[F]or when [Jenny Jones] was convened before the justice, and it was universally apprehended that the house of correction would have been her fate, though some of the young women cryed out "It was good enough for her," and diverted themselves with the thoughts of her beating hemp in a silk gown; yet there were many others who began to pity her condition: but when it was known in what manner Mr Allworthy had behaved, the tide turned against her. One said, "I'll assure you, madam hath had good luck." A second cryed, "See what it is to be a favourite!" A third, "Ay, this comes of her learning." Every person made some malicious comment or other on the occasion, and reflected on the partiality of the justice.
The behaviour of these people may appear impolitic and ungrateful to the reader, who considers the power and benevolence of Mr Allworthy. But as to his power, he never used it; and as to his benevolence, he exerted so much, that he had thereby disobliged all his neighbours; for it is a secret well known to great men, that, by conferring an obligation, they do not always procure a friend, but are certain of creating many enemies. (1.9.2-3)
The narrator insists that Tom Jones is a novel about human nature. Well, from this passage at least, it seems like the narrator's view of human nature is pretty bleak. When the villagers think Jenny Jones is headed to prison, some of them start to feel bad for her. But when they find out she's not going to prison, everyone turns against her—and against Squire Allworthy. They all assume that Squire Allworthy must have some special interest (probably sexual) in Jenny's case to be so kind to her. Even worse, Squire Allworthy becomes a target for gossip because he does so much good in his neighborhood that a lot of the villagers resent and envy him. So this episode suggests that human nature is really stupid and contrary: when you're down on your luck, people will pity (and condescend to) you. But when you are doing well, and when you are trying to help other people, there will be lots of fools who get jealous and nasty.
Nothing was wanting to enable him to enter upon the immediate execution of this plan, but the death of Mr Allworthy; in calculating which he had employed much of his own algebra, besides purchasing every book extant that treats of the value of lives, reversions, &c. From all which he satisfied himself, that as he had every day a chance of this happening, so had he more than an even chance of its happening within a few years.
But while the captain was one day busied in deep contemplations of this kind, one of the most unlucky as well as unseasonable accidents happened to him. The utmost malice of Fortune could, indeed, have contrived nothing so cruel, so mal-a-propos, so absolutely destructive to all his schemes. In short, not to keep the reader in long suspense, just at the very instant when his heart was exulting in meditations on the happiness which would accrue to him by Mr Allworthy's death, he himself—died of an apoplexy. (2.8.3-4)
Okay, so this bit of Tom Jones is definitely darkly funny. Captain Blifil hates his wife, and he hates his brother-in-law. He's at his happiest when he's walking by himself, contemplating Squire Allworthy's death. He has already made a bunch of assumptions: (a) that Squire Allworthy will die soon; (b) that Captain Blifil will inherit his cash (since his wife is a woman and his son is too young); and (c) that Squire Allworthy's fortune is beyond huge. But! Instead, Captain Blifil is the one who dies first, in the middle of one of these fantasy sessions about Squire Allworthy's money. Captain Blifil's death shows a bunch of things: (a) that you can never 100% count on anything in this life, since luck is always a factor, and (b) you shouldn't waste your time fantasizing endlessly about the distant future because it may never happen. Seize the day! Live in the moment! And all of those other clichés you always see in sports drink ads.
Wine now had totally subdued this power [of reason] in Jones. He was, indeed, in a condition, in which, if reason had interposed, though only to advise, she might have received the answer which one Cleostratus gave many years ago to a silly fellow, who asked him, if he was not ashamed to be drunk? "Are not you," said Cleostratus, "ashamed to admonish a drunken man?"—To say the truth, in a court of justice drunkenness must not be an excuse, yet in a court of conscience it is greatly so; and therefore Aristotle, who commends the laws of Pittacus, by which drunken men received double punishment for their crimes, allows there is more of policy than justice in that law. Now, if there are any transgressions pardonable from drunkenness, they are certainly such as Mr Jones was at present guilty of; on which head I could pour forth a vast profusion of learning, if I imagined it would either entertain my reader, or teach him anything more than he knows already. (5.10.6)
As usual, this narrator loves the humor of taking something very stupid and presenting it as very serious. The ridiculous contrast here is pretty obvious: Tom is drunk out of his mind and ready to sleep with Molly in spite of his feelings for Sophia. The narrator addresses Tom's dumb behavior by using extremely formal language and the example of Aristotle (only one of the most highly renowned Greek philosophers ever). This moment is like the novel equivalent of editing together a high-toned video parody of black-and-white French film using fluffy cats. We guess humor hasn't changed that much in two hundred and fifty years—it'll always be funny to take something totally idiotic and treat it like it's The Most Important Thing Ever.
