earlier she had found Tom kissing a muff (a hand warmer) of Sophia's. Tom rhapsodized about Sophia, giving Mrs. Honour money to keep his love secret. (Mrs. Honour pockets the money but seems notably unbribed.) As Mrs. Honour tells Sophia this, Sophia blushes and loves Tom even more.
Tom Jones recuperates at Squire Western's, where Allworthy gives him a sermon, and Thwackum and Square lecture him. Squire Western serenades him with his hunting horn, and barges in to visit, not caring whether Tom is awake or asleep. The most welcome visitor is Sophia, who plays the harpsichord for him. From her attentiveness, Tom suspects that she loves him as he does her.
Yet Tom's suspicion that Sophia shares his romantic feelings leaves him uneasy- because he knows there's little future in such a relationship. Squire Western likes Tom- so much he even offers him a horse. But he would never let his daughter marry a man who wasn't an aristocrat, who didn't have money. Squire Western wants to increase his estate by marrying Sophia to a wealthy heir. Tom knows that Squire Allworthy wouldn't approve of such an unequal match, either. He doesn't want to do anything to injure his friend or his benefactor, so he tries to put Sophia out of his mind. He turns his thoughts back to Molly.
NOTE: It is difficult for us to fully understand how important and rigid the class system in England was in Fielding's day. But its influence was all-pervasive. Because marriage was often seen to be as much a business arrangement (the merging of two fortunes) as an affair of the heart, to marry below one's social class seemed self destructive. Such marriages were sure to be criticized- as was Fielding's second marriage to his late wife's maid.
As for Sophia, she now constantly wears the muff Tom had kissed. One evening, while she's playing the harpsichord, the muff falls over her fingers and ruins her playing. The irritable Squire Western flings it into the fire. Sophia jumps up and recovers the muff from the flames. Tom, understanding that she loves him, falls in love with her again.
Tom visits Molly, bringing her money and promises of more, in hopes this will satisfy his debt to her. Enraged, she cries that he had promised to marry her, and that she loves him. But just as she's exclaiming that she will forever hate the whole male sex, the closet curtain falls open to reveal Square, naked, ludicrously trying to hide among her dresses. Tom laughs, but promises not to reveal Square. He later finds that Molly has had another lover as well, and that he is just as likely as Tom to have fathered the child.
Tom now feels free to love Sophia. But he still knows that neither Squire Western nor Squire Allworthy would let him marry her. He falls into depression. Though his distress goes unnoticed by Squire Western, Sophia discerns it and even his reasons for it. The couple meet beside the same canal into which, years before, Tom fell while trying to rescue Sophia's bird. In a scene of comic confusion, they resolve not to speak of their love- and so speak of it.
While staying at Squire Western's, Tom receives a summons from home. He arrives to find Allworthy very ill. Allworthy reads his will, leaving most of the estate to Master Blifil, a generous annual stipend to Tom, and some money to the others.
Notice Fielding's contrast between Allworthy and Western. Both are widowers, squires, estate owners, and substitute fathers to Tom. Here again Fielding shows his taste for symmetry and balance. The two men also serve as different models for Tom. Western, like Tom, has unbridled emotions and drives. Animal-like and wild, he spends most of his time hunting. Allworthy (like Sophia) represents wisdom, a wisdom that Tom must acquire to achieve happiness. It is significant that in this part of the book Tom spends most of his time hunting with Western.
Square, Thwackum, and Mrs. Deborah stew with disappointment over their share of Allworthy's estate. Allworthy's attorney, Mr. Dowling, arrives. He brings the news that Mrs. Bridget, who was away on a trip, has died.
Unlike his sister, Allworthy recovers. On hearing of the good news about his guardian, Tom Jones celebrates by drinking and carousing. Blifil upbraids Tom, offended that he can celebrate while his mother has died. Tom apologizes, but Blifil, hurt, insults him about not even knowing who his parents are. They scuffle but are brought to a truce by Thwackum and Square.
NOTE: As the narrator intimates, this quarrel between Tom and Blifil will play an important role in the plot. Up to this point, Tom loved Blifil as a brother, and Blifil, if only out of duty, had restrained his dislike for Tom. Now their relationship worsens.
Furthermore, many readers have cited this scene as an example of Fielding's cleverness, because upon a second reading, it takes on entirely different meanings. Mark it and reread it after you've discovered who Tom's parents really are. Many other scenes also have other meanings when read a second time.
That evening Tom walks in the garden, dreaming of Sophia. Molly happens by, and she and Tom retreat into the grove. Fielding explains, "Jones probably thought one woman better than none, and Molly as probably imagined two men to be better than one."
