The narrator admits that he plays favorites with his characters. For example, he confesses an "inclination of partiality" (16.6.2) to Sophia. In other words, he likes her better than a lot of his other inventions. The fact that the narrator can talk about how much he prefers some characters to other characters? That's a sign of how affectionate the tone of this novel is.
The narrator talks about these characters as though he knows them personally. He never describes any of them objectively (except maybe the forgettable "landladies" at every inn—those seem pretty abstract to us). And even the ones he doesn't like, such as Lady Bellaston or Mr. Blifil, never come across neutrally. The narrator's tone is emotional, even when he's being negative about the villains in the novel.
Still, even if the narrator talks about most of his characters like they are real people who he knows and loves, he doesn't deny their flaws. And that gets us to the other half of the tone of Tom Jones: the narrator is affectionate, but he's also sarcastic. So, for example, the narrator always calls Mr. Thwackum and Mr. Square "learned personages" (3.6.1), even though they are obviously both idiots.
Or, the narrator says that Bridget Allworthy speaks "with a voice sweet as the evening breeze of Boreas in the pleasant month of November" (1.8.5). Boreas is the Greek god of the north wind, and, unless you're in the southern hemisphere, where north = warm, and November = spring Boreas's name implies coldness and bitterness. So a voice that sounds like the north wind in November? That's going to be anything but "sweet."
The narrator often describes something in one way while strongly implying that it's the exact opposite. So while the narrator may like a lot of these characters, the overall tone of the novel still comes across as witty, darkly funny, and really sarcastic.
Fielding doesn't just leave us to guess what kind of a novel this is: he comes out and tells us. He announces that he is a "comic writer" (17.1.1), so Tom Jones is a comedy. And because it's a classic comedy, we know that it will end with a marriage and a happily-ever-after for our hero.
Fielding also lets us know that he wants Tom Jones to cut through false appearances to look into the heart of "human nature" (1.1.4). He wants to use humor to teach people to laugh "at the follies of others" and to "grieve at their own [mistakes]" (13.1.4). This makes Tom Jones a satire, a genre that focuses human stupidity and weakness.
Last but not least, we're going to add one genre that's important for Tom Jones specifically: Tom Jones is a picaresque novel. "Picaresque" comes from the Spanish word picaro, meaning rogue; this form of writing started out in Spain in the sixteenth century. Picaresque novels focus on lovable, attractive anti-heroes who travel around having funny adventures. They also tend to be super-long and episodic, without the same strong beginning/middle/end structure that later novels take on.
The picaresque is not really a popular genre now (maybe because these books get so long); probably the closest we come to it would be Jack Kerouac's On the Road. But Tom Jones fits in to this genre because Tom (while not being a bad guy) wanders around getting into a lot of trouble, much of which is his own fault. He also likes to wander, and he is super-attractive. Clearly, Fielding learned a thing or two reading Spanish prose fiction like Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (which comes up a lot in Tom Jones; check out our list of "Allusions" under "Cervantes" for some examples).
The short title of this novel is Tom Jones, which is also the name of our hero. This title-equals-main-character's-name equation was a big thing back when Fielding was writing. You can barely throw a stone at a bookshelf full of eighteenth-century novels (if you're into that kind of thing) without hitting one titled after its main character, from Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe to Samuel Richardson's Clarissa to Tobias Smollett's Roderick Random.
So by using his main character's name as the title, Henry Fielding was following the example of a lot of really successful books that came before Tom Jones.
But the formal, long title of this book is actually The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. And those two words—"history" and "foundling"—are worth thinking about in more detail.
First, Fielding specifically considers the word "history" in the first chapters of both Book 8 and Book 9. He admits that Tom Jones might not technically be a history, since the characters are not real people and there is no proof that any of the events in this book actually happened. At the same time, readers can believe that Tom Jones happened. (At least, this is what Fielding says—we're not so sure that we totally buy every twist and turn of this extremely strange, surprising plot.)
Unlike other "foolish novels" (9.1.1), Tom Jones focuses on consistent, realistic character development and avoids supernatural mumbo-jumbo. Fielding says that the credibility of his novel is what makes Tom Jones more like a history than a "monstrous [romance]" (9.1.1).
Then, there is the word "foundling." A foundling is an abandoned child with unknown parents. Obviously, Tom Jones is both born outside of marriage and doesn't really know his origins, so he certainly fits the dictionary definition of a foundling. But why does it matter to the themes of the novel that Tom is a kid of mystery?
We think it matters because the England that Fielding depicts in this book is filled with two kinds of people: those who care about money (the innkeepers, lawyers, and doctors of the world) and those who care about birth (gentlemen, squires, lords, ladies, and all the servants who depend on them).
And an individual's money and rank depend partly on his parents' places in the social hierarchy. Since Tom doesn't know his folks (at least, until the end), he doesn't have an official standing in the society that surrounds him. He has to prove himself as an individual before Squire Allworthy accepts him back into the family. So Tom is one of the first self-made men of English literature.
What's more, Tom's outsider status means that he can also talk pretty easily to both ordinary common folk and to aristocratic ladies. Tom's hazy background gives him the flexibility to move fairly freely throughout the world that Fielding is portraying. This ability to talk to everybody (because he doesn't really belong anywhere) makes Tom a great central character in a novel that tries to show the extremes of both lower class and upper class English culture.
In the very last chapter of Tom Jones (Book 18, Chapter 13), Mr. Nightingale makes up with his dad. Tom and Sophia get married and return to the countryside. Mr. Blifil gets sent off to the north of England to live on a small-ish allowance from Squire Allworthy and Tom. Squire Western retires and Tom takes over his estate. Mr. Square dies; Mrs. Fitzpatrick settles happily in London; Lady Bellaston treats TomSoph like strangers when they meet again; Mr. Nightingale and his family move in to a small piece of property near Tom; Mrs. Western reconciles with Sophia; Black George disappears, never to be seen again; Partridge considers marriage to Molly Seagrim; Mrs. Waters marries Mr. Supple; and Tom and Sophia have two delightful children.
Phew, that's a ton of plot!
What we find interesting about the way the narrator finishes off this novel is that he carefully lays out the cash value of a happy ending. Like, we don't just find out that Partridge is content and about to settle down with Molly Seagrim. The narrator also takes care to specify that Tom gives Partridge fifty pounds (about $10,000 in today's cash) a year as an income. Or when we hear that Mrs. Fitzpatrick separated successfully from her husband, we also discover that she "retains the little remains of her fortune" (18.13.15)—enough to set up a household on her own (with some help, the novel implies, from Mrs. Fitzpatrick's boyfriends).
Of course, we all know that money does not buy happiness. But the narrator subtly reminds us that it can give security and stability to people. All of these wandering characters like Mrs. Waters and Partridge—and Tom himself—have been moving from place to place in part because they do not have steady fortunes to guarantee their futures. It is an important part of the happy ending of Tom Jones that all of the good guys wind up with money to support themselves into the future.
So we feel like Fielding would offer a revision of that old saying: money may not buy you happiness, but it allows you to stay in one place to enjoy your happiness once you have found it. (We will admit, our revised saying is not as catchy as the original. But we think Fielding would approve of the sentiment!)
The page length of the chapters swells insanely in Book 18. This is because Fielding really jams in a lot of plot into that final section of the novel. The whole point of the classic comedy as a genre (go read our section on "Genre" for more on this topic) is that it ties up all the loose ends at the conclusion of the story. And Fielding takes his job as a comic writer and wrapper-upper of plot points very seriously.
So in Book 18, we suddenly hear about people like Jenny Jones and Molly Seagrim again—characters we haven't heard from in hundreds of pages. And the narrator directly addresses every last open question in specific detail, from who gets Tom out of jail (Lord Fellamar and the Irish nobleman) to how Lady Bellaston reacts to Tom and Sophia's wedding (coldly).
By tying up not only big problems (like Tom's identity and Mr. Blifil's crimes) but also small ones (like how Mr. Nightingale makes up with his father, Nightingale Senior) in the last book, Fielding impresses us with his sense of continuity and his memory for all of the little details of this hugely complicated and involved novel.
While we are amazed at Fielding's attention to detail, doesn't Book 18 seem a little, well, unlikely? It seems weird for a book that keeps emphasizing its own believability that all of the characters arrive at just the right time to add the necessary clues to expose Mr. Blifil's evil and Tom's basic goodness before the novel ends.