To say the truth, in discovering the deceit of others, it matters much that our own art be wound up, if I may use the expression, in the same key with theirs: for very artful men sometimes miscarry by fancying others wiser, or, in other words, greater knaves, than they really are. As this observation is pretty deep, I will illustrate it by the following short story. Three countrymen were pursuing a Wiltshire thief through Brentford. The simplest of them seeing "The Wiltshire House," written under a sign, advised his companions to enter it, for there most probably they would find their countryman. The second, who was wiser, laughed at this simplicity; but the third, who was wiser still, answered, "Let us go in, however, for he may think we should not suspect him of going amongst his own countrymen." They accordingly went in and searched the house, and by that means missed overtaking the thief, who was at that time but a little way before them; and who, as they all knew, but had never once reflected, could not read. (6.3.7)
For Fielding, the problem with trying to be clever is that you often wind up outsmarting yourself. He gives this long example of three guys looking for a thief from Wiltshire. They come up with a variety of super-smart reasons for why they should look for him at an inn called "The Wiltshire House." But what they all overlook—even though they are aware of the fact—is that the thief can't read. So why would he choose an inn with a particular name written on the sign to hide in? They assume that the thief thinks in the exact same way that they do, and that's their biggest mistake. The worst kind of foolishness is when you make the mistake of assuming that everyone else has your own motivations; that'll blind you to anything you don't expect or understand in another person's behavior.
The bill being made and discharged, Jones set forward with Partridge, carrying his knapsack; nor did the landlady condescend to wish him a good journey; for this was, it seems, an inn frequented by people of fashion; and I know not whence it is, but all those who get their livelihood by people of fashion, contract as much insolence to the rest of mankind, as if they really belonged to that rank themselves. (8.7.7)
The funny thing about this landlady—who is not rich herself—is that she is a huge snob. She looks down her nose at Tom, even though he has been raised by a gentleman. Another example of this kind of snobbery among working class people is Mrs. Western's maid, who lords it over Mrs. Honour because her employer is more fashionable than Mrs. Honour's. But of course, this kind of snobbery is obviously idiotic. As the narrator points out, the landlady is only fooling herself into thinking that she "really belonged to that rank" herself. In the class system that the landlady supports with her snobbery, she is near the bottom. Why do you think that the landlady cares about "people of fashion"? How does she benefit from being a snob when she is, herself, working class?
"Not much of schollards neither," answered the serjeant; "they have not half your learning, sir, I believe; and, to be sure, I thought there must be a devil, notwithstanding what they said, though one of them was a captain; for methought, thinks I to myself, if there be no devil, how can wicked people be sent to him? and I have read all that upon a book."—"Some of your officers," quoth the landlord, "will find there is a devil, to their shame, I believe. I don't question but he'll pay off some old scores upon my account. Here was one quartered upon me half a year, who had the conscience to take up one of my best beds, though he hardly spent a shilling a day in the house, and suffered his men to roast cabbages at the kitchen fire, because I would not give them a dinner on a Sunday. Every good Christian must desire there should be a devil for the punishment of such wretches." (9.6.4)
When the sergeant and the landlord at Upton get together to discuss the devil, they aren't having some kind of late-night, abstract, philosophical jam session about the nature of Evil. They both agree that there has to be a devil because bad people must suffer at some point for their wrongs. In this passage, the devil comes across almost like a tool for these working class guys to imagine some power over people otherwise outside their control. The landlord can't force that cheap officer to pay more money for his room. So he finds the idea of a devil sort of reassuring, because at least the devil can do what he can't: the devil can force people to suffer for what they have done wrong. The devil allows the landlord to fantasize about having some authority, as he imagines that the devil will "pay off some old scores on [the landlord's] account."