The narrator says that many readers will dislike this passage, and many have. They find it hard to care about the romantic agony of a crossed lover, if he becomes distracted that easily. Others note that Jones believes he's permanently barred from Sophia and is merely taking what Molly offers. How do you feel?
Blifil and Thwackum spy Jones and a woman going into the bushes and try to find them. Jones comes up to them so that Molly can escape, and he fights them in as great "a Battle as can possibly be fought without the Assistance of Steel or Cold Iron." He's rescued by Squire Western, who's enraged by an uneven fight. Sophia comes by and finds her father, Tom, and Blifil, and Thwackum strewn about on the ground. She faints, and Tom carries her to a stream, where she revives. Squire Western embraces Tom with gratitude. "He called him the preserver of Sophia, and declared there was nothing, except her, or his estate, which he would not give him; but upon recollection, he afterwards excepted his fox-hounds, the Chevalier, and Miss Slouch (for so he called his favourite mare)."
Here Fielding further demonstrates his brilliant comic technique. When Western says he'd give Tom anything but Sophia or his estate, Fielding shows Western's class prejudices against Tom. But Fielding is amusing as well. He describes Western's gratitude slowly wearing off- as he puts his fox-hounds, his favorite stallion, and his favorite mare on his list as well.
NOTE: This scene with Tom and Molly will be echoed later on in the novel, in the section at Upton Inn. There Sophia will be furious with Tom's fall from virtue; here she seems patient. When Thwackum tells of Tom's going off with another woman, she merely claims faintness and asks to go home. Some readers feel that Sophia, like Allworthy, often seems too patient and good to be true. How do you feel?
Fielding opens Book VI with an essay about love.
The second chapter introduces Mrs. Western, Squire Western's sister, who frequently stays with him. She's spent many years in the city and finds her brother crude and a bit stupid. The joke Fielding plays is that although Mrs. Western is more perceptive than Squire Western, she isn't perceptive enough: in his blundering way he often understands more than she does. Throughout the novel they have many amusing dialogues, hurling insults at each other.
Mrs. Western, unlike her brother, perceives the symptoms of love in Sophia. She informs Western that Sophia is in love with Blifil.
NOTE: FIELDING'S "DOUBLE IRONY"
Cursing his daughter only the minute before for falling in love without his permission, Western blissfully dances in the hall. He commissions Mrs. Western to give his blessings to Sophia.
Squire Western invites Allworthy to dinner and announces Sophia's passion for Blifil. Allworthy says he'd be pleased with the match, if Blifil is interested. (This seems a minor detail to Western). Blifil, indifferent to Sophia but greedy for the Western estate (as his father was greedy for the Allworthy), indicates his pleasure. He tells Allworthy "that matrimony was a subject on which he had not yet thought; but that he was so sensible of his friendly and fatherly care, that he should in all things submit himself to his pleasure." This theme is repeated throughout the novel: marriage to please parents (which means making a good social and economic match), vs. marriage for love.
Here, Blifil and Tom Jones provide contrasting positions. Tom, lower class and without lineage, wants to marry for love, against both fathers' wishes. Blifil, having both lineage and money, marries for wealth (and supposedly to please his family). Fielding believes that if the families were truly concerned with their children's happiness, they would wish them to marry for love rather than for money.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Western tells Sophia that she and Squire Western approve of Sophia's romance with Blifil. Sophia cries out that she loves Tom Jones.
Mrs. Western flies into a rage- can Sophia really think of disgracing her family by marrying an illegitimate man? How would her father feel about such a marriage? Sophia begs her not to tell Western, and her aunt says she won't- but only if Sophia promises to go ahead with the engagement to Blifil. Sophia consoles herself with the hope that she might come to love Blifil. She promises but, once alone, weeps bitterly.
NOTE: FIELDING'S FRIENDS AND RELATIVES
Fielding inserts other friends and relatives into Tom Jones- for instance, his wife Charlotte (as Sophia), benefactors George Littleton and Ralph Allen (as Allworthy), and good friends artist William Hogarth and actor David Garrick. Mrs. Western may be based partly on Fielding's imposing cousin Lady Mary Montagu, who disapproved of both Richardson's and Fielding's novels, because they encouraged marrying for love. (She had made a match for money and was beset by impoverished relatives seeking favors.) Note the similar attitude in the unmarried Mrs. Western.
Sophia has her first courtship session with Blifil- a dismal, dreary, embarrassing hour. Afterward, she finds her father in a happy, affectionate mood, because of the marriage. Hoping to take advantage of his mood- and unaware of its cause- she cries out to him that she loathes Blifil. Marrying him would be torture. Western flies into a rage and swears "If you detest him ever so much, you shall have him." With many curses, he leaves her weeping on the floor.
