HENRY FIELDING: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
The outspoken eighteenth-century man of letters, Samuel
Johnson, wrote to a woman who had read the novel Tom Jones:
I am shocked to hear you quote from so vicious a book. I am
sorry to hear you have read it: a confession which no modest
lady should ever make. I scarcely know a more corrupt work.
That's an unusual judgment about a landmark book in the
history of world literature, but it's a sample of the kind of
passionate response--both favorable and unfavorable--Tom Jones
has inspired since it was published. Its author, Henry
Fielding, was born on April 22, 1707, in Somerset, in southwest
England, the area where his hero is born and raised. Unlike
Tom, Fielding had no doubts about his aristocratic lineage. His
father was a lieutenant general who had fought against the
forces of the great French king, Louis XIV. His mother was the
granddaughter of Sir Henry Gold, a baron of the exchequer.
But if the Fieldings' social position was secure, their
financial situation was shaky. Like most aristocrats, the young
Fielding grew to have expensive tastes. Unlike many, he had no
way of affording them. For much of his life, he would be like
Tom Jones, frequently standing in some lavish drawing room
talking to nobility, while wondering how he would pay his own
rent. First educated by tutors, he was then sent to Eton, the
finest English boarding school. But where other young men of
his background and intelligence would have continued on to
Cambridge or Oxford University, he didn't, probably because his
family could not afford the tuition. Later, he broke off his
legal studies at the University of Leyden, in Holland, for the
same reason. He made the most of the education he did receive,
though, picking up the dazzling familiarity with classical
authors that he displays so artfully in his writing.
In 1734 Fielding eloped with Charlotte Cradock. The model
for Sophia in Tom Jones, Charlotte was his great love--the one,
he declared, "from whom I draw all the solid comfort of my
life." Like Sophia, she was both beautiful and an heiress. The
newlyweds settled happily in rural Dorsetshire, but within a
year they were back in London, having run through most of
Meanwhile, Fielding had taken up writing plays. According to
the great twentieth-century playwright George Bernard Shaw,
Fielding was "the greatest dramatist, with the single exception
of Shakespeare, produced by England between the Middle Ages and
the nineteenth century." Most critics, however, don't find his
plays so praiseworthy. Mostly light and satirical, some
obviously dashed off to make money, they served best to train
Fielding's comic and dramatic gifts--gifts that reached their
height in Tom Jones.
Fielding's career in the theater ended suddenly. In 1737,
England's prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, a frequent target
of the playwright's satires, passed a law that effectively
barred Fielding from writing for the stage. His livelihood
destroyed, the struggling husband and father was forced to
resume the legal career he'd abandoned earlier. But he
continued to write, and soon he found a new target for his
That target was one of the first English novels ever written,
Samuel Richardson's Pamela, published in 1740. Pamela tells the
story of a maid who fends off her master's romantic advances so
he'll propose marriage instead. It was an enormous success, and
not just for literary reasons. Education, once an exclusive
privilege of the rich, was spreading to the middle and lower
classes. Shop-girls, bargemen, and carriage drivers were
learning to read. They weren't interested in the literature
taught to the aristocracy: Latin poems, Greek philosophies, or
stories about kings and emperors. They wanted heroes and
heroines they could identify with--heroines like Pamela.
Fielding understood the reasons for the popularity of Pamela,
but he still found the book and its author foolish and
sentimental, and viewed their success with amusement and
exasperation. He attacked Pamela twice. His first effort was a
hilarious satire, Shamela, published in 1741. (It's not known
for certain that Fielding was Shamela's author, but he is the
prime suspect.) Two years later, he published the tale of
Pamela's virtuous brother, Joseph Andrews.
A funny thing happened, however, while Fielding was writing
Joseph Andrews. The book, which he began as a satire, took on a
life of its own. In the end it became not just an attack on
Richardson but a great work in its own right. Fielding became,
with his rival, one of the pioneers of the novel. Joseph
Andrews was also Fielding's practice ground for an even greater
work, his rich and massive masterpiece, Tom Jones.
Tom Jones was written in the most difficult circumstances.
Unable to support his family solely by writing, Fielding had to
juggle both a literary and a legal career. He did it honorably;
eventually appointed justice of the peace, he shunned the bribes
and privileges that usually accompanied the office. Though an
aristocrat, he worked with tireless devotion to help London's
poor. He presided over a busy police court and founded a
forerunner of Scotland Yard (the London police force). With a
friend, the artist William Hogarth, he fought the rampant
alcoholism which the recent introduction of gin had brought to
England. Meanwhile, his personal life was in turmoil. In 1744
his beloved wife, Charlotte, and a daughter both died, plunging
him into depression. He also developed painful gout. Yet
throughout these trials, he kept writing.
Tom Jones was published in 1749, and it was an immediate,
enormous success. The entire first edition of 2000 copies was
sold out before the date of publication. Some readers disliked
it as much as Samuel Johnson did later; they called it "truly
profligate" and "offensive to every chaste reader." But that
didn't discourage sales. Three more editions sold out in the
There are a number of reasons for Tom Jones' success, and for
the fact that it is still so widely read today. Fielding was a
master of storytelling. The nineteenth-century poet and critic
Samuel Coleridge called Tom Jones "one of the most perfect plots
ever planned." Fielding keeps numerous plots and subplots going
at once, and makes them collide in fascinating ways. His
experience in the theater helped him give the novel a dramatic
structure, full of sharp, lively scenes. Fielding's comic gifts
provide his readers with brilliant satire as well. And he makes
ample use of his broad classical education, elevating the novel
to what he called a "comic epic-poem in prose."
Although some readers have criticized Fielding's work for not
presenting an intimate portrayal of emotion and mood, Fielding
provides this sense of intimacy in his own way. The narrator in
Tom Jones is one of the friendliest, most personable companions
in literature. He's someone you'd love to have dinner with. He
amuses you with his wit, dazzles you with his intelligence,
warms you with his hospitality. After you've read his great
novel, you feel as though you've been on a carriage ride with
one of the best traveling companions you could find.
In short, in Tom Jones, Fielding wrote a book that is
important both as a great novel in its own right and as one of
the works that established the novel form. As the critic Martin
Tom Jones is at once the last and the consummate literary
achievement of Fielding's age.... The place Henry Fielding's
finest novel holds in "the great tradition" of English fiction
is quite secure. Not just as the mirror of... an age or as
the... influence behind such different writers as Jane Austen
and Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot... but as a work of art
in its own right. Tom Jones has been the subject of more
stimulating critical attention than any other novel of its
Fielding's years of exhausting legal and literary work took
their toll. Though, according to his cousin, Lady Montagu, he
"knew more happy moments than any prince on earth," he struggled
against depression and exhaustion. He never really recovered
from the loss of his wife, though he married Charlotte's maid
several years after Charlotte's death. His health damaged, he
left with his family for the more congenial climate of Portugal.
He died in Lisbon on October 8, 1754.
Fielding was an aristocrat and a gentleman, widely praised
for his wit, charm, and generosity. One of his greatest gifts
to the world was his writing. It is a gift you will find richly
displayed in his greatest work, his masterpiece, Tom Jones.
TOM JONES: THE PLOT
Returning to his country estate from a long trip, Squire
Allworthy discovers a baby in his bed. He eventually finds the
mother, Jenny Jones, the unmarried servant of a schoolteacher
named Partridge. Allworthy generously offers to raise the child
as his own. Jenny gratefully accepts the offer and leaves town
without revealing the father's name. Suspicions turn to Jenny's
master, Partridge. Allworthy sadly dismisses him from his post,
and Partridge leaves town also. Allworthy gives the baby the
name Tom Jones and loves him dearly.
Soon after, Mrs. Bridget (Allworthy's sister who lives with
him) marries the greedy Captain Blifil. They have a baby boy
who is raised together with Tom Jones. As he grows up, Master
Blifil becomes very jealous of Tom. Blifil plays up to his
tutors, Thwackum and Square, and plots to bring about Tom's
Meanwhile, Sophia Western, the lovely daughter of the
neighboring squire, falls in love with Tom. Tom likes her but
doesn't notice Sophia's adoration. He's become involved with
the gamekeeper's daughter, Molly Seagrim. She becomes pregnant
and is humiliated by the townspeople. Tom confesses to Squire
Allworthy that he's the father, but when he goes to Molly to
bring her some money, he finds her in bed with the philosopher
Mr. Square. She has had other lovers all along. Tom feels
free to think of the other woman he's gradually fallen in love
with: Sophia Western.
But Squire Western, Sophia's father, won't allow her to marry
a foundling like Tom. He wants her to marry Blifil and so unite
the Allworthy and Western estates. Blifil wants to marry her as
well, to gain her wealth and to get revenge on Tom Jones. When
Western discovers Sophia's love for Tom, he locks her up until
she agrees to marry Blifil.
Squire Allworthy becomes very ill. He recovers but receives
the news that Mrs. Bridget, who was away on a trip, has died.
To celebrate Allworthy's recovery, Tom gets drunk. Later Blifil
lies to Allworthy that Jones got drunk because he thought
Allworthy was about to die and was celebrating his impending
inheritance. Thwackum and Square corroborate the story.
Allworthy, who is fed up with Tom's offenses, banishes him from
Miserably, Tom heads toward the sea. Meanwhile, Sophia
escapes her father's imprisonment and sets out to find Tom.
Western, an enthusiastic hunter, climbs on his horse and sets
off to track his daughter down.
At an inn, Tom is attacked by a surly soldier named
Northerton. The man who bandages Tom's wounds turns out to be
Partridge--Tom's supposed father. But Partridge informs Tom
that Tom isn't his son. The pair become friends and traveling
companions. Walking along, Tom finds Northerton attacking a
woman named Mrs. Waters. He rescues the attractive lady and
takes her to Upton Inn.
Mrs. Waters seduces Tom over dinner. Sophia arrives at the
inn and finds that Tom's in bed with another woman. Enraged,
she leaves her handwarmer on his bed, with her name, and makes
her way toward London. Western, too, arrives and finds Tom but
not Sophia. Cursing, he begins the pursuit of Sophia but
becomes distracted by a fox hunt and eventually returns home.
On the road, Sophia meets her cousin, Mrs. Fitzpatrick,
who's fleeing her hot-tempered Irish husband. They go to London
together. Meanwhile, Tom discovers Sophia's handwarmer on his
bed and falls into despair. He sets off on foot toward London
In London, Sophia stays with Lady Bellaston, a society lady.
Lady Bellaston hears about Tom Jones and is so intrigued she
contrives to meet him on her own. Tom, hoping the lady can lead
him to Sophia, has an affair with her.
One evening, while he's alone in Lady Bellaston's drawing
room, Sophia walks in. He asks her forgiveness for what
happened at Upton Inn and proclaims his love for her. She
forgives him, and they embrace. But she tells him that her
father's displeasure prevents her from marrying him.
Later, the enraged Lady Bellaston accuses Tom of carrying on
with Sophia behind her back. At the same time, a friend of Lady
Bellaston, Lord Fellamar, has fallen in love with Sophia. To
remove her rival, Lady Bellaston arranges for Fellamar to abduct
and marry Sophia.
Tom tries to figure out a way to break off his affair with
Lady Bellaston. Nightingale, a young gentleman who has become
Tom's friend, surprisingly suggests that Tom propose marriage to
her. He does, and Lady Bellaston, believing Tom's just trying
to get her money, angrily refuses him.
Meanwhile, Squire Western, hearing that Sophia's in London,
goes there with Mrs. Western. He finds Sophia just as she's
about to be raped by Fellamar. He takes her to his lodgings for
Allworthy and Blifil, following the others, arrive in
Tom goes to Mrs. Fitzpatrick to figure out how to reach
Sophia. As he's leaving, he runs into Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Jealously believing that Tom is his wife's lover, Fitzpatrick
draws his sword. Tom thereupon wounds Fitzpatrick and is taken
to prison. Mrs. Waters, who is now traveling with Mr.
Fitzpatrick, visits Tom in prison and tells him that
Fitzpatrick's wound was slight. Tom now receives a letter from
Sophia, who has discovered his affair with Lady Bellaston,
saying she never wants to see him again. And Partridge,
recognizing Mrs. Waters as Jenny Jones, tells Tom that he slept
with his own mother.