"But, what may seem astonishing, my aunt never saw, nor in the least seemed to suspect, that which was visible enough, I believe, from both our behaviours. One would indeed think that love quite puts out the eyes of an old woman. In fact, they so greedily swallow the addresses which are made to them, that, like an outrageous glutton, they are not at leisure to observe what passes amongst others at the same table. This I have observed in more cases than my own; and this was so strongly verified by my aunt, that, though she often found us together at her return from the pump, the least canting word of his, pretending impatience at her absence, effectually smothered all suspicion." (11.4.13)
In telling the story of her own terrible marriage, Mrs. Fitzpatrick keeps pointing out how weirdly blind Mrs. Western is to the relationship developing between Mr. Fitzpatrick and Harriet, the future Mrs. Fitzpatrick. She decides that Mrs. Western is so vain about Mr. Fitzpatrick's supposed attraction to her that she literally can't see the obvious signs of his flirtation with someone else. And Harriet is also blind to all of the warning signs that Mr. Fitzpatrick is not the great man she believes he is before they get married. This idea of blindness and sight is a major part of Tom Jones. The narrator says that it is his job to see better than most people, to, "strip off the thin disguise of wisdom from self-conceit, of plenty from avarice, of glory from ambition" (13.1.4). This novel is supposed to show people as they are, rather than just as they appear. Which characters in this book seem most clear-sighted about other people's flaws? How have they gained their sharp vision? Are there any characters without blind spots?
"It is ill jesting," cries Partridge, "with people who have power to do these things; for [witches] are often very malicious. I remember a farrier, who provoked one of them, by asking her when the time she had bargained with the devil for would be out; and within three months from that very day one of his best cows was drowned. Nor was she satisfied with that; for a little time afterwards he lost a barrel of best-drink: for the old witch pulled out the spigot, and let it run all over the cellar, the very first evening he had tapped it to make merry with some of his neighbours. In short, nothing ever thrived with him afterwards; for she worried the poor man so, that he took to drinking; and in a year or two his stock was seized, and he and his family are now come to the parish." (12.11.7-8)
Partridge tries to prove to Tom beyond a doubt that witches exist by giving this example of a farrier (which is a blacksmith) he once knew. But the things that he takes as proof that the farrier was cursed by a local witch—a drowned cow and a barrel of wasted beer—could also just be a matter of chance (and drunken carelessness, since the guy was making "merry with some of his neighbours" the night that the keg spigot was inexplicably left open). Fielding uses Partridge's superstition to show that you can "prove" anything you want, if you decide ahead of time what you want the evidence to show.
Thus at an age when the [wits] above mentioned employ their time in toasting the charms of a woman, or in making sonnets in her praise; in giving their opinion of a play at the theatre, or of a poem at Will's or Button's; these gentlemen are considering the methods to bribe a corporation, or meditating speeches for the House of Commons, or rather for the magazines. But the science of gaming is that which above all others employs their thoughts. These are the studies of their graver hours, while for their amusements they have the vast circle of connoisseurship, painting, music, statuary, and natural philosophy, or rather unnatural, which deals in the wonderful, and knows nothing of Nature, except her monsters and imperfections. (13.5.8)
Fielding compares the writers of a previous generation, who spent all of their wit describing beautiful women and thinking about art, to the commercial writers of his day. Now, Fielding complains, all the writers working for money are writing about business or politics or gambling. They think about everything except human nature (unless it's "her monsters and imperfections"). These writers have all become such smooth experts in their craft that they never really thinkabout anything serious. Fielding is basically giving the 18th Century author equvalent of "kids these days, eh?"
Little more worth remembering occurred during the play, at the end of which Jones asked him, "Which of the players he had liked best?" To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question, "The king, without doubt." "Indeed, Mr Partridge," says Mrs Miller, "you are not of the same opinion with the town; for they are all agreed, that Hamlet is acted by the best player who ever was on the stage." "He the best player!" cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer, "why, I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did." (16.5.14)
Partridge is pretty funny during this whole sequence, when he keeps commenting loudly on a performance of Shakespeare's play Hamlet. But by the end, Partridge's comments about what makes a good actor actually speak to what Fielding is trying to do with his larger project in Tom Jones. Partridge thinks that the actor who plays Hamlet is an idiot because if he had seen that ghost, he would have "looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did." Partridge believes that Hamlet is a bad actor because he looks too natural and too realistic—he reacts just like any real person would react! Partridge wants his actors to ham it up, so he knows that they are performing.
Now, Partridge is obviously not a reliable judge of acting. But his objection to this performance of habit is kind of self-mocking on Fielding's part. After all, Fielding has said over and over again that he wants Tom Jones to appear natural and realistic. However, people reading his book may find it a little too bare of stylish flourishes and marks that show that it is Literature-with-a-capital-L. Like this poor actor, Fielding runs the risk that readers won't understand the skill and technique that goes into writing a novel about the everyday lives of regular folk.