NOTE: Fielding has amply demonstrated Western's love for his daughter. Thus Sophia wonders, "Can you be unmoved while you see your Sophy in this dreadful condition? Can the best of fathers break my heart?" Evidently, the class system- and greed- are strong indeed.
In the hall, Squire Western discovers Tom Jones. Unaware of Tom and Sophia's love, he sends Tom in to encourage Sophia to marry Blifil.
Tom and Sophia meet and profess their love. For Tom's sake, Sophia bids him "fly from me forever." Meanwhile, Mrs. Western, considering her pact with Sophia broken, tells Western about Sophia's love for Tom. Western, discharging "a round volley of oaths," becomes enraged and finding Tom with Sophia, flies at Tom. Parson Supple restrains him and advises Tom to leave. The narrator concludes the chapter with humorous observations about swearing.
Western informs Allworthy and Blifil about Tom and Sophia's love. Allworthy blames Western for inviting Tom to his house so much. Western blames Allworthy for even raising "the son of a whore." When Western leaves, Blifil tells Allworthy about the afternoon Allworthy's will was read- with a slight twist. When Allworthy was sickest, Blifil lies, Jones got drunk and set about carousing and singing. This twist makes Jones seem ungrateful and mean to Allworthy.
Blifil says that when he chided Tom about his behavior, Tom attacked him. Later he and Thwackum discovered Tom with a wench- and when they went up to him, Tom attacked them again. Allworthy calls Thwackum, who affirms the story. Allworthy then summons Tom. He gives him a 500 pound bank note and banishes him forever.
Most important about the banishment is the way it ties Tom's story to the story of the biblical Adam, in Genesis. Allworthy, as his name implies, is a God-like figure. The name of his home is Paradise Hall. Like Adam and Eve, Tom and Sophia must leave their rural garden paradise and go into the world. In the next book, Fielding underscores this theme by referring to John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost: "The world, as Milton phrases it, lay all before him; and Jones, no more than Adam, had any man to whom he might resort for comfort or assistance."
Tom leaves and sinks into grief and despair.
NOTE: Some readers cite the depiction of Tom's agony as an example of Fielding's limited talent or interest in portraying emotions. Leaving, Tom "fell into the most violent agonies, tearing his hair from his head, and using most other actions which generally accompany fits of madness, rage and despair." Fielding describes Tom's feelings in melodramatic cliches and doesn't explore them. Does this seem a limitation to you?
One critic writes that because the characters have no emotional complexity, their psychological development is extremely limited. To him, Fielding is more interested in types- the hero, the villain, the heroine- than in individuals. But another critic finds Fielding's characters (like Miss Bridget, for example) convincingly complicated and contends that Fielding simply leaves it to the reader to figure out how emotionally complex his characters are. Which do you find to be the case?
When he comes to, Tom can't find the bank note that Allworthy had given him to help him on his way. He runs across Black George and they search for the note. They can't find it- because Black George discovered it earlier and pocketed it. But George does deliver Tom's farewell letter to Sophia in which he vows, because of his love for her, not to meet her again. Sophia sends him all the money she has. George grudgingly brings Tom the relatively minor sum.
NOTE: When you consider all Tom has done for George, his theft seems remarkably selfish. In later works, Fielding set out to refute the views of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes that man is inherently self-centered. But in Tom Jones, many readers feel, almost everyone is selfish. Does the novel seem to you to support Hobbes' cynical view? Does the kindness shown by Allworthy, Sophia, and Tom prove the equal of the greed shown by the others?
The narrator quotes Shakespeare, among others, to introduce one of the major themes of Tom Jones- all the world's a stage, all the people merely players. This theme becomes increasingly important, especially in the third section of the novel.
With Book VII you begin the novel's second section, the six books that occur on the road. They serve as a kind of bridge between Tom's adventures in the country and in London.
NOTE: THE PICARESQUE
Books VII to XII represent the picaresque section of Tom Jones, and a shift in style from the sections that precede and follow it. Some readers feel this shift in style detracts from the unity of the novel. Others enjoy the way Fielding uses this section to present a panorama of England. Some note that in fact Tom's adventures are more highly structured than are the adventures in most picaresque novels. Characters tend to meet each other more than once, and their adventures tend to be balanced by the neoclassical formality seen earlier in the book.
After his banishment, Tom decides to go to sea. Because England in Fielding's day was a major maritime power, going to sea was a common option for men who had no other prospects, a way for them to escape sorrows and debts as well as to seek their fortunes.