Just think about it—if Mrs. Waters hadn't gotten to Mrs. Miller's right at the end of Book 18, Chapter 6 to assure Squire Allworthy that she is not Tom's mother, than Squire Allworthy would have gone on his way thinking that Tom had committed incest with his mom. And Squire Allworthy doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would forgive and forget that kind of thing: it's super-creepy.
But while we may find these final plot points a little fake or even contrived, the narrator stops to defend them. When Squire Allworthy gets to Nightingale Senior's house at just the right time to spot Black George with his stolen money, the narrator comments:
Here an accident happened of a very extraordinary kind; one indeed of those strange chances whence very good and grave men have concluded that Providence often interposes in the discovery of the most secret villainy. (18.3.2)
The narrator admits that the sudden arrival of Squire Allworthy at Nightingale Senior's house the split second when he can learn something useful to the larger plot is "an accident" of a "very extraordinary kind" that some people could assign to "Providence." (Providence means divine fate, but of course, the only divine fate at work in Tom Jones is the author trying to finish up a complicated, sprawling plot line.) Still, the fact that the narrator points out that weird things do happen in the real world seems like a defense of the believability of this equally weird thing that suddenly happens in his fictional world.
After all, the narrator points out, historians often tell us truths that are stranger than fiction (or, as the narrator says in a much longer-winded fashion, history includes facts "of so extraordinary a nature as will require no small degree of historical faith to swallow them" [8.1.6]). Is Tom Jones really weirder than a lot of amazing true stories out there? Like that guy who floated above Los Angeles in his lawn chair? Maybe not.
So we'll admit that we see Fielding's point of view: lots of weird things happen in life, and it's not fair to say a novel is unrealistic because it includes amazing coincidences and bizarre chances.
At the same time, the last book does seem a little too tidy. The final paragraph includes the line, "To conclude, as there are not to be found a worthier man and woman, than this fond couple, so neither can any be imagined more happy" (18.13.24). This seems like Henry-Fielding-speak for that most fairy-tale-like ending: "And they lived happily ever after." And there is nothing that seems quite so fictional and made-up as a neat happy ending for everyone who deserves one.
Tom Jones literally covers a lot of ground. Henry Fielding wants to show us as many aspects as he can of life in England in 1745, from the strong class hierarchies of the countryside to the glittering (but often fake) high society of London. Tom's travels aren't just important because they allow Fielding to develop his character as an individual. They are also essential because they give Fielding an opportunity to portray his view of England's character, as a nation of strong social contrasts between countryfolk and cityfolk and the rich and the poor.
The multiple settings of the book, from country houses to inns to city drawing rooms, gives us the sense that we are seeing a true cross-section of contemporary English life through Fielding's eyes.
We've been keeping a running list of all the inns in Tom Jones: there's the one in Hambrook, on the way to Bristol; there's the one at Upton; there's the Bull and Gate in Holborn; the Bell at Gloucester—and the list goes on. Since Tom spends at least half the book traveling all over southwest England, this book has a ton of settings: stacks of inns, multiple country houses, and a series of city homes and fashionable drawing rooms. What can you say about the general setting of Tom Jones when it includes so many different places?
Well, critic James E. Evans points out that, yeah, there are a lot of individual locations in Tom Jones. But these locations all fall into roughly three categories. And the three categories line up with three separate parts of the novel's plot development. This is a great way of reading the novel's physical spaces because it means you don't have to sweat the small stuff. It's less important to think of differences between the inn at Coventry and the inn at Upton than it is to recognize that they are both inns.
So here are the three categories:
The two main country houses in Tom Jones belong to Squire Allworthy (specifically, Paradise Hall, in Glastonbury, Somersetshire) and Squire Western. These estates have lots of poor, working-class people living on them. And all of these poorer people rely on the two squires for money and for employment. They even count on the squires for justice: both men are magistrates, which means they are local judges, with the right to punish these poorer people for breaking laws.
(Which, honestly, leads to some really messed up "justice." For more on why these squires shouldn't be allowed to lay down the law, check out our section on "Morality and Ethics" under "Quotes and Thoughts.")
Like everyone else living on these estates—the servants, the villagers, the squires' other family members—Tom totally depends on Squire Allworthy to support him. And when he begins trying to do his own thing, to help the Seagrim family in his own way (with partridges and a sold Bible), Tom gets horribly punished for it. If Tom's ever going to grow into an independent person, he's going to have to physically go somewhere else—which brings us to our next setting.
The country estates in this book are like tiny little kingdoms, with the squires as the kings. The people living there get a place to stay and money in their pockets in exchange for doing exactly what the squires tell them to do. If they don't follow the rules, they get kicked out.
But while Tom is traveling on the road with Partridge, he comes to a really different kind of setting: the inn. These places are much less orderly than the estate. The line between rich and poor gets blurry, and people of different classes come together to gossip and backstab pretty freely. So what makes the difference?
Money. The innkeepers in this book change their behavior dramatically depending on whether or not someone can pay for a good room. Think of the inn at Upton: when the landlady first sees half-naked Mrs. Waters, she tries to shove her out the door with a broom. But as soon as she hears that this woman is Captain Waters's wife, she starts calling her "your ladyship" (9.4.8).
The social order in these spaces is a lot less set or fixed than in the country estate. And that also means that characters (and especially Tom) jump between the kitchen (for poor people) and rooms upstairs (for rich people) all the time. Since Tom is still trying to make his way in the world financially, without any support from Squire Allworthy, it makes sense that his struggles with cash happen in places like these inns, which are all about money.
If the country state is about dependence and the inn is about money, the town (which always means London in this book) is about surface appearances. The narrator constantly describes the social interactions in the drawing rooms of London as "brilliant" (13.4.7). But even though the people in London are witty and the houses are grand, there isn't a lot of substance there. Even in Mrs. Miller's friendly house, Mr. Nightingale almost doesn't marry Nancy (even though he loves her) because he worries that it will look bad.
And it's in this section of the book, where we get to meet all of these fashionable people with grand titles, that the marriage plot starts jumping back into the plot. Surrounded by the fakeness of London, Tom starts to get fed up: his weird paid relationship with Lady Bellaston teaches him that people in the city are a lot less serious about love and marriage than he is. Tom regrets the hollowness of his earlier affairs. And he promises to be a better man to Sophia.
So London's shiny high society really just shows Tom how much he wants to go back to the country estate—especially since now, as Squire Allworthy's official heir, Tom is going to get to be boss some day.
The road runs between all of these different social spaces of the novel, but it's not really part of any of them. It's on the road that truly random encounters can happen, like when Tom finds the house of the Man of the Hill or when Tom runs into the gypsies and talks to their King.
But even if the road allows for things slightly outside of the usual social order to occur, it still isn't completely separate from the other settings of the book. After all, Tom rescues Mrs. Waters from Northerton while he's traveling, and she turns out to be none other than Jenny Jones, his supposed mother. So even on the road, these chance encounters can still have major plot consequences once the characters return to their usual social worlds.
You know how, when someone tries to convince you of an urban legend, they'll often start off by saying, "this happened to a friend of a friend." So, for example: "My friend's friend ate a watermelon seed, and a watermelon grew in his stomach, dude." By attaching this story to "a friend of a friend," it seems (kinda-sorta) more believable.
Well, the place names in Tom Jones seem to work a little bit like "a friend of a friend." By anchoring these (sometimes, really farfetched) plot lines in real-world, recognizable places, Fielding adds believability to the story.
So, yes, the Hercules Pillars actually was a hotel in western London. Maybe as readers, we'll find it easier to believe that Squire Western managed to keep Sophia locked up there for a time now that we know that this inn actually existed.
If you mosey on over to our "Allusions" list, you'll see that Henry Fielding refers to the ancient Roman poet and critic Horace at least twenty-four times in Tom Jones. That's six more references than he makes to William freakin' Shakespeare, the first runner-up in terms of overall number of citations in this book. So it's not a huge shock to us that Fielding uses a line from Horace as his epigraph to Tom Jones: he clearly loves the guy.
The line Fielding borrows is "Mores hominum multorum vidit," which is Latin for "[he] had sight of the manners [and cities] of many peoples." This phrase comes from Horace's work Ars Poetica, which means The Art of Poetry. It lays out all kinds of do's and don'ts for aspiring poets. Since Tom Jones includes its own series of announcements about what works and what doesn't in writing fiction, again, we aren't too surprised that Fielding borrows a lot of tips and hints from his main man Horace in producing his new guidelines for authors.