Meanwhile, Tom's landlady, Mrs. Miller, who is a friend of
Squire Allworthy, tells Allworthy of Tom's great generosity and
kindness toward her. Allworthy doesn't even want to hear Tom's
name. But Allworthy is visited by Mrs. Waters (Jenny Jones),
who informs him that Tom Jones is the son of Mrs. Bridget
(Allworthy's sister), and so is also Allworthy's nephew and
Blifil's half-brother. Allworthy then hears that his sister
wrote him a letter revealing that she was Tom's mother, but that
the letter had been kept from him by Blifil. He receives a
letter from the dying Square, saying that Tom dearly loved
Allworthy. Convinced of Blifil's villainy, Allworthy banishes
him. Allworthy and Tom have a tender reunion.
Western, finding that Tom is the Allworthy heir, becomes
enthusiastic about Tom's marrying Sophia. But Sophia, though
she loves Tom, is still angry. Tom vows his devotion. Sophia,
pretending to obey only her father's wishes, but actually
obeying her own heart, accepts him. They marry and return
happily to the country, where Western gives them his estate.
TOM JONES: THE NARRATOR
Many readers find the narrator the most interesting character in
Tom Jones. (Some readers identify the narrator with Fielding.)
In the first chapter, the narrator compares the novel to a feast
and the opening chapters of each book to a menu. The narrator
himself is like a very affable host who has invited you to
dinner. Genial, intelligent, witty, he's wonderfully well
educated (especially in the classics) but never stuffy. Whether
criticizing critics and other novelists, or calling for your
sympathy in helping him with the impossible task of his
narrative, he constantly amuses and charms. In Tom Jones, you
feel as if you have had a personal chat with the narrator just
by reading his novel.
TOM JONES: TOM JONES
Tom Jones is the foundling taken in and raised by the wealthy
Squire Allworthy. You later learn that he is Mrs. Bridget's
son--and thus Allworthy's nephew, Master Blifil's older
half-brother, and the heir to the Allworthy estate.
Tom Jones is both unheroic and heroic. "Even at his first
appearance, it was the universal opinion of all Mr. Allworthy's
family, that he was born to be hanged," says the narrator. When
you meet him again at age fourteen, "he has been already
convicted of three robberies, viz. of robbing an orchard, of
stealing a duck out of farmer's yard, and of picking Master
Blifil's pocket of a ball.... Tom Jones was universally
But Tom's thefts, and Tom himself, have another side as well.
Tom robbed the orchard and stole the duck to help the
impoverished gamekeeper, Black George. Tom is often
astoundingly generous, underlining Fielding's belief in charity
as one of the central Christian virtues. At the novel's end,
even Allworthy, an ideal of charity, is amazed by Tom's
generosity toward the criminal Black George.
Further, unlike Master Blifil, Tom seeks no publicity for his
virtues. He gives Mrs. Miller money for her relatives
privately, and he's embarrassed by her praise. Nor, unlike so
many of the other characters, does Tom have any desire for
revenge. He doesn't seek vengeance on Blifil or Black George,
even though they've betrayed him.
In these ways, Tom resembles his surrogate father, Squire
Allworthy. But Tom is also impulsive like Squire Western, his
other surrogate father. He has the Squire's hot temper: when
called "a beggarly bastard" by Blifil, he bloodies Blifil's
nose. He has unbridled animal drives, seldom putting much
restraint on his sexual urges. Even as he's feeling pure,
elevated love for Sophia Western, he indulges in an affair with
Tom Jones is a bildungsroman, a novel about growing up; the
novel traces Tom's acquisition of knowledge of the world. Tom
slowly comes to temper his impulsiveness with wisdom. When,
because of his love for Sophia, he turns down the romantic
proposals of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, he demonstrates his maturity.
Having acquired wisdom, he almost magically regains Allworthy's
love and marries Sophia.
Readers vary greatly in their estimation of Tom. Some see him
as a virile, high-spirited young man whose character flaws are
minor because they never conceal his noble heart. Others are
repulsed by such a flawed hero and find unpalatable a novel that
evidently celebrates him.
Readers also vary in their estimation of Tom as a literary
character. Some feel he's realistically portrayed--a character
with the mix of strengths and flaws all people possess. Others
think that compared to heroes of other great novels, Tom lacks
depth. To them, Tom seems portrayed in a kind of shorthand.
Fielding doesn't often explore Tom's emotions here, he just
describes them in general terms, as if he didn't take them
seriously or wasn't especially interested in them. According to
one critic, Tom and the other characters have no emotional
complexity, and their psychological development seems extremely
limited. See if you feel this limitation as you read.
Other readers don't find this lack of complexity a defect,
because they see Tom as an allegorical figure--more an abstract
symbol than a realistic character. According to one writer,
"Tom Jones is that universal hero of folk tale and myth--the
foundling prince, the king's son raised by wolves, Moses in the
bullrushes...." Another writes: The story of Tom Jones's
disgrace and redemption, of his arduous journey toward
reconciliation with his foster father and marriage with the
woman he loves, takes on a broadly allegorical dimension; it is
the story of our deep need to live our lives with Wisdom.
As you can see, Tom Jones has been interpreted in many ways.
It is up to you to determine who the real Tom is. Your
evaluation of the book will rest to a considerable degree on
your interpretation of the title character.
TOM JONES: SQUIRE ALLWORTHY
A wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy finds Tom Jones and
raises him as his own son. Generous and kind, Squire Allworthy
often represents an idealized image of fatherhood. A kindly
man, he can also seem stern and even rather arbitrary. ("Though
Mr. Allworthy had the utmost sweetness and benevolence in his
smiles, he had great terror in his frowns.") As his name
implies, he serves as a God-like image, resembling for some
readers the God of the Old Testament.
He contrasts with the rash Squire Western in his moderation,
urbanity, and wisdom. He also contrasts with the sophisticated
but cynical Mrs. Western and Lady Bellaston in his warmth and
kindness. Yet for a God-like figure, he seems to some readers
very unaware or blind. For example, he doesn't understand
Blifil's motives for marrying Sophia--he even believes Blifil
has a passionate, erotic desire for her. Some critics feel this
blindness is merely a device to serve the plot, while others
feel he thus becomes a more complex character.
TOM JONES: MASTER BLIFIL
Mrs. Bridget's son and Squire Allworthy's nephew, Master
Blifil is raised with Tom Jones in the Allworthy household and
is the villain of the novel. Prissy and pompous, he seems to
act mainly out of selfishness, greed, and jealousy. He plays up
to his pious mentors, Thwackum and Square, then enlists them in
his plots. He wants to marry Sophia not out of love but out of
a desire for the Western estate. He hides the letter from his
mother to Squire Allworthy that reveals Tom is really her son
and thus Allworthy's nephew and heir. He also lies that Tom was
overjoyed when Allworthy seemed about to die--a lie that causes
Allworthy to banish Tom for a time.
Blifil is indeed villainous. But Blifil's nasty cleverness
makes him his own worst enemy. At the novel's conclusion, his
treachery is discovered and he--not Tom Jones--is the one
banished from the Allworthy estate.
TOM JONES: SQUIRE WESTERN
Squire Western is Sophia's father and one of the most
delightful characters in Tom Jones. A bundle of unbridled
instincts who spends much of his time hunting, Western sometimes
functions as another father figure for Tom, who shares his
vitality and lack of restraint.
The squire is crude and boorish, with a violent temper and
almost as violent an affection for his friends, relations, and
animals. He loves his daughter so much that he comes to prefer
her to his hunting dogs--high praise from him. He likes Tom as
well. Despite his affections, greed prevents him from letting
the couple marry. Instead, he insists Sophia marry Blifil for
money. Not until Tom is declared Squire Allworthy's true heir
does he agree to Sophia's marrying his young friend.
TOM JONES: SOPHIA WESTERN
Sophia is Squire Western's daughter, Tom Jones' true love,
and the heroine of Tom Jones. She is lovely, kind, and bright,
without the biting wit or cynicism of so many others in the
novel. The noted twentieth-century novelist Somerset Maugham
said Sophia is "...as delightful a young woman as has ever
enchanted a reader of fiction. She is simple, but not silly;
virtuous, but no prude; she has character, determination and
courage; she has a loving heart." The character of Sophia was
based on Fielding's first wife, Charlotte Cradock, whom he loved
dearly. Sophia's name means wisdom, and in the novel she
functions as an emblem of wisdom. Perhaps because of this, some
readers find her too idealized.
TOM JONES: MRS. BRIDGET (ALLWORTHY) BLIFIL
Squire Allworthy's sister and the mother of Master Blifil,
she's pompous and sanctimonious, and she despises both her
husband, Captain Blifil, and their son. She does, however, bear
a surprising affection for the young Tom Jones. That affection
is explained at the end of the book when, years after her death,
she is revealed as Tom's mother, having conceived him during an
affair with a young visitor to the Allworthy estate, Mr.
TOM JONES: CAPTAIN BLIFIL
The Captain is Master Blifil's father and Bridget Allworthy's
husband. He's introduced into the Allworthy household by his
greedy brother, Dr. Blifil, who hopes the Captain can win
Bridget's hand and thus be in line to inherit Allworthy's
estate. Captain Blifil does marry Bridget, but he has no
intention of sharing his luck with his brother. He causes Dr.
Blifil to die of sorrow at losing a fortune. Ironically,
Captain Blifil himself dies before he can inherit anything.
TOM JONES: MR. THWACKUM
Thwackum is a pompous tutor who is fond of Blifil but
despises Jones, being one of the many who believe Tom was "born
to be hanged." As his name implies, he is fond of dispensing
punishment. He has many tedious philosophical discussions with
his rival, Mr. Square, and is also an unsuccessful suitor to
TOM JONES: MR. SQUARE
A resident guest at the Allworthy estate, Square is Mr.
Thwackum's companion and rival. He, too, dislikes Jones and
fawns over Blifil, and he helps Blifil to have Jones banished.
He turns out to be a lover of Molly Seagrim, and an unsuccessful
suitor of Mrs. Bridget Blifil. Near the end of the novel, on
his deathbed, he writes a letter to Allworthy, which helps Tom
Jones regain the Squire's love.
TOM JONES: MRS. WESTERN
Mrs. Western is Sophia's aunt and Squire Western's sister--a
sophisticated lady (though not as sophisticated as she likes to
think) who despises her brother's country boorishness. On the
subject of Sophia's marriage, however, she and Squire Western
agree. Having taken the responsibility for Sophia's education,
she expects her niece to marry a wealthy aristocrat. She too
pushes Sophia to marry Blifil.
TOM JONES: JENNY JONES--MRS. WATERS
The supposed mother of Tom Jones, Jenny Jones was hired by
Mrs. Bridget Blifil to assume motherhood and bring the
foundling to Squire Allworthy's bed. She's then sent away by
Allworthy for her supposed infidelity with Partridge. Years
later, she turns up as Mrs. Waters, the bawdy wife of an army
captain. Rescued from the brutal Ensign Northerton by Tom
Jones, she shows her gratitude by seducing her rescuer. (As a
result, Tom will briefly fear he's slept with his own mother.)
At the end of the book, she reveals Tom's true parentage to
TOM JONES: BLACK GEORGE (SEAGRIM)
He's the impoverished gamekeeper of Squire Allworthy and,
later, of Squire Western. Tom Jones takes the blame for his
crimes, and helps him financially. Black George ungratefully
repays him by stealing the bank note Allworthy gave Tom on
banishing him. Black George offers to help Tom at the end of
the book, though, proving he has some loyalty.
TOM JONES: MOLLY SEAGRIM
Molly is Black George's wild daughter. She's also Tom Jones'
first lover. Tom believes, wrongly, that he is the father of
her child, then discovers that she has other lovers, including
TOM JONES: PARTRIDGE (LITTLE BENJAMIN)
Partridge is the schoolteacher wrongly thought to be Jenny
Jones' lover and Tom Jones' father. When his jealous wife dies,
he takes to the road. Years later, he runs into the banished
Tom and accompanies him, partly out of friendship and partly out
of hopes of regaining Allworthy's favor by reconciling the
Squire with Tom. Partridge is a nervous, amusing fellow, a
scholarly stand-up comic who gives his punch lines in Latin.
Faithful if sometimes bothersome, he's been compared to another
famous traveling companion of literature, Sancho Panza of the
great early-seventeenth-century Spanish novel, Don Quixote, by
Miguel de Cervantes.
TOM JONES: MRS. (HARRIET) FITZPATRICK
She flees with her cousin Sophia to London. She claims to be
fleeing her cruel Irish husband, Mr. Fitzpatrick, but she's
also running away for a romantic engagement with an Irish
nobleman. Her selfishness (she betrays Sophia to gain favor
with Western) contrasts with Sophia's nobility.
TOM JONES: MR. FITZPATRICK
Mrs. Fitzpatrick's husband, he has a violent temper and is
chasing his wife. He wrongly suspects Tom of having an affair
with his wife and challenges him to a duel, which results in
Tom's being thrown in prison.