Back at the Westerns', Mrs. Western rebukes Sophia for turning down Blifil, and Sophia gives her reason- "I hate him." According to Mrs. Western, Sophia has no right to any inclinations in the matter. She says she knows many couples who've married without liking each other. (The narrator humorously remarks he's met many couples like that himself.) It's clear that Fielding is opposed to Mrs. Western's cold view of marriage as an alliance between estates- like a treaty between nations- rather than the expression of love between two free hearts.
Squire Western bursts in to shout at Sophia, but soon he and Mrs. Western fall to arguing instead. Mrs. Western vows to leave the house; Sophia persuades her father to ask her aunt to stay. In a typically wry Fielding irony, Western and his sister make up by raging against Sophia.
Squire Western and Blifil press Allworthy, and the wedding is set for the next day. Mrs. Honour, Sophia's maid, tells Sophia and Sophia determines to run away, taking Mrs. Honour with her.
NOTE: Servants and maids are secondary characters in the novel and supposedly of minor importance in society. But notice how often they play major roles in the plot.
The only way for Mrs. Honour to get her dresses out of the house without being suspected of running away is by being fired, so she insults Mrs. Western and her maid, and is dismissed.
Tom has set out for Bristol, a nearby seaport. He winds up at an inn where he's invited to join a troop of soldiers.
NOTE: THE JACOBITE REBELLION
Tom joins the troop, and during the drinking after dinner the next day he proposes a toast to Sophia. Northerton, an ensign, jokingly insults Sophia, claiming "Tom French of our regiment had both her and her aunt at Bath." Tom curses him, and Northerton throws a bottle, hitting Tom on the forehead and knocking him out. The lieutenant in charge of the troop locks up Northerton and has Tom carried to bed. Recuperating quickly, Tom buys a sword. Later that evening, bloody and bandaged, he goes to find Northerton to avenge the insults to Sophia. The guard, seeing this bizarre apparition, faints. When Tom enters the room he finds that Northerton, having bribed the landlady, has escaped.
In Chapter I, the narrator theorizes about the marvellous (the supernatural) and coincidence. In writing, he claims to favor credibility and probability. Some readers point out that, in many instances, Fielding himself indulges in far-fetched coincidences (such as Tom's meeting with Partridge right here in Book VIII, for example). Why do you think Fielding employs coincidences in the novel?
Book VIII deals with Tom's friendship with Partridge and includes the tale of disillusionment told by a hermit, the Old Man of the Hill.
While Tom is recovering at the inn, he meets a barber, who attends to his wounds. The barber is an odd little man, comical and learned. He turns out to be Mr. Partridge, the schoolteacher who was supposedly Tom's father. Mr. Partridge assures Tom that he's not his father, and that he has no idea who Tom's father really is. Partridge takes a great liking to Tom and asks to accompany him on his travels. Friendship isn't Partridge's only motive: he hopes to reconcile Tom with Allworthy so that Allworthy, out of gratitude, will give him back his job. (Notice again how nearly everyone in Tom Jones has ulterior motives for his or her actions.) Tom and Partridge set out to catch up with the soldiers.
That evening the pair come to a great hill, and at its foot they find a cabin where they meet an old man. The Man of the Hill tells them a tale of disillusionment, because he's wasted his life gambling and drinking.
NOTE: DRINKING AND GIN
The old man's father had disowned him. The woman he'd loved left him as soon as his money was gone. Eventually his best friend betrayed him as well. After traveling the world, he'd retreated to the cabin, where he spends his days in contemplation.
NOTE: INTERPOLATED NARRATIVE
Some readers find the Man of the Hill irrelevant to the rest of Tom Jones and therefore a structural flaw. Others ascribe great importance to his tale, both in its similarity and its contrast to Tom's own. Both Tom and the Man of the Hill were young, bright, and rash, and both were banished from their homes. But Tom eventually marries the girl he loves and finds a home, whereas the Man of the Hill ultimately retired in disillusionment. Readers who like the story point out that Tom's remarks to the old man are Fielding's way of calling attention to Tom's natural wisdom. Tom argues against the Old Man's disillusionment and as you'll see, his own experiences seems to bear his argument out. Which do you think Fielding believes in more- the Man of the Hill's disillusionment or the optimism of Tom? Do you find the old man's story irrelevant or a clever narrative technique?
Fielding praises his own genius, and has some amusing, albeit nasty things to say about his fellow novelists. Many of these attacks refer to his rival Samuel Richardson, author of Pamela.
NOTE: FIELDING AND RICHARDSON
For example, Samuel Johnson, the eighteenth-century literary figure wrote: "There is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's, than in all of Tom Jones." On the other hand, the nineteenth century poet and critic, Samuel Coleridge, praises Fielding: "To take him up after reading Richardson is like emerging from a sickroom heated by stoves to an open lawn on a breezy day."