As for the meaning of the epigraph, this line is actually Horace's quotation of the great Greek poet, Homer. Horace is complimenting Homer's ability to jump straight into the most important part of his plot lines, without making huge promises that this will be the most exciting story you've ever heard.
Nope, Homer keeps it simple: this will be story of a man who has seen "the manners […] of many peoples." Doesn't this attract your curiosity? Don't you want to know more about these "many peoples" that the hero of Homer's epic poem has seen? And why has he been traveling around so much? By making his poems intriguing and exciting without bragging about it, Homer accomplishes a lot more than lesser poets who keep saying their work is thrilling but who never live up to their hype. Horace admires Homer's straightforwardness, and he wants other poets to imitate it.
Similarly, Tom Jones does not start out with the announcement that this book will tell of the most important events that have ever rocked the kingdom of Britain. The promise of this novel is much lower key: all Fielding swears to us in the first chapter of Book 1 is that he is going to show us the habits of both the lower classes and upper classes. Like Homer's Odysseus, Tom Jones will have observed "the manners" of a broad range of people. But by checking out these varied customs, maybe we will get to something more fundamental, what these "many peoples" share in common: their human natures.
We can't deny that Tom Jones is a tough read. Not only is there the usual difficulty of figuring out the old-fashioned language of a book published two hundred and fifty years ago, but Henry Fielding is also a deeply sarcastic writer. This means that he often says the opposite of what he actually means in order to make us laugh. We find Fielding's sarcasm hilarious (we love a good biting, double-edged comment), but we can't deny that it takes a lot of concentration to figure out what, exactly, he is actually implying at any given time.
Still, while the language and style of Tom Jones can be a definite challenge for contemporary readers, the novel's three-dimensional characters, passionate romance, odd adventures, and witty writing make the work Fielding puts us through to understand his novel more than worthwhile.
Listen, we love Henry Fielding to death, but man, the guy can talk. His sentences are often incredibly long and involved, and he loves using SAT words on the tough end of the spectrum whenever he can.
Of course, we can't really get mad at him for his wordy descriptions, since it was fashionable in the eighteenth century in England to write this way. Check out Gulliver's Travels to see another example of this kind of dense eighteenth-century style. And honestly, once you get used to it, his fiction is really funny. Fielding is sly, and he knows how to insert complex references and imagery to poke fun at his characters.
Let's take a look at a passage:
The squire himself now sallied forth, and began to roar forth the name of Sophia as loudly, and in as hoarse a voice, as whilome did Hercules that of Hylas; and, as the poet tells us that the whole shore echoed back the name of that beautiful youth, so did the house, the garden, and all the neighbouring fields resound nothing but the name of Sophia." (10.8.13)
Fielding could have written: "The squire wanders all over his estate calling Sophia's name until it echoes." That is pretty much the gist of this whole thing. But that would be too straightforward (and boring). Instead of doing that, Fielding makes a dense classical reference to Hercules and Hylas.
Let's take this apart: Squire Western "began to roar" like Hercules did for Hylas. We know from the myth that Hercules called his beloved Hylas's name after Hylas disappeared with a bunch of river nymphs. Fielding is comparing the sound of Squire Western's voice to the sound of Hercules's. He also uses the word "whilome," which even in the eighteenth century was a really old-fashioned, uncommon way of saying, "while."
Now, Squire Western is a rough-and-tumble, angry, rude old man. He's not typically what you'd think of when you imagine an ancient Greek legendary hero like Hercules.And he's also not the kind of guy who would use formal, old-fashioned English expressions like "whilome." So the narrator is using really fancy talk to describe someone who is anything but serious or high-toned. This passage is funny because it presents a strong contrast between its plain and simple subject matter and its complicated, witty language.
Fielding asks a lot of his readers with this kind of writing, since he wants you to get the references so that you can laugh at the humor. Luckily, if you haven't swallowed textbooks of Greek mythology, Shmoop has your back: check out our list of "Allusions" to find out more about Fielding's many (many) quotations and connections.
There are surprisingly few symbols in Tom Jones, especially given how long the novel is. We think that part of the reason for this relative lack of symbols is that Fielding keeps emphasizing the importance of realism and believability in fiction. Literature that relies heavily on symbolism—on objects and images that actually mean something else—tends to be less strictly realistic than what Fielding appears to be going for here.
Still, there is clearly one thing in the novel that symbolizes Tom and Sophia's love for one another: Sophia's fur muff. (A muff is a tube of fur or fabric that women used to use to warm their hands back in the day.) Mrs. Honour is the one who first points out the deeper meaning of Sophia's muff, when she tells Sophia that she spotted Tom kissing it and calling it "the prettiest muff in the world" (4.14.11). Obviously, Tom is using the muff as a stand-in for Sophia herself.
After hearing this romantic story, Sophia buys into the whole muff-as-symbol thing wholeheartedly. When her muff accidentally falls into the fire, Sophia grabs it straight out of the flames. Her passion to save her muff convinces Tom that Sophia must have feelings for him. So this muff (or at least, the feelings it symbolizes) is what brings our two love-struck main characters together.
The muff reappears twice more: at the inn at Upton, where Sophia discovers that Tom is sleeping with Mrs. Waters, she bribes a maid to stick the muff in Tom's room somewhere where he will spot it. Tom finds the muff and realizes that he just missed Sophia, and that she is probably angry with him. And when Tom refuses Arabella Hunt's attractive proposal of marriage in Book 15, Chapter 12, he takes out Sophia's muff and kisses it to affirm his loyalty to her. Each time, the muff stands in for Sophia and for the relationship between the two.
Now, the big question: why a muff, in particular? It is a pretty common object that Sophia would probably have carried around with her a lot, so it's a convenient, believable thing for Tom to notice about his ladylove. It's also a physical object, so Tom can kiss it whenever he's thinking about Sophia (which happens surprisingly often in the narrative).
But beyond the explanation of simple convenience, there is a somewhat ruder interpretation. We'll just come out and say it: the slang term "muff" (to mean a woman's pubic hair) was in use even back in the 1740s. We are pretty sure that Fielding specifically chose a muff to symbolize Tom and Sophia's love because (a) the pun is lewd and funny, and (b) it emphasizes the sexual tension between the two characters early on in their relationship, which builds up our suspense about when these two crazy kids are going to get together.
When Tom, Sophia, and Master Blifil are all kids together, Tom gives Sophia a little bird to raise. She calls the bird "Tommy" and attaches him to her wrist by a string. Master Blifil tricks Sophia into lending him little Tommy, at which point Mr. Blifil releases the bird into the air. The bird flies away and, sadly, gets killed by a hawk.
Sophia's love for Tommy-the-bird obviously implies something about her feelings for Tommy-the-boy. But even beyond the obviously lovey-dovey (bird pun!) symbolism of this bird, we also think his fate has a deeper meeting. In a few short books, Tom is going to tie himself emotionally to Sophia in the same way that little Tommy-the-bird was attached to Sophia's wrist by a string. And then that link is going to be broken by the cruel, manipulative intervention of Master Blifil, just as Master Blifil stole Tommy-the-bird from his owner, Sophia.
Like Tommy-the-bird, Tom is going to be set free to fly a difficult road. So it seems like Tommy-the-bird's death by hawk is a bad omen for our hero. Luckily, Tom's fate is very different from little Tommy's. But the twists and turns of Sophia's bird's life strongly foreshadow the early relationship between Sophia and Tom, before Tom is forced to leave Somerset to find his own fortune.
Tom runs through money very quickly. Not only does he lose Squire Allworthy's five hundred pounds almost as soon as he leaves home (partly with Black George's help), but he also spends the rest of his cash quickly on rounds of drinks for his soldier buddies or on charity for his local highwayman. The point is: Tom is definitely careless with money.
The one exception to Tom's spendthrift ways is the hundred-pound note that Tom discovers in a small book that Sophia has dropped on the road to London. Tom hangs onto this hundred-pound note even when he is desperate for cash, and even when Partridge pressures him to just spend the money already.
Tom refuses, because he wants to use this money as a reason to see Sophia again. She is so deeply angry with him over his relationship with Mrs. Waters that she might refuse to see him unless he has a definite excuse, like returning a large sum of money that she has lost.