TOM JONES: LADY BELLASTON
A wealthy, sophisticated, and utterly selfish friend of Mrs.
Western, she gives Sophia a place to stay in London. After
hearing Sophia talk about Tom Jones, she develops an infatuation
for him, and, using Sophia as a lure, she begins an affair with
him. Generous at times--she provides Tom with money and
clothes--she's vicious when angry. When Tom breaks off their
affair, she does her best to ruin his chances with Sophia.
TOM JONES: MRS. MILLER
The warm, simple woman who runs the London lodging house
where Tom stays, she's a friend of Squire Allworthy and a
recipient of his generosity. By singing Tom's praises to
Allworthy, she helps him regain Allworthy's favor.
TOM JONES: NIGHTINGALE
A boarder at Mrs. Miller's and a friend of Tom when he gets
to London, he is the lover and eventual husband of Mrs.
Miller's daughter Nancy. As his name suggests, he is something
of a frivolous social creature, but he proves to be a good and
loyal friend to Tom.
TOM JONES: SETTING
Tom Jones has three basic settings, which provide the
background to the three major sections of the novel: The
Country (Somersetshire), The Road, and London. They allow
Fielding an opportunity to present a panorama of England, and
provide a neat scheme for organizing the novel as a whole.
THE COUNTRY The Country section of Tom Jones is set in
Somersetshire, in Western England, south of the Bristol Channel.
This is where Fielding himself grew up, and he conveys his
obvious affection for the area, portraying it as a rural
paradise. The very name of the mansion on the vast Allworthy
estate is Paradise Hall. The other primary setting is the
neighboring Western estate, which is similarly wealthy, and
serves Squire Western mostly as a kind of hunting lodge.
THE ROAD The middle section of Tom Jones takes place along
the roads and within the roadside inns between Somersetshire and
Upton (at the very upper tip of the Bristol Channel) and between
Upton and London. The roads are often dangerous, full of
hostile soldiers and occasional bandits. The inns are, in a
sense, homes away from home that provide hospitality, warmth,
and rest--but for a price. They're loud, boisterous, sometimes
friendly, sometimes hostile places, which vary a great deal
according to the whim of the innkeeper and the condition of the
traveler's pocketbook. The most important of them is Upton Inn,
which serves much like the setting of a French farce, with one
person coming in the front door as another is leaving by the
LONDON The London of Tom Jones is, for the most part,
high-society London. You see little of the poverty, filth, and
squalor which Charles Dickens would later portray in his novels.
You see exquisite drawing rooms, theaters, and costume balls.
Heightening the theatrical theme of the novel, this is the kind
of setting found in a drawing room stage comedy.
TOM JONES: STYLE
The style of Tom Jones is one of its greatest pleasures.
Witty and ironic, Fielding is the master of the epigram--the
brief, clever, pointed remark. Marriages, he says, provide two
kinds of pleasures, that of pleasing someone you love, and that
of tormenting someone you hate. He employs a vast range of
classical allusions. For example, he compares the porters of
high-society houses to Cerberus, the dog that guards the gates
of hell in Greek mythology. Some of this cleverness is intended
to show up the often tedious style of his rival novelist, Samuel
Richardson. Some is just his way of showing off--but with such
flair that you indulge him.
Fielding's style has some of its roots in earlier literature.
He calls Tom Jones "a comic epic poem in prose." (Epics are long
poems such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, and John
Milton's Paradise Lost.) To achieve that comic epic effect he
often employs the mock-heroic style, which uses the grandiose
similes found in epics not to make characters seem heroic but to
make fun of them. A typical example is found in Book II,
As fair Grimalkin, who, though the youngest of the feline
family, degenerates not in ferocity, from the elder branches of
her house, and... is equal in fierceness to the noble tyger
himself... With not less fury did Mrs. Partridge fly on the
Fielding uses his experience as a playwright for scenes of
drawing-room comedy or farce. The scenes in Book 13, Chapters
11 and 12, between Sophia, Tom, and Lady Bellaston provide a
brilliant example of this theatrical kind of writing.
Occasionally, he employs interpolated narrative, which is a
story told not by the novel's narrator but by one of the
characters (for example, the stories of The Man of the Hill and
of Mrs. Fitzpatrick), integrated into the novel. These
interpolations are one of Fielding's many innovations in the
development of the novel.
Finally, Fielding gives you the casual, witty style of the
narrator himself in the essays that begin each book of Tom Jones
and elsewhere throughout the novel. The narrator's wit is often
sharply ironic. He will praise a character, only to have that
praise turn to mockery in the face of the character's greed or
selfishness. The narrator's humorous observations on the art of
swearing, in Book 6, Chapter 9, provide a particularly amusing
example of his wit.
TOM JONES: FORM AND STRUCTURE
Tom Jones is one of the most elaborately plotted, highly
structured novels ever written. It consists of eighteen books,
each introduced by an opening essay.
The eighteen-book arrangement imitates the standard form of
an epic. Its plot in part parallels the plots of epics like
Homer's Odyssey: a hero leaves his home; he goes on a journey;
and after many adventures, he returns home. Tom Jones parallels
as well the classic structure of a romance: the hero and
heroine meet and fall in love; they are separated; they meet
again, reconcile, and marry. Thus the journey structure
reflects Tom's banishment and reconciliation with Allworthy,
while the romance provides the story of Tom's winning Sophia.
Tom Jones is divided into three roughly equal sections of six
books each, which reflect Tom's journey: those taking place at
home in the Country (Books I-VI), those on the Road (Books
VII-XII), and those in London (Books XIII-XVIII). The London
books conclude with Tom (and Sophia and many of the other
characters) coming home to the country. These three sections
also roughly correspond to the three movements of the romance.
In the first six books, Tom and Sophia fall in love; in the
second six they are separated and Sophia falls out of love with
Tom; and in the third six they meet again and Sophia is slowly
reconciled to Tom. The culmination of both the journey and the
romance is the couple's marriage and return to the country.
The Upton Inn Books (IX-X) occur in the exact middle of the
novel, and mark a major change between Tom and Sophia. Before
Upton Inn, Sophia chases Tom, both on the road and
metaphorically. The pursuit reverses at Upton Inn, and from
there Tom chases Sophia.
A number of critics have noted that Tom Jones is constructed
in the neoclassical style popular in the art and architecture of
Fielding's day. In neoclassicism, balance and symmetry are of
prime importance. In Tom Jones, Fielding made sure that almost
every character and plot element is balanced in some way by
For example, you'll notice how the various relations of Tom
at the Allworthy estate are balanced by those of Sophia at the
Western estate. Both Western and Allworthy are squires, own
valuable estates, are widowed, and have sisters. Western is
Sophia's father, and Mrs. Western is her aunt and surrogate
mother. Balancing this, Mrs. Bridget Blifil is Tom's mother,
and Squire Allworthy is his uncle and surrogate father. Tom is
similar to Squire Western, and Sophia is similar to Squire
Allworthy. Both Tom and Sophia dislike Blifil--and desire each
Much of the plotting reflects these kinds of balances. For
example, in the London section of Tom Jones, Lady Bellaston
hides behind a bed curtain while Mrs. Honour visits Tom.
Later, Mrs. Honour hides behind the bed curtain while Lady
Bellaston visits Tom.
Some readers greatly admire the careful symmetry of Tom
Jones. Others find it highly contrived, and therefore annoying
and distracting. As you read, note the symmetries and balances
and your reactions to them.
BASIC STRUCTURES OF TOM JONES -- THE JOURNEY AND THE
ROMANCE Country Road London Books Books Books I
------------ VI VII ------------- XII XIII ---------- XVIII
------ - Tom finds a home - Tom sets off on - Tom finds a
"home" J with Allworthy. journey, on the road with Mrs.
Miller. O - Tom grows up. and homeless. He - Mrs. Miller
U - Tom is banished does not meet reconciles him with R from
home by Allworthy in this Allworthy. N Allworthy. section of
the - Tom goes home to E novel. Allworthy and the Y country
and establishes his own home with Sophia.
------ - Sophia falls in - Sophia pursues Tom - Tom pursues
Sophia love with Tom. to Upton Inn. She through Lady - Tom
falls in love finds Tom in bed with Bellaston. with Sophia.
Mrs. Waters and - Tom meets Sophia at R - Tom and Sophia
flees. Lady Bellaston's. O are separated - Tom pursues Sophia
- Sophia flees Tom M by parents. to London. But Tom again
because of A and Sophia do not his infidelity with N meet in
this section Lady Bellaston. C of the novel. - Tom and Sophia
are E reconciled by "parents": Western, Mrs. Miller,
and Allworthy. - Tom and Sophia marry.
TOM JONES: POINT OF VIEW Point of view
is one of the most fascinating aspects of Tom Jones. It's
intricately related to another intriguing aspect of the novel,
Fielding's brilliant narrative technique.
Basically, Fielding employs a third-person, omniscient
(all-knowing) point of view. He shifts the focus from one
character (usually Tom) to another, and sometimes adopts a more
general vantage point. To heighten suspense, Fielding often
limits the focus of his narrative. For example, in the Upton
Inn section of the novel, the narrator relates that a lady and
her maid arrive at the inn. You must determine that they are
Mrs. Fitzpatrick and her maid. A more important example is the
question of Tom's parentage, which Fielding keeps hidden from
Tom--and from you--as long as possible.
In fact, Fielding is so clever at hiding and disguising
important information that sometimes you can't fully appreciate
his cleverness until you've read Tom Jones a second time. The
encounter between Blifil and Tom in Book V, Chapter 9, provides
one example of a scene that yields an entirely different
interpretation the second time you read it. We will explore
this further in The Story section.
TOM JONES: THEMES
The following are themes of Tom Jones.
1. THE HUNT
Fielding effectively uses a metaphor taken from the sport of
hunting. He creates the image of people driven by passions and
instincts to pursue others, the way hunters pursue a fox. In
the first half of the novel, Sophia pursues Tom Jones,
metaphorically and literally, and in the second half Tom pursues
Sophia. Squire Western spends most of his time hunting fox, but
when he finds Sophia gone, he sets out to hunt her down as
Fielding elaborates this theme into a complex pattern of
pursuits and flights. The hunted can also be a hunter, and the
roles can suddenly reverse--as with Sophia and Tom. The hunter
can reach his prey and find her trapped by another hunter, as
when Squire Western finds Sophia as she's being abducted by Lord
Fielding elaborates this theme more subtly. When Sophia goes
hunting with Squire Western, Fielding shows you her affection
for her father. She then falls from her horse into the arms of
Tom Jones. In this way you're given a metaphor for the way
Sophia's passion pulls her from her father and causes her to
fall for Tom. The sport of hunting becomes a metaphor for the
relationships in the novel as a whole.
2. THE THEATER
The world's a stage, the narrator writes, borrowing a theme
used by William Shakespeare and other authors. Fielding spent
many years writing for the theater, and in Tom Jones he presents
the spectacle of people playing false roles and wearing masks as
though they were actors. For example, Tom meets Lady Bellaston
at a masquerade, where she greets masked friends as though they
were in her drawing room having tea. Reversing this, when she
finds Tom and Sophia in her drawing room, she and Tom must act
like strangers to each other.
Just as the theme of the hunt is a rural one that
predominates in the first half of the book, the theme of the
theater is an urban one that predominates in the second half.
The themes overlap in the Upton Inn chapters of the novel (Books
9 and 10) where the theatrical aspect of the story takes on the
cruder, more frenzied quality of a farce.
3. MARRIAGE FOR LOVE VS. MARRIAGE FOR MONEY
With this theme, Fielding explores both English class
prejudice and the question of children's duty to their parents
vs. the need to follow their own desires. Sophia wants to
marry Tom. But because Tom has no money or lineage, Squire
Western thwarts her desires and imprisons her. Even though
Western loves Sophia dearly, his greed makes him demand she
marry Blifil for his money. Sophia in turn is torn between her
love for her father and her desire for her own happiness.
Fielding presents many other instances of this conflict as
well--for example, the Quaker who is angry because his daughter
married for love rather than money.
Fielding attacks the cold view of Squire Western and Mrs.
Western that sees marriage as an alliance between estates rather
than an expression of love between husband and wife. Yet Tom
turns out to have aristocratic lineage, and so marries in his
own class. Do you think Fielding has aristocratic prejudices,
The name Sophia comes from a Greek word meaning wisdom, and
it's wisdom that Tom Jones must attain before he can marry
Sophia and achieve happiness. Wisdom was seen in Plato's
philosophy as the highest ideal a man could achieve; this ideal
is often referred to by Allworthy as prudence and, occasionally,
discretion. A major theme of the novel is Tom's struggle to
achieve these qualities. When, near the end of the novel, he
spurns the erotic offers of Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Mrs. Waters,
he shows that he's gained the wisdom he needs in order to gain
the symbol of wisdom itself, Sophia.