The differences between Fielding and Richardson are striking. Richardson came from the emerging lower and middle classes. He was not particularly well educated. Fielding was aristocratic and extremely well educated; he shows off this learning in his writing- sometimes, it seems, simply to best his rival. Richardson has a gift for moralism and melodrama, but can seem ponderous and humorless. Fielding sparkles and entertains, but to some lacks seriousness.
The next chapters deal with Tom's rescue of Mrs. Waters from Ensign Northerton, and his and Mrs. Waters' adventures at Upton Inn. While on a walk, Tom hears a cry and runs to find Ensign Northerton attacking a half-naked woman. He rescues the woman and ties up the soldier. When Tom goes for help, Northerton escapes. Tom takes the woman, Mrs. Waters, to Upton Inn. Along the way he steals glimpses at his attractive companion. She seems to admire him as well.
The landlady at the Inn, however, thinks the woman is Jones' prostitute. She and her husband attempt to throw Tom and Mrs. Waters out. They seem to be winning until Partridge comes to Tom's aid.
The battle is interrupted by the arrival of a coach. A lady and her maid leave the coach and are shown to their room. Jones and Mrs. Waters retire to the kitchen to clean up, while Partridge uses the pump outside. A group of soldiers arrive.
NOTE: FIELDING AND THE THEATER
A soldier recognizes Mrs. Waters as the wife of Captain Waters. The landlady apologizes to Mrs. Waters for her disrespect, and gives her a dress and a room. Tom retires to dine with Mrs. Waters in her room and is seduced by her in the process.
Downstairs the sergeant informs the company that Mrs. Waters has had affairs with many soldiers- most recently with Ensign Northerton.
Mrs. Waters was running away with Northerton, who was himself running away from the soldiers, when she told him of money and a diamond ring she'd brought with her. He tried to strangle her and escape with the money, but Tom rescued her.
Fielding further praises his own genius, with more sharp comments about critics. The next chapters deal with further adventures at Upton Inn, and with Sophia and Squire Western's visit there.
An Irishman, Mr. Fitzpatrick, arrives hunting for his wife. Based on the maid's description, he bursts in on Mrs. Waters and Tom. After much hullabaloo, he retires to sleep.
A young woman and her maid arrive on horses: Sophia and Mrs. Honour. That, of course, means they weren't the ladies who earlier arrived in a coach. They had reached the inn while trying to elude Squire Western and find Tom. Sophia hears that Tom Jones is at the inn and that he's in bed with Mrs. Waters. Crushed, she leaves her muff on Tom's bed; she also leaves a piece of paper with her name written on it. She weeps, and resolves to stop thinking of Jones completely. Heartbroken, she sets out toward London.
Jones, returning to his room, finds the muff and the paper with Sophia's name. He becomes very upset.
Meanwhile, Squire Western, hunting down Sophia, arrives with servants, and finds Tom. Enraged, he sets up "the same holla as is used by sportsmen... and... laid hold of Jones, crying, 'We have got the dog fox, I warrant the bitch is not far off.'"
Fitzpatrick tells Western that Jones spent the night with a woman. Thinking the woman must be Sophia, they burst in on Mrs. Waters just as Mr. Fitzpatrick did. The farce is that Mrs. Waters is found in bed by everyone but her husband.
Amid a volley of curses, Western leaves, hot on Sophia's trail. Fitzpatrick hears of the other lady staying at the inn (the lady who arrived in a coach) and decides that it's his wife, who has run away from him. By the time he reaches her room, however, she's escaped on horseback. He pursues her toward Bath and is joined by Mrs. Waters, who's going the same way. They get along famously.
Tom, heartbroken, sets out with Partridge to find Sophia.
NOTE: METAPHOR OF HUNTING
Fielding uses the hunting metaphor to show people fleeing their enemies, pursuing their desires, and being carried off by their passions like fox hunters riding runaway horses. Pursuit can be as subtle as Mrs. Waters' seduction of Tom, or as blatant as Squire Western's hunt for Sophia. The prey can also be the hunter, as with Sophia, who's fleeing her father and pursuing Tom, or with Mrs. Waters, who's saved from a predator (Northerton) but pursues her rescuer (Tom). The hunt can suddenly reverse: at Upton Inn, the mid-point of the novel, Sophia's pursuit of Tom shifts to Tom's pursuit of Sophia. A hunter like Western pursues one prey (Sophia) only to be distracted by another (Tom). The hunt thus becomes a metaphor for human relationships.
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© Copyright 1986 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.