Tom's careful treatment of this hundred-pound note goes to show that Tom is willing to learn some self-discipline for Sophia's sake, even if his natural tendency is to spend everything in sight. Tom's issues with women are a little harder for him to overcome than his carelessness with money, but at least this hundred-pound note—which Tom carries safely for ages without ever seeming tempted to spend it—gives us our first real proof that Tom can learn to change for Sophia's sake.
Tom Jones's narrator is definitely first person, since he says, "I" all the time. In fact, he makes references to his real life off the page, as Henry Fielding, so we know that the narrator is supposed to stand in for the author. (As an example of the narrator/author blur, check out our notes on Charlotte Cradock, Fielding's first wife, on our list of "References.") But the narrator does not participate directly in the action of the book. He stands off to the side, observing and commenting. That's why he's a "peripheral" narrator: he tells the story, but he's not part of the central action.
This off-to-the-side point of view allows the narrator to speculate freely about why the characters do what they do. But it also means that he often can't say, with a hundred percent certainty, that he's right about their motivations. So, for example, the narrator says he's not sure if Lord Fellamar bribed Lady Bellaston to help him marry Sophia (16.8.11). Which leads us to ask—
We can think of at least a few reasons: when the narrator says he doesn't know something about the story he's telling, it's often strategic—and hilarious. So, regarding the guard who thinks Tom is a ghost at Upton and shoots at him, the narrator comments:
Whether fear or courage was the occasion of his firing, or whether he took aim at the object of his terror, I cannot say. If he did, however, he had the good fortune to miss his man. (7.14.17)
This whole passage is just dripping with contempt for this superstitious guard. When the narrator says that he "cannot say" if the guard shot at Tom's "ghost" out of fear or courage, he's implying that it doesn't matter either way—the guy is an idiot, and he's lucky he missed Tom. The narrator's point of view as an observer gives him lots of opportunities for this kind of sarcastic comedy.
The limited perspective also makes gives us a sense of closeness and intimacy with the narrator. He's willing to admit to us when he's not totally sure of something, which makes us feel (weirdly) more confident that he is telling the truth. The narrator is a lot more willing to admit his own flaws than, say, Squire Western or Lady Bellaston (those two would rather swallow hot coals than admit that they were wrong). So we often like the narrator better than the characters he describes.
But most of all, this narrative perspective adds to Tom Jones's overall sense of realism. No one knows everything, not even the narrator of a novel. By admitting to the limits on his own understanding, the narrator reminds us that he is supposed to be human. His limited point of view makes him seem more three-dimensional and believable as a character.
Obviously, there are lots of different kinds of comedies. Transparent and Groundhog Day are funny, but they have almost nothing else in common. So it's hard to break down what the major aspects of comedy really are: how can you define a "basic plot" for a comedy, when part of the point of comedy is to be inventive and surprising?
Still, one thing that almost all comedies have in common is reconciliation—by the end of the plot line, everything is supposed to be resolved, with the good characters ending happily and the bad characters ending unhappily. By this definition, Tom Jones certainly fulfills Christopher Booker's criteria for classic comedy.
When Mr. Blifil convinces Squire Allworthy of Tom's violence, and drunkenness, Tom loses Squire Allworthy's respect and support. He's thrown out onto the street without a lot going for him beyond his (a) excellent good looks, and (b) natural charm.
It takes the whole rest of the book for Tom to regain Squire Allworthy's favor, and for Mr. Blifil to be exposed as a lying dirtbag. But of course, since this is a comedy, the bad guys are exposed and the good guys are proved innocent in the final book of the novel.
One of Tom's serious problems in this novel is that he doesn't know who his parents are. This lack of a definite origin story really matters in a social world where a person's parents (and their fortunes) determine that person's own social status. Tom's uncertain birth makes it impossible for him to marry Sophia, and it keeps his relationship with Squire Allworthy unstable and insecure.
It's only once Tom finds out that he really is a blood relation of Squire Allworthy that his life starts looking better. By the end of the novel, we know that Tom is still an illegitimate child (since Bridget Allworthy was not married when she gave birth to Tom). But the fact that he actually has blood ties to Squire Allworthy and that Squire Allworthy has named Tom his official heir resolves the major issues of Tom's birth… and where Tom is going to get his cash flow from.
Poor Tom and Sophia spend about 90% of this novel just missing each other in terms of romance. The two of them never quite seem to be on the same page, emotionally speaking, until the last book of Tom Jones. When Sophia realizes she loves Tom early on in the novel, Tom is attached to Molly Seagrim. When Tom discovers that he loves Sophia back, he realizes that he can't marry her because he is much too poor. When Sophia escapes her father's brutal lockdown to avoid marrying Mr. Blifil, she catches up with Tom only to find him gettin' it on with Mrs. Waters.
And when Tom finally tracks down Sophia in London, she refuses to see him once she finds out that he has also been seeing Lady Bellaston on the side. With all of these twists and turns, we are still a little surprised that Tom and Sophia wind up happily married at the end of the novel. But that's comedy for you: these lovebirds end up in the same nest.
Families are rarely anything but divided in Tom Jones: not only are Tom and Squire Allworthy at odds for two-thirds of the novel, but Sophia has to fight endlessly against the other Westerns to be allowed to make her own choices. Not only does her father try to pressure her into marrying Mr. Blifil against her will, but her aunt also tries to force her to marry Lord Fellamar, even after Mrs. Western finds out that Lord Fellamar tried to rape Sophia. (We still can't believe that.) But in spite of all of these struggles, the novel manages to wrap up these frayed family relations by the end of the book, once Sophia is safely married to now-rich Tom.
By the end of Tom Jones, Tom's true goodness and Mr. Blifil's true evil have both been revealed. All of the good things Tom could wish for—love, family, and money—have come to him, while Mr. Blifil has been sent off to live in the north of England in poverty. Since this novel is a classic comedy, all of the plot twists and turns have been safely reconciled by the conclusion. Phew.
The big mystery at the start of Tom Jones surrounds our hero's origin story: is Tom really the son of Jenny Jones, the servant, and Mr. Partridge, the former schoolteacher? As an illegitimate child, Tom can't really expect to inherit a ton of money from Squire Allworthy. The whole estate is going to go to the squire's legitimate nephew Blifil. So what's going to happen to Tom, who is technically lower class by birth, but who is also still being raised as an upper-class gentleman? How is he going to find any stability in his life, when he is caught between high and low social positions and has no money to his name?
Fast forward a decade and a half or so. Tom is becoming a big player with the ladies. He already has a girlfriend, Molly Seagrim, when he realizes that he is actually truly, desperately in love with his neighbor, Sophia Western. While it turns out that Molly's child isn't necessarily Tom's after all (luckily for Tom), the fact that he has been seducing women in the area does not impress his guardian, Squire Allworthy. And when Sophia refuses to marry the squire's nephew Mr. Blifil because she's already in love with Tom, that's another black mark against him in the squire's book.
The final straw for Squire Allworthy's relationship with Tom comes when Mr. Blifil makes up a whole story about Tom being a nasty, punch-happy drunk. This story isn't true, but Squire Allworthy believes it. So, three strikes and Tom is out: between the women, the drinking, and the violence, Squire Allworthy cuts Tom off from his financial support and kicks Tom out of his house. Since Tom has no direct legal or blood relationship to Squire Allworthy, he can't protest this treatment. So Tom loses his girl and his home in the space of just a few chapters.
While Tom is off walking the roads of southwest England trying to find something for himself to do, things aren't completely peaceful back home in Somerset. Squire Western tries to force Sophia to marry Mr. Blifil against her will. Sophia decides her only option is to run away from home. So now, both the lovers are out on the road, Tom and Sophia. Will they meet somewhere in this wide, wild world? Will they make their star-crossed romance work, in spite of the fact that Squire Western is dead set against his daughter marrying a bastard like Tom?
Since Tom and Sophia are both on the road in roughly the same area, we aren't too surprised that they cross paths during their travels. What is a little surprising is that Tom is hooking up with another woman at this inn at Upton when Sophia arrives and hears that he is there. Why does Tom sleep with someone else when he is supposed to be desperately in love with Sophia? Well, he may adore Sophia. But he also recognizes that the two of them are probably never going to get married. And he likes sex. So when Mrs. Waters—who is a total hottie—makes Tom an offer, he decides to take her up on it.