5. TOM JONES AND THE BIBLE
There are many parallels between Tom Jones and the Bible. In
many ways, Tom resembles the Prodigal Son whose story is told in
Luke: an impetuous, wild young man who is eventually reunited
with his father. Even more important are the parallels with the
story of Adam. Tom and Sophia are banished from their country
paradise just as Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise.
Fielding emphasizes this parallel by calling Allworthy's mansion
Paradise Hall and by quoting John Milton's epic Paradise Lost to
compare Tom to Adam: "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." In this way, the
country is associated with Eden, in contrast to the harshness of
the road and the city. Tom and Sophia's return there is
portrayed as a return to paradise and provides a metaphor for
the happiness that love brings.
In addition, Fielding draws parallels between Allworthy and
God, emphasizing his compassion. Tom plays the Good Samaritan
to a highway robber, underscoring Christ's message of charity.
Perhaps most importantly, Fielding compares the narrator with
God, and calls the novel his world, turning the book into a
metaphor for the universe itself.
6. MAN AS INHERENTLY SELFISH: GREED, JEALOUSY, AND
Fielding portrays many of the characters as driven by the
motives of greed, jealousy and revenge. Tom Jones' chief
villain, Blifil, is jealous of Tom, greedily desires Sophia for
her estate, then wants revenge on her for her rejection of him.
Fielding provides many other instances of these motives in the
novel. Mr. Fitzpatrick is jealous of his wife, even though he
doesn't particularly love her and only married her out of greed.
Mrs. Deborah Wilkins, Mrs. Bridget's maid, takes revenge on
those beneath her for the abuse she suffers from those above
her. The lower classes are jealous of the upper classes, and
greedy for their money, while the upper classes are jealous of
each other. To some readers, most of the characters in Tom
Jones seem relentlessly selfish and mean. Others think most are
neither completely evil nor totally good. Which view do you
7. BALANCE, SYMMETRY, AND THE SEARCH FOR ORDER IN THE
The eighteenth century is often called the Age of Reason,
reflecting a belief in an inherent order in the universe and in
the ability of man's reason to discover that order. Fielding
compares the narrator to God and the novel to God's world. He
gives that world many kinds of balance and symmetry, conveying
the image in an ordered universe. Yet Fielding also presents
many instances of far-fetched coincidences, seeming to convey an
image of the universe as arbitrary.
TOM JONES: BOOK I
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.
NOTE: FOUNDLINGS The full title of the novel is The History
of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Foundlings were a popular charitable
cause in Fielding's day. The person of unspecified parentage is
also a familiar figure in literature, including Moses (a peasant
boy found and raised by royalty) and Oedipus (a royal son found
and raised by a peasant) and beyond.
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
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 One type of satire Fielding uses is
called the mock-heroic. It employs the grand descriptions and
comparisons found in epics in order to mock the subject at hand.
The description of Mrs. Deborah advancing on the town is a good
example of the mock-heroic style:
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
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
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
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
NOTE: WILLIAM HOGARTH In his humorous depiction of Miss
Bridget, Fielding doesn't describe her, referring instead to a
woman in a Hogarth picture. William Hogarth (1697-1764) was a
renowned painter and engraver and a friend of Fielding's. His
work, like Fielding's, was often bitingly satirical.
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
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).
TOM JONES: BOOK II
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
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."
TOM JONES: BOOK III
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
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
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
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
TOM JONES: BOOK IV
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
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
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
NOTE: THE BIRD AS A SYMBOL Fielding uses the scene of the
escaping bird to shed light on Tom, Sophia, and Blifil. The
bird also serves more specifically as a symbol for Tom Jones,
which is why Fielding had his heroine name the bird "Tom." When
Sophia hugs the bird, she's also expressing her affection for
Tom. Blifil perceives this and maliciously sends the bird away
from her, thereby, at least in his jealous mind, sending Tom
away from her.
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
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
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
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: BOOK V
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
TOM JONES: BOOK VI
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
NOTE: FIELDING'S "DOUBLE IRONY" Squire Western and Mrs.
Western provide an example of what the critic William Empson
calls Fielding's "double irony." Many authors employ irony to
satirize one character through another: character A's stupidity
is satirized in comparison with character B's intelligence, for
example. With Fielding, you often find both characters
satirized by the other--each is misguided, stupid, selfish, or
greedy, but in his or her own way. The shouting matches between
Squire Western and Mrs. Western provide a good example of this
double irony. Western's boorishness is shown by his inability
to perceive what his sister perceives: that Sophia is in love.
But Mrs. Western isn't any better. In her own arrogance and
insensitivity she assumes that Sophia's in love with Blifil,
when she's really in love with Jones. Thwackum and Square's
absurd philosophical competitions provide another example of
double irony, yielding what Fielding called "the true
ridiculous." See if you can find other examples as you read.
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
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 At the opening of
Chapter 5, Sophia is reading a book, which she praises to Mrs.
Western. Most scholars agree that the book is The Adventures of
David Simple, by Fielding's sister Sarah, for which Fielding
wrote the introduction. The passage is an amusing advertisement
for the novel, and a joke about the Fieldings' social position.
Sophia praises the book and calls the author "a lady of
fashion," who "doth honour to her sex." Mrs. Western indicates
that the author is from a "very good family" but not part of the
really fashionable crowd.
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
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
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
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
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
TOM JONES: BOOK VII
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 Tom Jones is derived in part from
earlier styles of fiction. Among them is the picaresque, a tale
of travel, in which the protagonist, often with a sidekick, goes
on a journey and encounters adventures along the way. Often
these adventures are unrelated--the only link is that they all
happen to the same hero. One of the most famous picaresque
works, and a favorite book of Fielding's, is Don Quixote, by
Miguel de Cervantes. Fielding himself said that he used
Cervantes' work as a model.
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
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
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
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
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 In 1688 King James II, a
Stuart, was forced to leave the throne of England and was driven
into exile in part because he had become Roman Catholic. But
the Stuarts had many supporters in Scotland and England. In
1745, under the Scottish "Bonnie Prince Charlie," the second of
two Stuart attempts to regain the throne was made. This revolt,
supported also by France, was called the Jacobite Rebellion.
(Jacobite is the adjective form of the name James.) Fielding was
writing just after the rebellion, and set his novel during it.
Tom joins the soldiers going to the support of the seated king,
George II. George was related to the German House of Hanover,
which is why he's referred to disparagingly by Western and
others as the "German king" and that "Hanoverian rat."
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,
TOM JONES: BOOK VIII
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 introduction of gin, which in
Chapter II Fielding sarcastically calls "the rich distillation
from the juniper-berry" had, according to some observers, turned
the beer-drinking English into a nation of drunkards. In his
Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers (1751)
Fielding lashed out against alcohol. He called gin "the
principal sustenance... of more than one hundred thousand
people in this metropolis" (London). His friend Hogarth's
picture Gin Lane provides a similarly bleak portrayal of
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
NOTE: INTERPOLATED NARRATIVE Here Fielding presents a story
within a story. This is often called interpolated narrative,
because the second narrative is interpolated or introduced into
the larger story. Fielding is credited with introducing this
device--found generally in epics and oral tales--into the novel.
Note that Fielding neatly balances the Man of the Hill's story
in the first half of the novel, by presenting a feminine tale of
disillusionment (Mrs. Fitzpatrick's story) in the second
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?
TOM JONES: BOOK IX
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
NOTE: FIELDING AND RICHARDSON Not everyone agrees with
Fielding that he's superior to Richardson. Critics do agree,
though, that the two authors are very different. Readers have
tended to greatly prefer either one or the other.
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
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 Fielding is showing his
theatrical expertise here--he's setting up a kind of fast-paced
French farce. Upton Inn resembles a stage set with many doors,
where someone leaves just as someone else comes in the back way.
These frantic comings and goings are vital to Fielding's plot.
For example, Fielding makes sure that Partridge is too busy
fighting to ever get a good look at Mrs. Waters. That should
be a hint that Partridge might recognize Mrs. Waters if he saw
her clearly--and eventually he will. With similar slyness,
Fielding doesn't reveal the identity of the lady and her maid.
You may be guessing that they're Sophia and Honour. You'll soon
see if you're correct.
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
Downstairs the sergeant informs the company that Mrs. Waters
has had affairs with many soldiers--most recently with Ensign
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.
TOM JONES: BOOK X
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
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 When Squire Western calls Tom the
dog fox and Sophia the bitch, he's using a metaphor that
compares life and love to a hunt. Fielding has used this
metaphor before (Sophia and Tom's hunting experience in Book IV)
but it takes on new importance in Book X and the rest of the
road section of Tom Jones, which is a series of chases and
flights. Squire Western chases Sophia, Sophia chases Tom,
Northerton flees the soldiers, Fitzpatrick chases his wife, and
later Allworthy and Blifil pursue the rest to London.
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.
TOM JONES: BOOK XI
Fielding continues to lash out at critics. He devotes the
rest of the book to Sophia and Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and their
journey to London.
NOTE: THE ROADS Sophia falls on the road, because "the lane
they were then passing was narrow and very much over-grown with
trees." You'll notice that Tom, Sophia, and others seem to lose
their way frequently, as well. English roads were terrible in
Fielding's day, despite Turnpike Acts intended to improve them.
In Book XVI, Mrs. Western remarks, "I think the roads, since so
many turnpike acts, are grown worse than ever."
Sophia and Mrs. Fitzpatrick meet on the road, going the same
way on horseback. They are cousins and friends, having spent
several years together with their aunt, Mrs. Western. Mrs.
Fitzpatrick provides a foil for Sophia, just as Blifil does for
Tom. Like Tom and Blifil, Sophia and Mrs. Fitzpatrick are
related and, to some extent, have been raised together. The
parallel between Sophia and Mrs. Fitzpatrick is heightened by
the fact that they're both being chased by angry men--Sophia by
her father and Mrs. Fitzpatrick by her husband. As with
Blifil, note Mrs. Fitzpatrick's selfishness--she betrays Sophia
just to gain favor with her uncle. Compare that with Sophia's
kindness and warmth.
After reaching an inn, they tell each other their stories.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick (Harriet) had been staying with Mrs. Western
at Bath, when she was courted by a handsome Irishman, Mr.
Fitzpatrick. He had been paying attention to the wealthy Mrs.
Western, but eventually married Harriet instead. Mrs. Western,
when informed of their marriage, jealously refused to see them
again. In Ireland, Fitzpatrick turned out to be a cold brute
who spent most of his time hunting, and took a mistress. He ran
out of money and when Harriet refused to give him her estate, he
locked her up. But she escaped and has been fleeing him since,
trying to reach London where relatives can protect her.
Sophia archly wonders "What could you expect? Why, why would
you marry an Irishman?" (It was a common pastime of the English
to amuse themselves at the expense of the Irish and Scots.)
Harriet generously protests that it is not all Irishmen--only
the kind she married. As if to disprove Sophia's prejudice, an
Irish nobleman--a friend of Mrs. Fitzpatrick--arrives at the
inn and offers to take them to London. They gladly accept.
Sophia suffers a setback though: she finds that she has somehow
lost most of her money.
They arrive in London. Anxious to preserve the Irish
nobleman's reputation, Harriet doesn't stay at his home. The
narrator slyly relates what Sophia figured out on the way: that
Harriet is running off with the Irish nobleman.
NOTE: Observe how this revelation twists everything. The
Irish nobleman didn't meet them coincidentally: he had been
following them, to run off with Mrs. Fitzpatrick. (No wonder
she objected to Sophia's remarks about Irishmen!) What does this
do to Mrs. Fitzpatrick's story? Did Mr. Fitzpatrick abuse
her, or did she simply invent an excuse to leave him for the
nobleman? Do you have any way of knowing for sure? Fielding's
narrative technique is quite complex and sometimes confusing--as
if to point out how difficult it is in real life to know all the
facts behind any story.
Sophia stays with Lady Bellaston, a friend of her aunt.
TOM JONES: BOOK XII
Book XII relates how Squire Western loses Sophia's trail,
while Tom and Partridge follow her to London.
Western, following Sophia on horseback, bemoans wasting an
ideal day for fox-hunting. As though attentive to his desires,
a pack of hunting hounds happen by in full pursuit of a fox. He
happily chases after them. The next day, having lost the scent
of Sophia, Western goes home.
