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MonkeyNotes-Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
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PLOT (Structure)

The ‘History of Tom Jones, A Foundling’ was enthusiastically received by the general public, if not by Richardson, Dr. Johnson and other literary figures. The introductory chapters that preface each of the novel's 18 books cultivate the reader in a way that was then unprecedented in English fiction and the tangled comedies of coincidence are offset by the neat, architectonic structure of the story.

The kindly, prosperous Mr Allworthy finds a baby boy on his bed and adopts the mysterious child, naming it Tom Jones. Tom begins a life of bawdy adventure. Allworthy suspects that Jenny Jones, a maid-servant to the wife of the schoolmaster Partridge, is the mother, but Jenny leaves with Partridge the neighbourhood. Allworthy's sister Bridget marries Captain Blifil and their mean-spirited son and Blifil are raised together. A devilish, good-looking young man, Tom has a way with women, but loves only one; young Sophia Western, the daughter of a neighboring landowner. A rivalry over the attention of Sophia Western arises between Jones and Blifil. Because of an affair with the gamekeeper's daughter Molly Seagrim, and because of Blifil's treachery, Tom is expelled from the house. Tom's attempts to woo Sophia and the many adventures that befall him from forest sword fights to bedroom romps all lead in one direction: to London. He has an affair with Lady Bellaston, nearly kills his opponent in a duel, and is imprisoned. The duel with a jealous husband lands him in prison waiting to be hanged.

Meanwhile, Sophia is in London to escape the marriage with Blifil. Jenny Jones reveals that Bridget is the mother of Tom, and Blifil's cruelties to Tom over the years are revealed. While Blifil is severely reprimanded, Tom marries Sophia, who forgives him for his infidelities. Tom also reunites with Squire Allworthy and becomes his heir.


A reader might wonder whether there is unity in a novel in which so much keeps happening and at such a fast pace. But, a glance at the disposition of the separate books of the novel will show the contribution of each to the overall action. The spreading complications, with their multiple intricate knottings, until their final unraveling exhibit an underlying unity. One of the unifying factors is the pursuit motif. Tom is turned out of doors, and Sophia follows him; she catches up with him in the inn at Upton, and then the pursuit reverses its character. From Upton it is Tom who pursues Sophia; meanwhile, Squire Western has set out in pursuit of his daughter; and finally Squire Allworthy and Blifil must go to London in pursuit of the Westerns. The scenes at Upton occur at the center of the story, and it is here that we again pick up Partridge and Jenny Jones, Tom's reputed father and mother. Both of them had been implicated in the initial circumstances of the action and both of them are necessary for the final complications and the reversal. It is at Upton also that the set of London characters first begin to appear, with Mrs. Fitzpatrick and her husband as its representatives. From the central scenes at Upton Inn, the novel pivots around itself. There have been six books of country life, in the center are six books of life on the highways, and the final six books are concerned with life in London. It is at Upton Inn, in the mathematical mid point of the story, that country and city come together. The initial pursuit motif, beginning at the end of book Six, finishes its arabesque at the end of book 12, again with nice mathematical balance, when Tom reaches London and is enabled to meet Sophia. Now it will be Blifil who is in pursuit of Sophia, so that eventually everyone will wind up in London for the denouement. The pursuit motif is, then, not only a provision for comic situation, but, as the immediate dynamics of action, is integral to the plot development.

Fielding was a writer for the theater before he was a novelist, and one of the strongest impressions that the reader gets from 'Tom Jones' is that of dramatic handling of scene and act: the sharp silhouetting of characters and their grouping in such a manner as to avoid any confusions, even in so populous a drama.

Tom Jones (1749) is rightly regarded as Fielding's greatest work, and one of the first and most influential of English novels. At the center of one of the most ingenious plots in English fiction stands a hero whose actions were, in 1749, as shocking as they are funny today.

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