It is Tom's horrible luck that Sophia happens to be around at the inn while all of this is going on. Once Sophia hears (a) that Tom is in bed with someone else, and (b) that there is a lot of gossip circulating about her (since she assumes that Tom has been blabbing her name all over the place), she decides to go straight to London (do not pass Go, do not collect $200). So now, Tom and Sophia's relationship seems as far from settled as it's possible to get: Sophia thinks Tom has betrayed her, and Tom doesn't know where she is, so he can't apologize.
Once Tom and Sophia reach London, things are kind of at a standstill. Even though they are in the same city at last, it seems harder than ever to make their relationship work. Sophia is torn between Lady Bellaston and then Mrs. Western, who both eagerly want her to marry Lord Fellamar (even though he almost rapes her). When Squire Western comes back into the picture, he also starts up his old tune of Sophia-you-have-to-marry-Mr.-Blifil-right-now-or-I-will-hate-you-forever. (Urgh.)
And as for Tom, he is stuck in the clutches of Lady Bellaston, who is (a) giving him money (which is very important for keeping clothes on his back and a roof over his head while Tom is in London) and (b) making his love life very difficult. As Lady Bellaston continues to sleep with Tom, she also knows all about his feelings for Sophia. She is so dead set against Tom ending up with Sophia that she finally convinces Lord Fellamar to try and kidnap Tom to get rid of him. (Her logic is of the if-I-can't-have-him-no-one-can variety.)
So during their stay in London, Tom and Sophia barely have time to think of each other, let alone pursue a romantic relationship. The fact that Sophia knows Tom has slept with Mrs. Waters and even proposed to Lady Bellaston makes it hard to imagine that these two kids will ever make it work.
There are a bunch of things standing in the way of Tom and Sophia's marriage, including Tom's low birth, his total lack of cash or a permanent home, and the Westerns' desire for Sophia to marry Lord Fellamar or Mr. Blifil or anyone-but-Tom. But the biggest obstacle is really Sophia's anger at Tom for his unfaithfulness. Tom keeps saying that he loves Sophia and only Sophia, but the fact that he sleeps with Molly Seagrim, Mrs. Waters, and Lady Bellaston makes his love difficult for Sophia to believe.
It's in Book 17, Chapter 6 when Tom honestly swears to Sophia that he is going to stay 100% true to her, that we see a light at the end of the tunnel. Tom is finally going to behave like a real fiancé to Sophia, instead of a guy who loves her a lot but also likes the look of lots other ladies. There are a ton of loose ends that the novel spends most of Books 17 and 18 fully wrapping up. But we identify this moment as the real beginning of Tom Jones's denouement, when all of the details of the book begin to come together.
After solving all of the major, outstanding mysteries of the plot of Tom Jones in Books 17 and 18, the last chapter of Tom Jones gives us the low-down on the final fates of each of our major characters. A few of the bad characters are punished: for example, Mr. Blifil receives a smallish allowance of three hundred pounds a year, but he has been totally cut off from that huge inheritance he was expecting.
There are also lots of marriages for the good guys (since this is a comedy with a classic happy ending): Mrs. Waters marries Mr. Supple, Molly Seagrim is going to marry Partridge, and of course, Tom marries Sophia. Tom could not be happier with this outcome. The big mystery of his origin story has also been solved, and he is rich and respected throughout the area. So all is well that end's well with Tom Jones.
Tom Jones is a great kid, but he is also—at least everyone thinks—the illegitimate son of absent parents (Jenny Jones and Mr. Partridge, the schoolteacher). He doesn't exactly have a fortune coming to him, and his relationship with his guardian is not totally secure. While Squire Allworthy has been raising him generously, the neighborhood generally agrees that Tom is a rascal who is going to come to a bad end.
And since Tom has no official relationship to Squire Allworthy, there is nothing Tom can do to protect himself if Squire Allworthy decides to side with the anti-Tom crew.
Once Squire Allworthy does, in fact, side with the anti-Tom crew, Tom winds up on the road with basically no money and no set future. During this section of the novel, Tom seems about as far from a happy ending as possible: his beloved Sophia barely avoids marrying the loathsome Mr. Blifil, despite really intense pressure from her father and her aunt. Tom's supposed friend, Black George the gamekeeper, steals what little money Tom has from Squire Allworthy.
Tom keeps trying to join the army to at least give himself something to do, but he never quite gets there. And worst of all, Sophia runs away from home just in time to arrive at the same inn where Tom is in bed with another woman. So Tom is (a) disowned, (b) bankrupt, and (c) in the doghouse with his ladylove. How is all of this going to get resolved?
Londonis like a magnet in Tom Jones: it attracts and draws in all of the characters in the book (luckily, just in time to resolve the novel's complicated plot). So, Squire Western appears at Lady Bellaston's just in time to prevent Sophia from being assaulted by Lord Fellamar. Mr. Dowling the lawyer arrives at Mrs. Miller's at just the right time to explain Mr. Blifil's horrible schemes for once and for all to Squire Allworthy.
And Mrs. Waters/Jenny Jones meets with Squire Allworthy just in time to assure him (a) that she is not really Tom's mother, and (b) that Mr. Blifil tried to use Mr. Dowling to bribe her to prosecute Tom for murder. Because all of these characters turn up when they need to, we get our happy ending: Squire Allworthy names Tom his heir after disinheriting Mr. Blifil, and Tom finally gets to marry his beloved Sophia.
Tom Jones has many (ever so many) literary, cultural, and historical references. Fielding includes them on almost every page. Here, we have chosen to focus on his most prominent literary references and on the historical and cultural stuff you need to know to understand the novel. So you can consider these lists the cream of the crop: we aren't going to cover every shout-out, but we are going to pick out the best shout-outs.
Alexander Pope (1.1.6; 5.1.16; 5.11.1—chapter title; 6.2.5; 7.12.8; 8.1.2; 8.1.17; 8.5.9; 11.7.7; 14.1.10): eighteenth-century poet who specialized in satire and biting wit.
Homer (1.8.4; 4.1.3; 4.8.1—chapter title and all of Book 4, Chapter 8; 6.2.5; 7.12.10; 8.1.2; 8.5.9; 9.5.3; 11.7.7; 12.1.6; 13.1.1; 13.1.6; 13.2.2; 14.1.2; 14.1.5; 16.1.7):
Homer is probably one of the most famous poets, if not the most famous poet in the world, ever: he lived about the 8th or 9th century B.C.E. in Greece, and he wrote two epic classics, The Odyssey and The Iliad, about the Greek siege of the city of Troy.
Of course, now there are theories that Homer never existed, or that he was multiple people, but whoever he was, the epic poetry attached to his name has strongly influenced many later European poets and writers right up to the present day.
Similarly, The Iliad begins, "Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus"—as though The Iliad is the song of the goddess and not of the poet. Lots of later poets imitate Homer's whole address-to-the-muse thing to make their work seem more formal and classical.
And Fielding mocks this "Homerican stile" (in other words, "Homer-like style") when he starts out "Ye Muses then, whoever ye are, who love to sing battles […] assist me on this great occasion" (4.8.5). He makes fun of stuffy classical style by using this Homer-ish language to describe something as non-epic and silly as a fight between Molly and the village ladies.
Ovid (1.10.16; 2.3.15; 8.5.8; 8.9.1; 8.11.26; 8.12.5; 9.3.10; 10.8.13; 16.3.7): ancient Roman poet; Fielding first introduces Ovid in comparison to Captain Blifil, who is supposed to be as familiar with love as this poet. Still, Ovid actually wrote a long poem called the Art of Love (Ars Amatoria), while Captain Blifil's main success in this arena is that he convinces Bridget Allworthy to marry him. We think Ovid wins this competition hands down.
Colley, Cibber, An Apology for a Life: "Tho' we have properly enough entitled this our work, a history, and not a life; nor an apology for a life, as is more in fashion" (2.1.1): Tom Jones editor R.P.C. Mutter writes that this passage is a reference to the famous eighteenth-century actor Colley Cibber, who wrote a popular autobiography that he called an Apology for a Life in 1740.