NOTE: Here Fielding keeps his plot spinning in a
particularly exquisite and ludicrous way--to build suspense, he
makes sure that Western doesn't catch up with his daughter just
yet. Fielding also elaborates, in an ironic way, the hunting
theme: Squire Western doesn't seem to care what he's hunting,
as long as he's hunting something.
Meanwhile, Tom and Partridge set out on foot after Sophia.
Seeing he'll never catch up with her, Tom despairingly
determines to rejoin the army. If he can't have love, he'll
have a glorious death. He takes the road leading to the
soldiers--which, ironically, is the same road Sophia took.
As Tom and Partridge trudge along, a beggar offers to sell
them a pocketbook that Sophia had lost. Jones recognizes the
pocketbook and buys it. In it is the hundred pound bank note
she lost. From the road she's taken, Jones concludes that
Sophia's going to London and heads there himself to return the
He and Partridge have several adventures on the way. First
they run into an incompetent robber who scares the wits out of
the timid Partridge, but who loses his gun to Jones. The robber
moans that he's very poor, and it turns out that his gun isn't
even loaded. To Partridge's amazement, Tom gives the robber
money and sends him on his way. Here Fielding shows us another
instance of Tom's charity, which to Fielding is perhaps the
greatest Christian virtue. Tom helps the thief who tried to rob
him because the man is poor.
Another incident is typically picaresque: Tom and Partridge
meet some gypsies celebrating in a barn. Partridge, drunk, is
seduced by a gypsy woman and caught by her husband, who had been
watching all the time. The seduction turns out to be the man's
money making scheme, for he demands payment of Partridge.
(Surprisingly the gypsy king punishes the man.) Here Fielding
provides an unusual twist to his theme of money and marriage,
with the husband using the wife to make money through
Some readers think that Fielding wants to portray gypsy
society as superior to English society. They see in the gypsy
king a paternal figure like Allworthy, but even wiser--a figure
who can better serve as a metaphor for God. Others believe that
Fielding is parodying the English by indicating their similarity
to the gypsies--the gypsy man sells his wife for money and the
king is a despot.
NOTE: Another incident that has no apparent relation to the
main plot involves a puppet show. Here Fielding is attacking
those who banned his plays from the stage. He had been an
extremely successful satirist, lampooning on stage many public
figures including Prime Minister Walpole. In 1737 Walpole
introduced The Licensing Act which ended Fielding's career as a
playwright and theater manager. The Act had a generally
dampening effect on stage satire.
Here Fielding bitterly attacks this war on his livelihood.
"There are several of my acquaintance in London, who are
resolved to drive everything which is low from the stage." They
have taken Punch and Joan (Judy) from the puppet show. Tom
remarks, "I should have been glad to have seen my old
acquaintance Master Punch, for all that; and so far from
improving, I think... you have spoiled your puppet-show."
Fielding founded his own puppet theater while he was writing
Tom Jones. So here he might also be inserting an advertisement
for his theater.
TOM JONES: BOOK XIII
Here begins the third section of Tom Jones. The setting
shifts to London.
Fielding invokes the Muses to aid him in his writing. The
invocation of the Muses (the Greek goddesses of artistic
inspiration, poetry, and so on) is the standard opening of an
epic and because Fielding thought of his novel as "a comic epic
poem in prose," he employs this convention. But note that
because Tom Jones is a comic epic, the invocation has absurd
overtones--Fielding calls one Muse "a much plumper dame" than
Book XIII relates Tom's search for Sophia in London and his
affair with Lady Bellaston, at whose house Sophia is staying.
Having learned along the way that Sophia traveled with Mrs.
Fitzpatrick and an Irish nobleman, Tom tries to find the
nobleman. He bribes the Irishman's porter, who takes him to the
house where Mrs. Fitzpatrick is staying.
Jones eventually sees Mrs. Fitzpatrick, but Mrs.
Fitzpatrick thinks he's Blifil and refuses to tell him Sophia's
whereabouts. But her maid, a good friend of Sophia's maid,
tells Mrs. Fitzpatrick Tom's real identity and says that
Sophia's in love with him. Mrs. Fitzpatrick begins to think a
little differently of her simple country cousin, who hadn't even
mentioned Tom Jones.
Thinking she can gain her uncle Squire Western's good graces
by turning Sophia back to him--and thinking that she's saving
Sophia from a rake--Mrs. Fitzpatrick still won't tell Tom where
Sophia is. Instead, she goes to see Lady Bellaston, and tells
her about Tom and Sophia. Lady Bellaston had heard about Tom
from her maid.
Lady Bellaston does not want Mrs. Fitzpatrick to write to
Squire Western about Sophia. But she thinks keeping Sophia from
a lower-class rake like Tom Jones is a service. She's so
intrigued by Mr. Jones that she desires to meet him herself.
NOTE: Again, observe the ironic Fielding twist. Lady
Bellaston keeps Sophia away from Tom, presumably because he's
lower class. But if he's lower class, why does she want to meet
him? Having heard he's handsome, does she hope to have him to
At his lodgings, Tom rescues a young gentleman, Mr.
Nightingale, from a thrashing by his footman. The lodging house
is run by Mrs. Miller, a widow with two daughters, who is also
a friend of Squire Allworthy. Tom and Nightingale--who seems to
be a dandy, as his name implies--become friends.
The next day Tom receives a package, which contains a domino
costume, a mask, a masquerade ticket, and a note inviting Tom to
Tom, hoping that the note comes from Sophia, goes to the
masquerade that evening with Nightingale. Nightingale offers to
take Nancy, Mrs. Miller's older daughter. To Nancy's
disappointment, Mrs. Miller declines for her, saying that she
doesn't belong with high society.
NOTE: Here Fielding again explores the theme of romance
hindered by class distinction. It wasn't only the upper class
that was aware of these distinctions, and that clung to them.
The lower classes often did as well.
Meanwhile, Tom has no money, so he turns to Partridge for a
loan. At the masquerade, a lady in a domino costume approaches
Tom and casually mentions Sophia's name. Tom, thinking the
woman is Mrs. Fitzpatrick, begs her to take him to Sophia. She
replies that marrying Tom would ruin her cousin Sophia; the poor
girl's father would disown her. Tom protests that he will leave
Sophia forever, but he must see her once more.
NOTE: Masques and masquerades, a favorite form of amusement
for high society at the time, fascinated Fielding. His first
published works were a satirical poem called "The Masquerade"
and a comedy called Love in Several Masques. They're also
linked to the theatrical theme of the novel. Notice how
Fielding explores the notion of people wearing masks and playing
roles as this section continues.
Jones and the masked woman talk of Sophia, until the woman
objects, saying "Are you so little versed in the sex, to imagine
that you couldn't affront a lady more, than by entertaining her
with your passion for another woman?" Tom, though not in the
mood for flirtation, plays along, hoping to get to Sophia.
Meanwhile, "he observed his lady speak to several masks, with
the same freedom of acquaintance as if they had been barefaced.
He could not help expressing his surprise at this, saying,
'Sure, madam, you must have infinite discernment to know people
in all disguises.'" That's an indication of the lady's
cleverness and also of her romantic and sexual experience.
The lady coyly entices Jones by asking him not to follow her.
He follows to her apartment, and when the lady unmasks, finds
not Mrs. Fitzpatrick but Lady Bellaston.
He goes to bed with her and obtains "a promise that the lady
would endeavour to find out Sophia, and in a few days bring him
to an interview with her, on condition that he would then take
his leave of her."
Here many readers find Fielding at his best and his worst.
The scene at the Masquerade is brilliantly written. Nothing is
as it seems. Tom Jones' enticement by Lady Bellaston is
depicted with an exquisite touch and she is a superbly drawn
character: a vain, egotistical woman devoted only to her own
pleasures, a woman who can feel great passion when it suits her
and great rage when she's crossed.
Just when you reach the scene of interest, when Tom and Lady
Bellaston meet in her room, the author discreetly withdraws.
What are Tom's motives for his obviously less than admirable
affair with Lady Bellaston? Of course he's trying to find
Sophia, but this seems a dubious tactic at best, because it soon
becomes obvious that Lady Bellaston won't introduce him to her
greatest rival. Soon, Lady Bellaston is supplying Tom with
money and clothes. Does Tom simply use her for her sexual
favors, or does he use her for her money? Neither motive seems
commendable. Also, because the affair comes just as Tom is
protesting his great love for Sophia, it makes some readers
wonder about his sincerity.
Tom leaves Lady Bellaston's apartment--which she keeps for
these brief encounters--with a fifty pound bank note. He dines
with Nightingale and the Millers. Mrs. Miller tells a sad
story about relations of hers, a poor couple who married for
love. The couple and their children live in misery and squalor.
Fielding again explores the theme of love and money. The point
this time, though, is that love alone isn't enough.
He also demonstrates again the charity displayed by Tom
Jones. Jones weeps at Mrs. Miller's tale and offers to give
the couple his fifty pounds. Mrs. Miller accepts some of the
money. Tom's generosity is astounding. Moreover, he takes Mrs.
Miller into another room to offer the money, so he has no
thought of reaping praise. Contrast his actions with
Nightingale's easy but useless good wishes or the greed and
praise-seeking of Blifil.
NOTE: The aristocratic Fielding worked tirelessly to help
the poor in London's slums. Except for the privileged few, the
standard of living in eighteenth century England was extremely
low. According to the famous eighteenth-century historian
Edward Gibbon, "not one male child in ten lives to see the age
Tom has another rendezvous with Lady Bellaston that evening,
and begins an affair with her. Lady Bellaston claims that
Sophia has resolved never to meet him again. Soon Lady
Bellaston refuses to even mention Sophia's name. So Tom employs
Partridge to find out Sophia's address from Lady Bellaston's
servants. He also feels an obligation to Lady Bellaston. With
her money, he's become "one of the best dress'd men about town,
and was not only relieved of the ridiculous distresses" of
poverty, but enjoys greater luxury than at Allworthy's. He
finds that he doesn't particularly like the lady--she cakes on
make-up over her wrinkles, and she has bad breath--but he feels
obliged to her.
Lady Bellaston's bad reputation gets her evicted from the
apartment she uses for her affairs. But she's so desperate to
see Tom that she tells him to meet her at her house. (The other
members of the household, including Sophia, are going to the
theater that evening.) As Tom is reluctantly leaving for Lady
Bellaston's, Mrs. Miller's poor relation comes to thank him for
his generosity. The relation turns out to be the incompetent
robber who attacked Tom on the highway. He and Mrs. Miller
join in a chorus of praise of Tom, much to Tom's
Tom arrives at Lady Bellaston's early, and as he's standing
in the drawing room in walks Sophia. A riot at the theater had
sent her home early. She turns, sees Tom in a mirror, and
becomes pale. Tom rejoices that he's found her and gives her
the pocketbook she'd lost. He falls on his knees and asks her
forgiveness for his infidelity at Upton Inn. "My heart was
never unfaithful to you," he implores. "I... could seriously
love no other woman." Some readers find it difficult to
condone--or believe--that Tom can protest his love for Sophia
while standing in the house of a woman with whom he's having an
affair. Perhaps Fielding intends to hint that Tom doesn't yet
deserve Sophia's love.
Sophia asks, "Why, Mr. Jones, do you take the trouble to
make a defence, where you are not accused?" She says if she
thought it worth even bothering to accuse him of something, it
would be of something much worse than what occurred at Upton
Inn. Tom guiltily thinks of his affair with Lady Bellaston, and
asks her what she's referring to.
She answers that he is guilty of bandying her name loosely
about every inn on the way to London. Jones figures out that it
was Partridge who had been criticizing Sophia to the inns'
servants and landlords, and convinces Sophia that he's innocent
(of this crime, at least). Sophia forgives him and vows that,
except for her father's displeasure, she'd rather face ruin with
Tom than fortune with another man. He resolves to give her up
rather than ruin her. They cry and kiss, and when they have
moved apart, Sophia asks how Tom happened to be in the room. In
walks Lady Bellaston. Trying to understand what's going on, she
says "I thought, Miss Western, you had been at the play."
Sophia, who has no idea of Tom's relationship with Lady
Bellaston, says she came home early because of a riot. Sophia's
tone makes Lady Bellaston assume--rightly--that Tom has not
betrayed their relationship. She says she hopes she didn't
interrupt any business with the gentleman. Sophia tells her
that Tom came to bring her the pocketbook and money she'd
Jones, who feels very foolish, takes Lady Bellaston's hint
that they will pretend not to recognize each other. He says
that ever since he'd found the pocketbook with the lady's name,
"he'd used great diligence in enquiring out the lady whose name
was writ in it; but never till that day could be so fortunate to
NOTE: Fielding makes the double meanings fly here. Jones is
explaining to Sophia how he came to the house, and also poking
jabs at Lady Bellaston. He's angry because he's just realized
that Sophia's been living with Lady Bellaston, and that Lady
Bellaston's been hiding her from him. In saying that he'd used
great diligence in trying to find Sophia, he's referring to his
affair with Lady Bellaston--implying to Lady Bellaston that he
tolerated their affair only in hopes of finding Sophia.
Lady Bellaston, an incredibly jealous woman, doesn't believe
the excuse about the pocketbook or the riot at the theater. She
thinks that somehow Sophia and Jones have met behind her back.
Bitterly, she congratulates the stranger (Tom) for finding out
Sophia's name, and for discovering that Sophia's been staying at
her house. Jones explains that the pocketbook had Sophia's name
on it. He says that when he mentioned finding the pocketbook to
a lady at a masquerade, she gave him the address. Jones
explains to Sophia how he ended up at Lady Bellaston's. And
he's indicating to Lady Bellaston that he can play this sly game
of double meanings too.
Tom notices that Sophia is feeling uncomfortable, so he gets
up to leave. He asks, as a reward for returning her pocketbook,
that he be allowed to visit again. Lady Bellaston says that
people of fashion are always welcome. This gives Tom the
opportunity of seeing her, but it also allows him to visit
After Tom leaves, Sophia and Lady Bellaston talk about him,
alternately praising his charm and calling him crude. Lady
Bellaston wryly says she first had the impression when she came
into the room that the gentleman was Sophia's Tom Jones himself.
But he was genteely dressed, which she gathers is not often the
case with Mr. Jones. She also observes that he was much too
crude to be someone Sophia could care about. Lady Bellaston
upbraids Sophia for thinking too much about Tom Jones. Mr.
Jones, Sophia tells her, is as entirely indifferent to me as the
gentleman who just now left the room.
That last remark is a fine example of Fielding's skill at
dramatic irony. On the surface, it seems to mean that Sophia
doesn't care about Tom Jones. But because the stranger who left
the room was Tom, you know that she loves him. The irony is
doubled, because Lady Bellaston is aware of the stranger's
identity--and so aware of the real meaning of Sophia's remark.
But Sophia doesn't know that Lady Bellaston knows.
NOTE: This scene is one of the most brilliant in the novel.
Fielding again shows his theatrical skill. Each character tries
to uncover secrets about the others, while trying to preserve
his or her own secrets.
In both its setting and style, the scene is typical of a kind
of play called a drawing-room comedy. This form, which reached
its height in the eighteenth century, took a highly witty and
ironic look at human foibles, including romance and the clash
between social classes.
TOM JONES: BOOK XIV
The narrator explains why he writes better about high society
than do some other writers. It's because he belongs to the
upper class himself. Many readers feel that Fielding is showing
his snobbery here. He satirizes the upper classes while
reminding you that he's one of them. And he can't stand
criticism of the upper classes from lower-class people. As a
result of these and other passages, some readers think the novel
reaffirms, rather than attacks, the English class system.
Book XIV relates Tom's declining affair with Lady Bellaston,
and Nightingale's parallel but quite different affair with Mrs.
Miller's daughter Nancy.
Just after he arrives home, Jones receives angry, desperate
notes from Lady Bellaston, and then the lady herself appears.
Jones says he recognizes his debts to her. She wants to know if
he's betrayed her honor to Sophia. Jones protests that he's
kept the affair a secret. Partridge dances into the room,
joyously shouting that he's found Mrs. Honour, Sophia's maid,
and that she's coming upstairs. Lady Bellaston hides, and Mrs.
Honour enters, bubbling that Sophia loves Tom. She also says
that everyone is talking about Lady Bellaston's affair with a
Mrs. Honour gives Jones a letter from Sophia. When Honour
leaves, Lady Bellaston, furious, says she has lost her
reputation because of Jones, and she demands to see the letter
from Sophia. If he gave her Sophia's letter, Tom says, what
assurances would Lady Bellaston have that he wouldn't show her
letters around as well? How could she ever trust him? Tom
proves ironically prophetic here. A little later, Lady
Bellaston will be showing Tom's letters around--an action that
will have much effect on Tom and Sophia.
Lady Bellaston calms down. The narrator tells you that she
knew Sophia possessed the first place in Jones' affections, but
that for once she would tolerate second place.
When Tom is alone, he reads Sophia's letter. It offers him
some hope, but begs him not to visit her again. Tom is
depressed. He can't visit Lady Bellaston at her house, because
he might meet Sophia there. So he writes a note to Lady
Bellaston to say that he's sick.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Miller visits Tom. She tells him she loves
him for his kindness, but if he has ladies visiting him late at
night, he'll have to leave. He promises to look for other
Nightingale announces he will leave as well, for private
reasons. Jones says he understands the private reasons:
Nightingale's flirting with Nancy has made her fall in love with
Over a farewell tea, Mrs. Miller tells Tom of Mr.
Allworthy's generosity toward her all these years. He's given
her an annual stipend to help support her, using his occasional
lodging there as a pretext for his kindness. When Tom protests
he's no relation to Allworthy, she tells him that she's figured
out he's the same Tom Jones that Allworthy adopted and loved as
That evening a distraught Mrs. Miller bursts in on Tom.
Nightingale has left, and Nancy is pregnant by him. Tom goes to
Nightingale, who tells him that he loves Nancy, but that he
can't marry her because she's from a lower class. Not only
would his father never bless the marriage, he would disown
Nightingale. His father has already chosen a wealthy heiress
for Nightingale to marry. Besides, Nightingale says, he would
feel dishonored in the opinion of the world. Tom says
Nightingale would achieve honor by marrying Nancy, and, when
Nightingale expresses his love for the girl, offers to visit his
father for him. When Tom does visit, old Nightingale expresses
his rage at the marriage. Once again Fielding presents the
choice: should you marry for love, or marry for money and the
good opinion of your parents?
TOM JONES: BOOK XV
In the opening chapter of Book XV, Fielding espouses wisdom
as the route to happiness. For the rest of the book, the plot
continues to accelerate, as Lady Bellaston schemes against
Sophia, as Sophia is rescued and then imprisoned by Western, and
as Tom breaks off his affair with Lady Bellaston.
Lady Bellaston resolves to remove Sophia as a rival. A
friend of hers, a foppish young nobleman named Lord Fellamar,
falls in love with Sophia. Lady Bellaston encourages him, but
mentions that Sophia loves another man. She describes Tom as "a
bastard, a foundling, a man in meaner circumstances than your
lordship's footmen." Lady Bellaston is afraid Sophia will run
off with him any day. To prove Sophia's devotion to Tom, she
hires a friend to announce, while Sophia and Lord Fellamar are
playing bridge, that Tom has died. Sophia misdeals and faints.
Lady Bellaston later manages to persuade Sophia it was just a
joke. Lord Fellamar and Lady Bellaston plan for him to rape and
abduct Sophia, then marry her.
The next evening Lord Fellamar goes to Sophia's room and
proposes marriage to her. She respectfully but sternly rejects
him. Convinced she won't have him otherwise, Fellamar seizes
her. Suddenly, in bursts a drunk Squire Western.
Western is too drunk to notice that Sophia's clothes are
torn. But when Fellamar proposes marrying his daughter, Western
insults him. Western takes Sophia away and fires Sophia's maid,
Mrs. Honour, for helping her escape. Lady Bellaston, however,
is very "pleased with the confinement into which Sophia was
going." She reasons that one man is as good as another for
carrying off her rival.
You'll notice the hunting theme again: just as one hunter,
Lord Fellamar, has trapped Sophia and is carrying her off, she's
rescued by another hunter, Western, who springs the trap and
carries her off himself.
NOTE: FIELDING'S DRAMATIC CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE NOVEL Two of
Fielding's contributions to the novel, which he borrowed from
his dramatic writing, are the interrelation of multiple plots,
and a dramatic structure that accelerates as the novel
concludes. You can see both of these contributions here and
throughout the following books. Two plots collide--Squire
Western's pursuit of Sophia (and her marriage to Blifil) and
Lord Fellamar's rape of Sophia--just as Fitzpatrick's pursuit of
his wife and Fellamar's abduction of Tom will collide later.
And Fielding continually accelerates the many plots as the novel
progresses. Compare these books to Books XI and XII; you can
feel the pace quicken.
How did Squire Western find Sophia? Mrs. Fitzpatrick wrote
to Mrs. Western, hoping to gain her favor. Squire Western "had
no sooner read the letter than he leaped from his chair, threw
his pipe into the fire, and gave a loud huzza for joy." He set
off to hunt Sophia down, with Mrs. Western following him the
Meanwhile, Nightingale and Nancy marry, despite old
Nightingale's displeasure. Mrs. Miller expresses her eternal
gratitude to Tom. Mrs. Honour visits Tom and hides when Lady
Bellaston drops by. (You'll notice Fielding's fondness for
symmetry. In Book XIV it was Lady Bellaston who hid when Mrs.
Honour entered the room.) Lady Bellaston discovers her, and, to
control her gossiping, hires her as a maid.
Later, as Tom gets an angry note from Lady Bellaston,
Nightingale asks how the affair is going. Apparently, he's been
aware all along of the identity of Tom's lover, for he
recognized her in her domino costume at the Masquerade. Tom
wonders how he can find a way to leave Lady Bellaston, to whom
he still feels indebted. Nightingale tells him that Lady
Bellaston has "bought" many other young lovers. Tom "began to
look on all the favours he had received rather as wages than
benefits, which not only depreciated her, but himself too....
and put him quite out of humour with both. His mind.... turned
towards Sophia: her virtue, her purity, her love to him, her
sufferings on his account, filled all his thoughts...."
Through his love for Sophia, Tom is gaining wisdom--and so is
preparing to gain Sophia herself. He resolves to end his affair
with Lady Bellaston. Nightingale offers an intriguing
suggestion. "Propose marriage, and she will declare off in a
This is a brilliant variation on one of Fielding's favorite
themes, that of the difficulties of marriage between persons of
different social classes. Tom's poverty has been a handicap to
him because it prevented him from marrying Sophia. Now it
becomes an asset that helps rid him of Lady Bellaston.
Nightingale assures him that if he proposes, Lady Bellaston will
think he wants to marry her only for her money, and that she'll
end the affair. In the unlikely event that she accepts,
Nightingale says he possesses her letters to an earlier lover,
which Tom can use to end the affair himself.
Nightingale dictates a letter for Tom, proposing marriage
"for fear your reputation should be exposed." Tom then gets
angry notes from Lady Bellaston. Does he think she's a fool?
He is a villain. If he comes to visit she won't be at home.
Note Lady Bellaston's utter cynicism toward marriage: she
writes of "that monstrous animal, husband and wife."
Nightingale's brilliant tactic has worked. But Tom's letter
will play yet another role in the novel.
Marriage seems to be in the air. Jones receives a note from
a wealthy widow, Mrs. Hunt, who's fallen in love with him. She
proposes marriage, but Tom refuses her out of devotion to
Meanwhile, Mrs. Miller receives a note from Allworthy saying
that he and Blifil are coming to town and that they desire their
usual accommodations. So Jones and Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale
move to other lodgings.
Partridge has run into Black George, who's working for Squire
Western. Partridge gives him a note from Tom for Sophia.
TOM JONES: BOOK XVI
The narrator discusses the advantages of his introductory
The plot continues to accelerate, and Tom's fortunes sink.
Book XVI relates Squire Western's confinement of Sophia and her
release by Mrs. Western; the arrival of Allworthy, Blifil, and
Fitzpatrick in London; and the imprisonment of Tom Jones.
Squire Western, still eager for Sophia to marry Blifil, locks
her up at his quarters. He is visited by a friend of Lord
Fellamar, who says Fellamar will overlook the insults of the
other night, if Western gives him Sophia's hand. Otherwise,
Fellamar challenges Western to a duel. Western's enraged
reaction convinces Fellamar's friend that he's dealing with a
madman, and he leaves.
NOTE: This may be the most hilarious example of Fielding's
"double irony." Western and Fellamar's friend, both pursuing
different but equally distasteful marriages for Sophia, are so
different they have difficulty even understanding each other.
Fielding makes ironic fun of each with the other, and the
narrator makes fun of both.
Hearing the commotion from her room, Sophia screams with
concern for her father. They profess their mutual love.