Poor Colley—in addition to being stuck with the worst name we have ever heard in our lives, he was also publicly mocked by all the smart alecks of his day, even though he was a talented and entertaining memoirist. In addition to Fielding's brief, snide reference to Colley's Apology here in Tom Jones, Colley Cibber was also one subject of famous poet Alexander Pope's long satire The Dunciad. In fact, Colley Cibber was the main Dunce of Pope's 1743 edition of the poem.
Aristotle (2.3.1 [chapter title]; 2.7.8; 3.3.1-2; 4.13.13; 5.1.2; 5.10.6; 7.1.3; 8.1.7; 8.13.14; 11.1.14; 14.1.5) Aristotle was a fourth-century B.C.E. Greek philosopher who broke from Plato to make his own sweeping philosophical claims. Fielding uses him as a reference all the time.
William Shakespeare (2.3.14; 3.6.4; 5.7.19; 6.1.10; 7.1.6; 7.14.15; 8.1.11; 9.1.9; 9.3.7; 10.1.1; 10.8.7; 11.1.8; 11.1.10; 12.10.8; 13.1.4; 15.3.15; 16.5—whole chapter (references to Hamlet); 16.10.3; 17.3.14) Only the greatest English playwright ever. Also, the man could really pull off a starched collar.
Horace (Epigraph; 2.4.5; 2.8.5; 3.2.8; 4.2.9; 5.1.15; 5.7.6; 5.9.8; 7.1.13-4; 7.6.5; 8.1.2; 8.1.9; 8.5.1; 8.6.11; 8.13.18; 9.1.4; 9.1.7; 9.5.13; 10.1.5; 11.1.14; 12.1.6; 12.2.13-4; 12.3.17; 13.3.2): ancient Roman poet and critic; the narrator first refers in passing to his Epistles.
The World War I poet Wilfred Owen wrote a brutal, moving response to Virgil's patriotic pro-war sentiments; we strongly recommend that you check out Owen's version of "Dulce et decorum est." Have a kleenex ready, though.
As per his usual habits when it's a Horatian ode, Fielding quotes Philip Francis's 1746 translation: "Place me where never summer breeze/Unbinds the glebe, or warms the trees;/Where ever lowering clouds appear,/And angry Jove deforms th'inclement year/Place me beneath the burning ray,/Where rolls the rapid carr of day;/Love and the nymph shall charm my toils,/The nymph who sweetly speaks, and softly smiles."
Plato (3.3.1-2; 7.3.17; 8.13.14; 16.5.5; 18.4.2): Plato is a famous ancient Greek philosopher of moral and political issues; he lived during the fourth century B.C.E., a little before the time of Aristotle (the other major Greek guy who comes up all the time in Tom Jones). Mr. Square supposedly follows Plato's moral beliefs, but the narrator keeps emphasizing that Mr. Square's approach to morality is totally theoretical. He has no interest in practical morality, but only in moral philosophy. Honestly, we don't think Plato would approve.
Samuel Butler, Hudibras (4.1.2; 4.8.5; 8.1.3; 8.9.3; 10.9.9) Butler was seventeenth-century writer of comedies, of which Hudibras is the main one Fielding cares about.
Miguel de Cervantes (4.8.18; 8.4.1—chapter title; 13.1.4; 16.1.7): seventeenth-century Spanish novelist and clear influence on Fielding.
Juvenal (4.10.5; 4.10.13; 7.13.8; 10.1.4; 12.4.10; 14.8.1): a Roman writer famous for his satires.
Virgil (5.1.11; 5.4.7; 5.10.7; 5.11.1; 8.4.6; 8.6.6; 8.14.16; 10.1.3; 10.6.5; 12.1.6; 12.6.4; 13.1.1; 13.1.6; 13.2.8; 14.1.2; 14.1.5; 16.1.7; 16.3.7) Virgil is a Latin poet who wrote the epic Aeneid as a Roman response to Homer's much earlier poems The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Tully (a.k.a. Cicero) (5.2.4; 7.1.13; 12.1.6; 12.13.14; 14.1.2-5; 14.8.1; 15.4.2; 15.7.11; 17.4.5; 18.4.2): Marcus Tullius Cicero was a really, really famous Roman politician and philosopher during the first century B.C.E. (In the eighteenth century, the English affectionately called him Tully.)
John Vanbrugh (5.5.17; 12.5.10; 14.1.8): seventeenth-century comic playwright.
Joseph Addison (5.7.3; 15.10.8): eighteenth-century essayist, poet, and all-around wit.
Thomas Otway (8.2.3; 8.10.4; 9.1.9; 11.5.7): Otway was a seventeenth-century playwright.
Terence (8.5.1; 8.5.8; 8.9.2; 9.6.3; 12.13.13): Terence was a second-century B.C.E. writer of Latin comedies
Bridewell (1.3.5; 1.9.7; 4.9.6; 5.4.2; 7.9.1; 7.9.3; 7.9.10): an early house of correction in London
William Hogarth (1.11.7; 2.3.6; 3.6.7; 10.8.7; 14.1.8): Eighteenth-century British artist and social satirist.
Methodism: (1.10.12; 8.8.2; 13.8.14; 18.13.13) Protestant religious denomination founded in the 18th century as a movement to reform the Anglican church.. Fielding expresses a lot of prejudice against Methodism in his passing references, implying that Methodists are puritanical and anti-fun.
Charlotte Cradock (4.2.5; 13.1.1): Fielding's first wife, who died in 1744, five years before the publication of Tom Jones.
Deism (4.4.4): Deism is the belief that you can prove that God exists only through human reason and natural observation; deists do not believe in miracles or in the supernatural side of religious faith. Mr. Square is supposed to be a deist, as opposed to Mr. Thwackum's absolute and total belief in Christian teaching. For more on this opposition, see our "Character Analyses" of these two.
Stoic philosophy (4.12.13): the classical Stoic philosophers believed that emotions like love and passion are based on false ideas that can only be cured by following a life of strict moral and intellectual perfection. Obviously, this is nota life that Sophia really wants to achieve, no matter what she thinks in Book 4, Chapter 12.
Presbyterian (6.2.5; 6.5.9; 12.7.26; 12.7.28): Presbyterianism is a Protestant Christian movement that began in the sixteenth century under the influence of religious activists such as John Calvin. Presbyterianism spread throughout Scotland through the work of John Knox, a famously strict Protestant reformer.
Because Charles Stuart—Bonnie Prince Charlie—was a Catholic and not a Protestant (and because the Stuart kings had not practiced religious tolerance while they did have the throne), most Scottish Presbyterians did not support his claim to the monarchy (unlike many Highland Catholics).
And since Bonnie Prince Charlie chose to stage his invasion of the British Isles in Scotland in 1745, this religious and political split between Scottish Presbyterians and Catholics really made a difference to his efforts. When Squire Western throws the term "Presbyterian" around, he uses it the same way he uses "Hanoverian": to mean people who are not Jacobite and who do not support the restoration of Bonnie Prince Charlie to the English throne. For more on all of this stuff, see our "Detailed Summary" of Book 7, Chapter 11—or check out our learning guide on Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, which is set in Scotland in the immediate aftermath of the failed rebellion of 1745-6.
Hanoverian (6.2.5; 6.14.1; 7.5.9; 15.6.13; 15.6.17; 16.2.15; 17.3.3): referring to the supporters of the Hanoverian line of kings of England, versus the pro-Stuart Jacobites. Eighteenth-century British politics is really hard to keep straight.
Round-heads (6.14.1): the Roundheads were the soldiers who supported Parliament against the Royalists during the English Civil Wars. The term also links thematically to the Hanoverians (discussed earlier in this reference list), who were monarchs appointed by constitutional right by the Parliament.
Squire Western's references to both of these groups (the Hanoverians and the Roundheads) using these insulting terms show that he's a Jacobite—but there's no need to sweat the small stuff on these political differences.
The rebels (7.11.8 and throughout the novel): the sergeant means the anti-George II supporters of the son (James Stuart) and grandson (Charles Stuart) of exiled king James II and VII as heirs to the British throne. We get into these issues in our "Detailed Summary" of Book 7, Chapter 11.
The Duke of Cumberland (7.11.8; 11.6.14; 12.7.18): the leader of George II's forces against the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and 1746.
King George (7.11.10; 8.9.3; 10.6.2): meaning King George II
The Duke of Marlborough (7.12.1): John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, was the leading British general during the War of the Spanish Succession
The Protestant religion (7.12.13; 8.9.3; 8.14.16): So there were two people with claims to the throne involved in this 1745 rebellion: there's Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of James II and VII, and there's George II, a member of the Hanoverian dynasty appointed to the British throne by an act of Parliament.