Western tells her: "Sophy, you do not know how I love you,
indeed you don't, or you never could have run away and left your
poor father, who hath no other joy, no other comfort upon earth,
but his little Sophy." The narrator wryly tells you "...except
in that single instance in which the whole future happiness of
her life was concerned, she was sovereign mistress of his
inclinations." They break up again over Blifil, with Western
shouting his litany of curses. The landlady begins to entertain
a strange opinion of her guests.
Black George sneaks Sophia a note from Tom, which professes
Tom's love for her. Mrs. Western arrives that evening and
berates her brother for his handling of Sophia. "Women in a
free country are not to be treated with such arbitrary power."
(The irony is that Mrs. Western won't let Sophia have her
freedom any more than Western will.) Seeing he's getting nowhere
with Sophia, Western entrusts her to his sister's care.
Sophia's now set free, but on the condition that she not see
anyone (which means Jones) without her aunt's permission.
Sophia writes Jones a note declaring her devotion, but asking
him not to try to see her or write to her. Jones takes a mixed
comfort in the note. He goes to the theater with friends.
NOTE: This chapter pays homage to a friend of Fielding, the
actor David Garrick. Garrick (1717-79) was the leading actor of
his day and a figure of great importance to the English theater.
He pioneered a less melodramatic style of acting. Amusingly,
Partridge considers Garrick a poor actor--because you can't tell
Meanwhile, Western writes Blifil that he's found Sophia.
Blifil, driven by love (of the Western estate) and hatred (of
her rejection of him) comes to London with Allworthy. Allworthy
declares that he won't consent to the marriage without Sophia's
Blifil and Western surprise Sophia and Mrs. Western at Mrs.
Western's apartment. Sophia goes pale and withdraws. Mrs.
Western tells them to try again, more politely, another time.
Western vents his frustration, telling Blifil "I can no more
turn her, than a beagle can turn an old hare." Blifil thanks
him, privately fuming, and they leave.
Meanwhile, Lord Fellamar--who seems to thrive on
rejection--goes to Lady Bellaston with his ever-mounting passion
for Sophia. Lady Bellaston now seethes with hatred for Jones.
She tells Fellamar that if he removes Jones, Sophia would be
free to fall in love with him. She offers a plan to have Jones
pressed into naval service and taken on board ship, so that he
can "make his fortune in an honest way."
NOTE: Pressing men into naval service was a way of
maintaining the manpower needed for England's large navy. The
impressment of Americans by the British was a contributing
factor in the worsening relations between Britain and the
Thirteen Colonies, which led to the American Revolution some
thirty years later.
Lady Bellaston has another visitor, her old friend Mrs.
Western, who finds Lord Fellamar's marriage proposal to Sophia
even more attractive than Blifil's. The two women agree that
Sophia's love for Jones is the difficulty. Lady Bellaston,
laughing, says "Will you believe that the fellow (Jones) hath
even had the presumption to try to make love to me?" As proof
she gives Mrs. Western Tom's letter proposing marriage to her.
She tells Mrs. Western to use it any way she'd like. Lady
Bellaston's spite is even greater than her pride.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick visits the Westerns, hoping to have
ingratiated herself with the note about Sophia. She is insulted
by both, however. She becomes determined to get revenge and
sends for Tom, hoping they can work together. Her thoughts turn
to romance, though, when she meets Tom, and she tries to flirt
with him. Tom politely leaves. The narrator tells you: "his
whole thoughts were now confined to his Sophia, that I believe
no woman upon earth could have drawn him into an act of
inconstancy." Jones' rejection of Mrs. Fitzpatrick (who is
still young and pretty, much more so than Lady Bellaston) shows
that he has finally achieved some wisdom. He's showing his
devotion to Sophia in more than words. He's beginning to
deserve Sophia--but she seems farther away from him than ever.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Western--still annoyed at Mrs. Fitzpatrick
for having stolen Mr. Fitzpatrick from her--writes to him about
NOTE: Fielding has created another neat plot balance here.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick, to gain favor with Mrs. Western, sent her
Sophia's London address--and Mrs. Western went to London. Mrs.
Western, to avenge herself on Mrs. Fitzpatrick, sends Mr.
Fitzpatrick his wife's London address--and he goes to London.
Fitzpatrick races to London. As he reaches his wife's door,
he finds Tom leaving. He remembers Tom from Upton Inn and
figures Tom had slept with his wife there. In a jealous rage,
he knocks Tom down and challenges him to a duel. When
Fitzpatrick draws his sword, Tom draws his and stabs Fitzpatrick
Jones is seized by the gang employed by Fellamar to press Tom
into the Navy. (They had followed him to Lady Fitzpatrick's.)
The officer in charge figures that putting Jones in jail will be
even better than pressing him into military service, so he takes
him to the magistrate. Jones, overwhelmed with grief about
wounding Fitzpatrick, is taken to prison. There Partridge
visits him and gives him a letter from Sophia. She writes that
her aunt has shown her Tom's proposal of marriage to Lady
Bellaston, and she says that all she wants is to never hear his
Jones grows so tormented with misery that Fielding says,
"even Thwackum would almost have pitied him."
TOM JONES: BOOK XVII
In the opening chapter of Book XVII, the narrator discusses
how he might help his poor hero. Unlike ancient authors, he
can't bring some deity to his hero's aid. He promises to try
his best, though. Here Fielding elaborates the complex joke of
the narrator--if he's only telling a story that he has no
control over--if he's only a narrator of the "History of Tom
Jones," how can he possibly help Tom? But of course Fielding
wrote the novel, so he does control what happens. Further,
Fielding here presents the narrator as a character, a player in
the history, distinct from the author. One of the dramas of the
novel becomes how well the narrator can handle his story, which
threatens to get out of hand.
NOTE: Some readers have objected to this chapter and other
passages where the narrator comments on the story because they
say it breaks the illusion of the story and destroys the
reader's "willing suspension of disbelief." Do these passages
obscure the story for you? Or do they contribute to the
In Book XVII, the plot accelerates at a dizzy rate, as it
treats various marriage proposals to Sophia, Tom's imprisonment,
Mrs. Miller's and Partridge's attempts to help him, and
Blifil's attempts to ruin him.
At Mrs. Miller's, Blifil gleefully tells Allworthy that the
villain Jones has been thrown into prison. He's explaining
Tom's crimes when Mrs. Miller angrily exclaims that Tom Jones
is one of the most generous men she's ever met. Allworthy
expresses amazement that she knows Jones. Before she can
explain, Squire Western bursts in, cursing.
Mrs. Western, Lady Bellaston, and friends had spent the
evening urging him to let Sophia marry Lord Fellamar. "I'd
rather be run in by my own dogs," Squire Western howls now, and
he proposes marrying Sophia by force to Blifil. Allworthy says
that the point of marriage is the happiness of the married
couple. He loves and admires Sophia, and would love to have her
in his family, but only if the marriage makes her happy.
Parents, he says, have a duty to promote their children's
Western exclaims, "'Did I not beget her?'... I have the best
title to her, for I bred her up... I thought you had more
Blifil says that he too seeks only Sophia's happiness, and
that the only reason she won't marry him is that she still loves
Tom Jones. But Jones is in prison and may hang.
Jones' predicament is news to Western. On hearing it, he
dances with delight, and agrees to Blifil's continued pursuit of
When Western leaves, however, Allworthy advises Blifil to
give up trying to marry Sophia. "I cannot flatter you with any
hopes of succeeding." Ironically, he expresses the fear that
Blifil is not concerned enough for Sophia's happiness, but is
too driven by passionate desire for her.
Meanwhile Partridge tells Jones that Mr. Fitzpatrick may
recover. Jones laments that Sophia won't ever see him again.
Forlornly he allows Mrs. Miller to carry a letter from him to
Sophia. Sophia, recognizing Jones' handwriting, won't accept
the letter. Mrs. Miller again proclaims Tom the most wonderful
man in the world, and describes his generosity toward her cousin
NOTE: Observe in the novel's final books how Jones is
estranged from the people he loves most, Allworthy and Sophia,
and how the movement of the novel moves toward his
reconciliation with them. This reconciliation is accomplished
by others whom he has helped, notably Mrs. Miller. His
generosity is slowly finding its reward.
Sophia blushes and says that if Mrs. Miller wants to leave
the letter, she can. Mrs. Miller does, and as soon as she
goes, Sophia reads it. Jones writes that he hadn't the
slightest desire to marry Lady Bellaston, and that he can
explain the marriage proposal if he ever meets Sophia again.
Sophia wonders if he's telling the truth, but directs most of
her rage at Lady Bellaston.
Mrs. Miller again tells Allworthy of Tom's kindness.
Allworthy says he can appreciate her gratitude to Jones, but
never to mention his name again. For it was "upon the fullest
and plainest evidence" that he banished him. Mrs. Miller
reminds Allworthy of the affection he once had for Tom and hopes
they'll be reconciled.
Various strands of the plot move along quickly.
Blifil and Allworthy's attorney, Mr. Dowling, return to Mrs.
Miller's to discuss a mortgage and various other business.
Mrs. Western presses Sophia to marry Lord Fellamar. When
Sophia refuses his offer, Mrs. Western takes her back to her
Meanwhile, Nightingale visits Tom in prison and says he found
the gang that put him there. They claim Tom attacked
Fitzpatrick first. Partridge leaves to find out what reason
they have to want Tom in prison.
Tom has another visitor, Mrs. Waters, who came to London
with Mr. Fitzpatrick. (She'd become involved with him when
they left Upton Inn together, and hoped to be his wife.) While
nursing Fitzpatrick, she heard that the man who stabbed him was
Tom Jones--the charming young man who'd saved her from
Northerton, and whom she'd seduced at Upton Inn. Still annoyed
at Tom for leaving her but still infatuated with him, she's come
to visit. She tells Tom that Fitzpatrick is recovering.
Cheered, Tom tells her he left her at Upton Inn because he'd
found Sophia's muff on his bed, and praises Sophia highly.
Disappointed, Mrs. Waters hopes he'll get over this romantic
obsession and tries to flirt with him. But Tom doesn't seem
interested. Evidently he's grown more mature.
TOM JONES: BOOK XVIII
This is the final book of Tom Jones. Here you will bid
farewell to the character many readers find the most interesting
and entertaining in the novel, the narrator himself.
In Book XVIII, Fielding resolves his complex plot. The
mystery of the novel's opening is unravelled, and Tom's true
parentage is revealed. The parallel discovery of Blifil's
villainy and his banishment is presented. The novel concludes
with Tom's reconciliation with Allworthy and Sophia, his
marriage to Sophia, and their return home.
Just after Mrs. Waters leaves, Partridge--who'd been waiting
in a room outside Tom's cell--comes in shaking. He tells Tom he
has slept with his own mother. Mrs. Waters, he says, is Jenny
Jones, Tom's supposed mother.
Jones falls into a fit of despair. He sends Partridge to
find Mrs. Waters. While Partridge is gone, Jones gets a note
from her that seemingly confirms Partridge's assertion. He goes
"almost raving mad." Black George comes by and offers assistance
Allworthy does Mrs. Miller a favor. He visits old
Nightingale and reconciles him to young Nightingale's marriage
to Nancy. He also recognizes Black George leaving as he's
coming in, and asks old Nightingale what George has been doing
NOTE: This type of coincidence--especially frequent toward
the novel's end--annoys some readers. They feel that Fielding
delights in playing with plot patterns to amuse himself. Do you
find these patterns too contrived? Or do you think Fielding's
point is that the universe is arbitrary?
Old Nightingale is Black George's purchasing agent, and Black
George has given him the bank notes he stole from Jones.
Allworthy recognizes the notes and puts a hold on them. He
confers with Dowling about the bank notes and Black George.
Mrs. Miller interrupts with the news that Fitzpatrick has
recovered, and that he declares that he drew his sword on Tom.
Dowling suddenly leaves. By now you can guess that he has some
ulterior motive. Mrs. Miller brings in Nightingale to praise
Tom's generosity. Allworthy rejoices and expresses his
affection for Tom. He had just received a letter from the dying
Mr. Square, who wrote that he had wronged Jones and that Jones
had been the only person who really cared for Allworthy.
Allworthy also received a letter from Mr. Thwackum, who
rejoiced to find Jones in prison and begged for another position
Nightingale relates that he found the captain of the gang who
testified against Tom. The captain told Nightingale he'd been
hired by a nobleman to press Tom into the Navy. Nightingale
also saw Dowling consorting with the gang, so he assumed
Allworthy had hired them.
Allworthy, recalling that he'd seen Dowling and Blifil
together recently, asks to see Blifil. Blifil, blushing and
stuttering, claims he sent Dowling to the gang to soften their
evidence against Tom. Allworthy, charmed by Blifil's affection
for Tom, and feeling his own affection as well, proposes that
they all visit Tom in prison.
But Partridge arrives. Knowing Tom's distress over his
affair with Mrs. Waters, who's visiting him in prison, he says
Tom is sick and to visit him another time. Allworthy recognizes
Partridge as Tom's supposed father. He wonders why Partridge
pretends to be Tom's servant. Partridge assures him that he's
not Tom's father.
Partridge tells Allworthy about Tom's affair with Mrs.
Waters. As Allworthy exclaims his dismay, in walks Mrs.
Waters--Jenny Jones herself. Once she's alone with Allworthy,
Mrs. Waters tells an amazing tale. Partridge was not Tom's
father, and she was not his mother. His father, she says, was
the son of a close friend of Mr. Allworthy, a Mr. Summer, who
had lived at the Allworthy estate for a year before he died of
smallpox. That year he'd become very friendly with Mrs.
Bridget, Mr. Allworthy's sister. She was Tom Jones' mother,
and so Tom is Allworthy's nephew and Blifil's half-brother.
NOTE: FIELDING AND THE CLASS SYSTEM After spending most of
the novel suffering from poverty and a lower-class lineage, Tom
turns out to belong to an aristocratic family of great wealth.
Does this mean that Fielding, though he satirizes the barriers
between social classes, actually supports them? That's what
some readers believe, noting that Fielding himself was an
aristocrat. Others disagree, citing remarks like this from Book
XIV: "The only epithet which the upper class deserves is that
of frivolous." Which position do you think Fielding favors?
Mrs. Waters/Jenny further explains: Allworthy had been away
during his sister's pregnancy, and had paid Jenny handsomely to
help deliver the child and claim motherhood. Jenny had brought
the child to Allworthy's bed, and, just as Mrs. Bridget had
hoped, Allworthy had adopted the boy as his own.
NOTE: Fielding hinted at this outcome along the way. Take
another look at the opening book, for example. Mrs. Bridget
praises Allworthy's generosity toward the foundling and develops
a curious fondness for Tom, which the townspeople ironically
mistake for romantic attraction.
Allworthy, amazed, wonders why his sister never told him.
Mrs. Waters believes Mrs. Bridget intended to. Mrs. Waters
also tells him that she was visited by Dowling at Mr.
Fitzpatrick's bedside. Dowling offered her money to help
prosecute Jones for his attack on Mr. Fitzpatrick. When
summoned, Dowling says Blifil hired him to prosecute Jones. And
Blifil told Dowling to have the gang of thugs give evidence
against Jones. Allworthy angrily says that Dowling was trying
to prosecute Allworthy's own nephew. Dowling replies that he
knew all along that Tom was Allworthy's nephew. But, he says,
Allworthy should have known that too. For on her deathbed, Mrs.
Bridget had written a letter explaining everything. She'd given
the letter to Dowling, and he'd given it to Blifil to give to
Allworthy. But Blifil had kept the letter.
NOTE: You will now gain new insights by rereading Book V,
Chapter 9, in which Tom apologizes to Blifil for carousing when
Blifil's mother has just died. Fielding continues,
Blifil scornfully rejected his hand; and, with much
indignation, answered, "It was little to be wondered at, if
tragical spectacles made no impression on the blind; but, for
his part, he had the misfortune to know who his parents were,
and consequently must be affected by their loss."
On your first reading, you probably thought Blifil was merely
insulting Tom for being a foundling. On a second reading you
will see that Blifil is taunting Tom with the fact that although
Tom doesn't know it, he's just suffered a loss, too--for Mrs.
Bridget is Tom's mother as well as Blifil's. Blifil has just
learned this fact from a letter, but he's keeping the
information from Tom. It's only by rereading the passage now
that you see the full extent of Blifil's nastiness.
Allworthy, convinced of Blifil's villainy, banishes him
Allworthy visits Sophia and pleads Tom's case, but she
doesn't want to see Mr. Jones again. Allworthy informs Western
that Tom is his nephew and the heir to the Allworthy estate,
Western becomes as enthusiastic about Sophia's marriage to Jones
as he was about a marriage to Blifil. But, as if only to spite
him, Sophia refuses to marry her father's new favorite,
Back at his lodgings, Allworthy and Tom Jones have a tender
reunion. Allworthy explains that he's Tom's uncle, and each
asks the other's forgiveness. Allworthy tells Jones that he
must learn wisdom, the duty that we owe ourselves. Here
Fielding reiterates his theme of achieving wisdom. Jones says
that he has achieved it at last, but that, ironically, he's lost
the human emblem of wisdom in the novel, Sophia.
In bursts Western to shake Tom's hand and ask his
NOTE: The master plotter Fielding slips up in the seventh
paragraph of Chapter 11: "When Allworthy returned to his
lodgings..." In fact, Allworthy has not left his lodgings. Mrs.
Miller, who supposedly enters the room at this point, has been
there for four pages. Because of these and other anomalies,
scholars believe Fielding wrote these last books in haste.
Blifil asks to meet with Allworthy, but Allworthy coldly
refuses. Tom intercedes for Blifil, and Allworthy expresses
astonishment at Tom's generosity. Tom visits Blifil and gives
him money, for Blifil has been banished from the house.
Allworthy also tells Tom that Black George had stolen his bank
notes. Tom forgives Black George, too, saying that he probably
had to steal to help his family. Again, Allworthy is amazed by
NOTE: Unlike so many of the characters in Tom Jones (Lady
Bellaston, Blifil, Mr. Fitzpatrick, among them), Tom has no
desire for revenge. Despite the numbers of greedy, vengeful
characters, the novel affirms a belief in human goodness. You
might also consider the fact that Fielding was a believer in
determinism, a popular theory of his time, which held that
occurrences in nature are determined by preceding events.
Although his characters Tom and Blifil had the same mother, they
were, according to Fielding's way of thinking, predestined to
virtue and villainy, respectively.
Tom meets with Sophia and begs her forgiveness. She says she
forgives him but wants proof of his devotion. He shows Sophia
her face in a mirror and asks how he could be unfaithful to such
loveliness. In turn she asks what he will say when she has left
NOTE: This scene has philosophical and symbolic importance.
As you've seen, the name Sophia comes from the Greek word
meaning wisdom. To some Greek philosophers, and to Fielding,
wisdom is the highest virtue a person can achieve. In Plato's
Phaedo, the philosopher Socrates says that man's eyes can never
really see wisdom; instead they can only see the shadow of it,
reflected as in a glass (mirror) darkly. Here, Fielding expands
Socrates' metaphor. In the mirror, Tom sees not the reflection
of Sophia's physical beauty, but rather a reflection of an
infinitely more important quality, her wisdom.
Sophia wants proof of Tom's fidelity, the kind of proof that
time alone can provide. Tom wonders when they can marry. A
year seems appropriate to Sophia. But Tom impetuously takes her
in his arms and kisses her. In bursts Squire Western. He
demands the wedding take place the very next day, and Sophia
says she will obey her father. Ironically she now uses
obedience to her father to get what she wants but what her pride
won't let her have: marriage to Tom Jones.
They celebrate that evening with Mrs. Miller, Nightingale,
Nancy, Western, and Allworthy. Sophia shines.
Tom marries Sophia and they settle on the Western estate.
Blifil is banished, but Tom gives him an annuity. Mrs.
Fitzpatrick remains separated from her husband and carries on
with the Irish nobleman. Mrs. Western is reconciled to Sophia
and visits occasionally. The Nightingales have purchased an
estate near Tom and Sophia. Mrs. Waters also comes home and
marries Western's parson. Black George, hearing his theft had
been discovered, flees. Partridge takes up his old position as
schoolteacher, and is engaged to Molly Seagrim.
Western gives Sophia and Tom his estate and moves to a
smaller house where the hunting is better. Western visits Tom
and Sophia frequently, doting on their children, a daughter and
a son. He declares he was never happier in his life. Allworthy
visits often, too, and Tom and Sophia love him as a father.
Fielding has brought Tom and Sophia together at the end of
their long romance, and returned them to their home. Tom has
achieved the wisdom he needed in order to gain Sophia and
happiness. Fielding's emphasis on wisdom as a path to happiness
reflects the eighteenth-century belief in reason as a central
quality of man. The other virtue Fielding highlights,
generosity, is shown once more in Tom's generosity toward
Blifil, as the novel concludes.
The mystery at the opening of the novel has also been
resolved. Tom has discovered his true parentage, and thus his
identity. Perhaps more importantly, he has reconciled with his
"father," Allworthy, as has Sophia with hers. Tom's banishment,
journey, and return home has been seen by some readers to
reflect the process of achieving adulthood. The young person
leaves home to establish an independent identity, then is
gradually reintegrated into family and society as an adult.
Paradise has been regained in other ways as well. The
primary villains--Blifil, Square, Thwackum, and Black
George--are gone, while Lady Bellaston, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and
Mrs. Western remain elsewhere.
Fielding heightens the feeling of fulfillment and resolution
through various plot strategies. For example, up until now
there have been almost no complete families in the novel.
Allworthy, Western, Mrs. Miller, and others are all without
spouses, just as Tom, Sophia, and Blifil are without a parent.
Tom and Sophia's marriage presents a complete family for the
first time in the novel. Also note that the marriage achieves
the main goal of many of the major characters--Western, Mrs.
Western, Blifil, and Allworthy--the uniting of the Western and
At the end of Tom Jones, Fielding has resolved the two basic
stories which give the novel its structure--the journey and the
romance. Tom's banishment has been resolved with his
reconciliation to Allworthy; his journey has been completed with
his return to the country. Similarly, Tom's romance with Sophia
has been resolved with their marriage. Tom and Sophia are home
TOM JONES: FIELDING AND THE THEATER
The stage taught Fielding how to break the monotony of flat,
continuous narrative.... Scenes do not ramble on and melt into
each other. They snap past, sharply divided, wittily
contrasted, cunningly balanced... only a theatre man's
expertness in the dramatic... could cover the packed intrigue
of the narrative. The theatre taught Fielding economy.
-V. S. Pritchett,
The Living Novel, 1946
TOM JONES: FIELDING'S LIMITS
The talk about the "perfect construction" of Tom Jones... is
absurd. There can't be subtlety of organization without richer
matter to organize, and subtler interests, than Fielding has to
offer. He is credited with range and variety and it is true
that some episodes take place in the country and some in town...
and so on. But we haven't to read a very large proportion of
Tom Jones in order to discover the limits of the essential
interests it has to offer us.
-F. R. Leavis,
The Great Tradition, 1948
Fielding... is regarded with a mixture of acceptance and
contempt, as a worthy old boy who did the basic engineering for
the novel because he invented the clockwork plot, but tiresomely
boisterous, "broad" to the point of being insensitive to fine
shades, lacking in any of the higher aspirations, and hampered
by a style which keeps his prosy commonsense temperament always
to the fore.
...I think the chief reason why recent critics have belittled Fielding is
that they find him intimidating.
Tom Jones, 1958
TOM JONES: TOM JONES AS FOLK HERO
Fielding carefully subordinates all other characters to Tom
and Sophia in a graded series of realizations. The nearer and
more important they are to the principals, the more complex they
are, but they are never very complex....
Tom Jones is that universal hero of folk tale and myth--the
foundling prince, the king's son raised by wolves, Moses in the
Tom Jones, 1967
TOM JONES: TOM JONES AND ALLEGORY
There is what may be called an iconomatic impulse behind much
of Fielding's art: many of his most memorable episodes and
characters, and the general design and movement of such books as
Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, may be seen to function
figuratively as emblem or allegory.... Sophy Western's image in
the glass is the literalizing of the Platonic metaphor [of
wisdom], the dramatization of Fielding's meaning in the broadly
allegorical scheme of the novel.
Fielding's Definition of Wisdom, 1968
TOM JONES: THE SYMMETRY OF TOM JONES
So symmetrical an arrangement calls attention to itself.
Life is just not like this. Such neatness does in truth suggest
the manipulated sequences of literature; the plot is indeed
carefully contrived. As used by modern critics words like
manipulate and contrive are pejoratives. They... would not, I
think, have been used in that way by Fielding.
-Frederick W. Hilles,
Art and Artifice in Tom Jones, 1968
TOM JONES: FIELDING'S "PROFOUND PLAY OF HUMOR"
The modern reader... may conclude that Fielding, so far
away, is not for him... may have been repelled by a certain
formality, a feeling that his author is addressing him from
under a periwig. Let him try again, reading... for the irony,
the profound play of humor beneath the surface play of fun, and
he will soon discover that he has made friends with a great
-J. B. Priestley,
The English Novel, 1927