The eighteenth century was still a time when there were serious political differences between Catholics and Protestants in England. Bonnie Prince Charlie was Catholic, while George II was Protestant and also popular with the strongly anti-Catholic Protestants who controlled the Parliament. That's why Tom and the lieutenant keep describing the pro-George II cause as "the Protestant interest" (7.12.15).
The battle of Dettingen (7.14.7): a 1743 battle during the War of Austrian Succession.
"Harry the Fifth" and "the victory of Agincourt" (8.1.7; 18.12.9): Fielding is referring to King Henry V's defeat of the French in the Battle of Agincourt. The Battle of Agincourt remains a really popular patriotic rallying cry for English nationalists, in part thanks to Shakespeare's famous Saint Crispin's Day speech from the play Henry V.
Herodotus, "the successless armament of Xerxes" (8.1.7): Fielding is talking about the battle of Thermopylae, when a tiny group of Greek soldiers held off the much larger Persian armies of Xerxes. (Xerxes was "successless" in the sense that he had many, many more soldiers than the Greek forces had, but the Greeks still held off the Persians for a while. The Greeks eventually beat the Persians back during a naval battle the following year, but the Persians did technically win at Thermopylae.) Fielding uses this reference as proof of the unbelievable things that happen in recorded history.
Arrian, "the successful expedition of Alexander" (8.1.7): Arrian was a second-century Roman historian who wrote about Alexander the Great's conquests in modern-day Iran, Egypt, and India.
Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, the Battle of Narva (8.1.7): Charles the Twelfth defeated a Russian army over three times larger than his own at the Battle of Narva (1700), in the Great Northern War.
Tyburn (8.1.16; 17.1.3-4): Tyburn was the site of a permanent gallows near London, where people were publicly executed every week. These public hangings became a spectacle for the entertainment of extremely morbid Londoners.
The Spectator (8.5.9; 8.9.1; 9.1.2-3): the Spectator was a newspaper published from 1711 to 1714 (with some interruptions); it included submissions by Alexander Pope (mentioned in our list of literary shout-outs).
Jacobite (8.9.3; 12.7.31): the pro-Stuart rebels fighting against the King's armies in Scotland; see our "Detailed Summary" of Book 7, Chapter 11, as well as our "Reference" entries on "the rebels," the "Hanoverians," and the "round-heads," for more on the crazy politics of Fielding's day.
"James or Charles" (8.9.3): meaning James Stuart (the father) and Charles Stuart (his son, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie), the direct descendants of exiled King James II and VII.
"If this woman had lived in the reign of James the First, her appearance alone would have hanged her" (8.10.4): King James I and VI (who Scotland from 1567-1625 and also ruled England from 1603-1625) was a big fan of witchcraft trials, and actually wrote his own book on demonology.
Lord Justice Page (8.11.26): this whole episode that Partridge recounts is based on a real-life case, presided over by Sir Francis Page (a famed "hanging judge," meaning that he often condemned people to death) in 1739. Sir Francis actually found the prisoner not guilty.
"To drink the Bath waters" (8.13.21): Bath is a city in England; it is also the site of a (more or less) intact Roman bath complex; the mineral waters of the area are supposed to have healing properties.
The Duke of Monmouth (8.14.12): James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, was the illegitimate son of King Charles II. When Charles II died, the Duke of Monmouth thought that he would be a better candidate for the throne than his uncle, James II, because he was Protestant and his uncle was Catholic. England was in the middle of a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria, and the Duke thought that he could ride that wave right into the throne. He invaded England from the Netherlands in 1685 to try and overthrown James II, but he didn't even come close to succeeding. He was beheaded for treason.
"A Popish prince" (8.14.16): "Popish" is an offensive term for "Catholic"; James I and his descendants (including James II, exiled in 1688, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, who invaded Scotland in 1745) were all Catholic. Fielding very clearly identifies himself with the Protestant side, painting England's Catholic rulers as religiously intolerant and power-hungry. The particular prince in this reference is King James II.
King James II and VII (8.14.16): King James II of England and VII of Scotland, exiled from the throne by an act of Parliament during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
"There have been two rebellions in favor of the son of King James, one of which is now actually raging in the very heart of the kingdom" (8.14.17): the first of these two rebellions was the Jacobite uprising of 1715; the second is, of course, the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. If you haven't already, you should definitely check out our "Detailed Summary" of Book 7, Chapter 11 to find out more about that, since it's historical context for the current events of Tom Jones.
The Battle of Sedgemore (or Sedgemoor) (8.14.19): the final battle that put an end to the Duke of Monmouth's hopes of overthrowing James II. (Why he ever thought he'd be able to conquer England with 4,000 people at his back, we'll never know.)
The Glorious Revolution (8.14.24): the name of the 1688 Parliamentary move to invite Dutch Protestant William of Orange to co-rule England along with his wife (and James II and VII's daughter) Mary; King James II and VII was successfully exiled from England, and the Stuart family lost its place on the English throne.
[Nicholas] Rowe (9.1.3; 10.1.1; 14.4.1): Fielding uses Rowe as an example of an imitator of other great writers. But we think this is a little unfair. Rowe was one of the first serious editors of Shakespeare's work; he also printed a biography of the man. He's still regarded as an extremely important figure in Shakespeare scholarship. He's not just an imitator.
[Aphra] Behn (10.2.10): Aphra Behn was a hugely successful woman playwright and novelist in the seventeenth century. Fielding refers to her here because she includes a lot of sex in her work—some of it is pretty pornographic. So when the narrator talks about Mr. Maclachlan "filling his mind with good literature," he is being snide about Mr. Maclachlan wanting to "[recommend] himself to the ladies" (10.2.10). Still, we have to say in Behn's defense that actually, a lot of her work is good literature. We're a little surprised at Fielding's snobbery!
Arria (10.9.3): this historical figure was famous for her fulfillment of the classical Roman ideal of womanhood. Her son dies while her husband is sick, and Arria hides the fact of his death from her husband so that he can recover in peace (which echoes the whole Bridget/Squire Allworthy thing in Book 5, Chapter 8). And then, when her husband has to kill himself for political reasons, she stabs herself first and tells him that it doesn't hurt.
"The young Chevalier" (11.2.19; 11.2.21): meaning Bonnie Prince Charlie, a.k.a. Charles Stuart, a.k.a. the Young Pretender, a.k.a. the head of the Jacobite rebel forces invading Scotland in 1745. (Man, this guy had a lot of nicknames!) For more on his cause, check out our entries under "the rebels" or the "Detailed Summary" for Book 7, Chapter 11.
Jenny Cameron (11.2.23; 11.3.7; 11.6.5; 11.8.4; 12.8.12): this Highland woman was falsely arrested and accused of being Bonnie Prince Charlie's lover (though there is no evidence that they ever actually met).
"The young Pretender" (11.3.7; 11.8.4): meaning Charles Stuart; see under "the young Chevalier"
Nell Gwynn (or Gwynne) (11.8.7): seventeenth-century actress and mistress to King Charles II.
"Jephtha's Rash Vow" (12.6.3): the story of Jephthah comes from the Hebrew Bible, Book of Judges, Chapter 11, verses 30-34. Jephthah leads the Israelites in war against the Ammonites. He promises God that, if he wins, he will sacrifice the first thing he sees when he comes home. (That's the "Rash Vow" part). The Israelites win, and Jephthah goes home. The first thing he sees is his daughter, coming out of his home to welcome him. And because Jephthah made a promise to God, he does, in fact, sacrifice her.
[Marcus Aurelius] Antoninus (12.12.37): Marcus Aurelius Antoninus more commonly goes by the name Marcus Aurelius; he was Emperor of Rome in the second century C.E.. He was not only a great emperor (though he did lead Rome into a lot of wars), but he was also a serious philosopher. You know the guy who played the first Dumbledore, Richard Harris? He plays Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. So basically, Marcus Aurelius is the Dumbledore of the Roman Empire. Fielding refers to Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius together as the Antonini; this is because Marcus Aurelius's last name was also Antoninus.
"Men of wit and pleasure" (13.5.7): Fielding is referring to men such as Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, who wrote for magazines such as the Spectator and the Tatler in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
"Will's or Button's" (13.5.8): two famous London coffee-houses. Even in the eighteenth century, cafés were the place to go if you wanted to hang out and have long philosophical and/or intellectual conversations.
"Meditating speeches for the House of Commons, or rather for the magazines" (13.5.8): The Gentleman's Magazine and London Magazine paid for people to write up Parliamentary debates for them to publish.
"The Common-Prayer Book, before the Gunpowder-Treason plot" (16.5.7): the Book of Common Prayer is the standard prayer guide for the Anglican church.
Tisiphone and "her sisters" (1.8.4; 7.8.6): Tisiphone is one of the three Furies in Greek mythology; these supernatural sisters take revenge on criminals and murderers by driving them crazy.
Boreas (1.8.5; 4.2.1): Greek god of the north wind.
Saint Bridget and "any other female in the Roman kalendar" (1.10.7): Saint Bridget (also spelled Brigid) is a famous Irish holy figure whose worship blurs the lines between Catholic and Pagan belief systems; Fielding uses her ironically here to suggest that Bridget Allworthy is not a real saint, no matter how she may appear.
Xantippe (2.3.6; 2.4.2; 8.11.2): The name of Greek philosopher Socrates's wife. The name "Xantippe" (also "Xanthippe") is now a common term for a wife who nags her husband all the time.
Nemesis (2.4.3; 7.15.3): a Greek goddess who punished people who received too much undeserved good luck. (Wow, the Greeks had gods to cover everything.)
"Amazonian heroine" (2.4.16; 4.8.8; 4.8.11; 9.3.15): Amazon isn't just a giant online bookstore; the Amazons were also a tribe of strong warrior women in Greek mythology.
Flora (4.1.7; 4.2.1): Roman goddess of flowers and spring
Zephyrus (4.2.1): Greek god of the west wind.
Eurus (4.2.1): Greek god of the east wind.
Venus (4.2.3; 4.2.8; 4.8.10; 5.11.1; 8.4.8; 12.2.8): Roman goddess of love; her Greek name is Aphrodite.
Venus de Medici (4.2.3; 4.2.8): life-sized marble statue of Venus; this statue was sculpted in Athens in the second century B.C.E. and then dug up in the seventeenth century and restored in Italy.
Kalon (5.5.17): ancient Greek term for perfect beauty; it can be used to describe either a physical or a moral ideal.
"Aesculapian art" (5.7.2): Aesculapius is the Latin name for the Greek god Asclepius, god of medicine and healing. People who practice the "Aesculapian art" are, in other words, doctors.
Arcadia (5.12.6): an actual place in central Greece. The Roman poets (especially Virgil) wrote about Arcadia as a kind of paradise on earth filled with happy shepherds and small-scale gods. Thespis (7.1.1): the semi-legendary poet and inventor of Greek tragic drama.
Cupid (7.9.15): the Roman god of love, usually depicted as a winged child. (If you're at all a fan of Valentine's Day cards or OKCupid, you know this little guy.)
Polypheme (also spelled Polyphemus) (8.1.2): Polyphemus was the cyclops who attacked Odysseus and his men in the Odyssey, successfully devouring six of them.
Circe (8.1.2): a sorceress who turns Odysseus's men into pigs in the Odyssey.
"all the liquors of Hippocrene or Helicon" (8.1.3): Helicon is a Greek mountain that is supposed to be the source of inspiration for the Muses, the goddesses of art and science. Hippocrene is a well bubbling up on Helicon's mountainside; drinking from the Hippocrene is supposed to give poetic inspiration.
Adonis (8.4.8; 9.5.6; 15.7.9): famously handsome Greek hero who was also Venus's lover.
Tramontane (8.9.3; 15.5.16): a barbarian (from the Roman perspective, someone living beyond the Alps)
Briarius (or Briareus) (8.9.3): a Greek mythological giant with a hundred arms and fifty heads.
Aurora (9.2.1): Roman goddess of the dawn.
Anglicè (9.2.1): medieval Latin term meaning "in regular English." (It's kind of hilarious to use Latin to signal that you're about to say something in everyday English. We guess that's Fielding's sense of humor all over.)
Orpheus and Eurydice (9.2.19; 13.1.1; 14.8.9): Orpheus is a legendary musician in the mythology of ancient Greece. When his wife, Eurydice, dies, Orpheus travels to the underworld to bargain with Hades, the god of the underworld, for her freedom. Hades grants Orpheus's request for Eurydice's life, on one condition: Orpheus has to walk back to the world of the living without once looking back to see if Eurydice is following him. As he is leaving the underworld, Orpheus cannot resist looking behind him to check if Eurydice is there; as soon as he spots her ghost, she has to return to the world of the dead.
Vesta (9.3.5): Roman goddess of the hearth; her priestesses were virgins dedicated to the service of the goddess.
Helen (9.3.19; 15.4.1): the narrator refers to Helen of Troy, whose kidnap from the Greek warrior Menelaus (her husband) by the Trojan prince Paris starts the Trojan War.
Ulysses (9.5.3): Ulysses is the Latin name for the Greek king Odysseus, the central character of Homer's Odyssey. For more on the Odyssey, see our entry in the list of "References" under "Homer."
Hercules (9.5.6; 10.8.13): legendary Greek hero and all-around tough guy.
"as whilome Hercules did that of Hylas" (10.8.13): Hercules calls for his beloved Hylas when the Hylas ditches Hercules in favor of some river nymphs on the quest for the Golden Fleece and then drowns.
Pasiphae (9.5.9): Poseidon (ancient Greek god of the sea) casts a spell on Queen Pasiphae (wife of King Minos) to make her fall in love with a magic bull; together, the two of them produce a child, the half-man-half-ox man-eating Minotaur.
the Graces (9.5.12): the Graces are the three Greek goddesses of charm and fertility.
Hylas (10.8.13): see above, under the entry for "Hercules"
Echo (10.8.13): Echo was a nymph who faded away from unrequited love with Narcissus until only her voice remained.
Naïades (11.8.3): ancient Greek river nymphs; Fielding's translation of this term to mean "oyster-wenches" is definitely sarcastic. An oyster-wench is a girl who sells, well, oysters (we guess that part's obvious). Fielding is comparing the shrieks coming from Mrs. Honour when she hears about this Jenny Cameron business to the screech an oyster-wench makes if you complain about the quality of her fish.
"Boeotian" (11.9.13): Boeotia is a region in Greece; its residents also have a reputation in classical literature for stupidity.
Mount Parnassus (12.1.5-6): Greek mountain where Apollo, god of the sun, is supposed to live; the Romans wrote about Mount Parnassus as the source for the Muses' inspiration.
Mnesis (or Mnemosyne) (13.1.1): the Greek goddess of memory and the mother of the nine muses.
Hebrus (13.1.1): the river where Orpheus drowned
Maeonia (13.1.1; 13.1.6): the supposed birthplace of Homer. We talk about Homer a whole heck of a lot in this list of "References"; see under "Homer."
Mantua (13.1.1; 13.1.6): birthplace of Virgil. For a (very long) list of ways that Virgil appears in Tom Jones, check out our entry for "Virgil."
Elysian Fields (13.2.4): the paradise where Greek heroes get to go after they die.
Cerberus (13.2.8): the three-headed dog who guards the underworld in Greek mythology. Fielding also points us to the sixth book of the Aeneid to found out more about this guy. Amphion (14.8.19): Amphion (like Orpheus, also mentioned in this passage) is a legendary musician in Greek mythology. When he plays the golden lyre given to him by Hermes, the stones of the walls of Thebes move by themselves.
the Sabine women (15.4.1): the rape of the Sabine women is part of the founding legend of Rome. The city's earliest inhabitants (shepherds, robbers, runaways…) were all men. So Romulus (one of Rome's two legendary founders, along with his brother Remus) led a raid on Sabine communities nearby and abducted their young women to force them to bear Roman children. Ick.
Acton (or Actaeon) (17.3.4): When Squire Western says "he'd rather be run by [his] own dogs, as one Acton was, that the story book says was turned into a hare" (17.3.4), he's talking about Actaeon. According to Greek mythology, this man is out hunting when he spots the virgin goddess Artemis while she is bathing. For his disrespect, she turns him into a stag (not a hare, as Squire Western thinks) and sets his own dogs loose on him. (Poetic justice, maybe—but an ugly way to go!)