The captain could not so easily bring himself to bear what he condemned as a fault in Mr Allworthy. He gave him frequent hints, that to adopt the fruits of sin, was to give countenance to it. He quoted several texts (for he was well read in Scripture), such as, He visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; and the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge,&c. Whence he argued the legality of punishing the crime of the parent on the bastard. He said, "Though the law did not positively allow the destroying such base-born children, yet it held them to be the children of nobody; that the Church considered them as the children of nobody; and that at the best, they ought to be brought up to the lowest and vilest offices of the commonwealth." (2.2.4)
Back in the day, life for a kid born outside of a traditional marriage in old-fashioned, strict societies could be really rough. But why, really? Why should it somehow be the kid's fault that his mother and father got it on in a way that people around them consider sinful? Whatever you may think of sex before marriage, it seems totally unfair to hold the child responsible for the parents' mistakes.
And yet, that is precisely what Tom Jones has to struggle against throughout this book: he is a bastard, and that puts him at the edges of polite and stable society from the moment that he is born. This absolute jerk Captain Blifil quotes the Bible to show that babies actively should be punished for their parents' wrongdoing. If it's illegal to kill such babies (!!!!), then at least they should be treated like nobodies and left to the worst jobs and lives that are available to them. Captain Blifil is using the Bible supposedlyas evidence for the worst kind of unfair treatment of a whole class of people, those who are born outside of traditional marriages.
How do you think views of the morality of marriage and family life have changed in the last two hundred and fifty-odd years? Do you see any overlap between the moral concerns of today and the moral concerns that Fielding portrays in Tom Jones?
Mr Jones had somewhat about him, which, though I think writers are not thoroughly agreed in its name, doth certainly inhabit some human breasts; whose use is not so properly to distinguish right from wrong, as to prompt and incite them to the former, and to restrain and withhold them from the latter. (4.6.3)
For a really smart guy, Henry Fielding seems to have surprising Issues with Too Much Thinking. Obviously he's not a fan of Misters Thwackum and Square and their constant, abstract debating about morality. And he is also pretty sarcastic about Master Blifil, whose rigid ideas about morality somehow all wind up benefiting Master Blifil himself. What Fielding seems to like more than these intellectual discussions of ethics is Tom's natural instincts towards doing good. Tom may not "distinguish right from wrong" using his brain, but his heart somehow leads him in the right direction anyway. It seems like Fielding is saying that it's not enough to do the right thing because you know it's the right thing to do. You also have to feel and intend to do right.
Black George was, in the main, a peaceable kind of fellow, and nothing choleric nor rash; yet did he bear about him something of what the antients called the irascible, and which his wife, if she had been endowed with much wisdom, would have feared. He had long experienced, that when the storm grew very high, arguments were but wind, which served rather to increase, than to abate it. He was therefore seldom unprovided with a small switch, a remedy of wonderful force, as he had often essayed, and which the word villain served as a hint for his applying.
No sooner, therefore, had this symptom appeared, than he had immediate recourse to the said remedy, which though, as it is usual in all very efficacious medicines, it at first seemed to heighten and inflame the disease, soon produced a total calm, and restored the patient to perfect ease and tranquillity.
This is, however, a kind of horse-medicine, which requires a very robust constitution to digest, and is therefore proper only for the vulgar, unless in one single instance, viz., where superiority of birth breaks out; in which case, we should not think it very improperly applied by any husband whatever, if the application was not in itself so base, that, like certain applications of the physical kind which need not be mentioned, it so much degrades and contaminates the hand employed in it, that no gentleman should endure the thought of anything so low and detestable. (4.9.7-9)
Reading this passage, we stand back and think, wow—this novel was obviously written in a very different time and place from our own. The narrator talks through the pros and cons of spousal abuse as though this is something he has to argue, because there might be readers out there who believe that hitting your wife is not a crime. Spousal abuse = ungentlemanly, which appears to be the worst thing the narrator can say about it.
But the use of the term "gentleman" introduces strong class-based language into the mix. Does this mean that, among the poor (such as Black George's family), wife-beating is supposed to be less bad? While the narrator clearly thinks that spousal abuse is "low" and wrong, he also seems to have a double standard in place for "gentlemen" and average men.
A man may have as much wisdom in the possession of an affluent fortune, as any beggar in the streets; or may enjoy a handsome wife or a hearty friend, and still remain as wise as any sour Popish recluse, who buries all his social faculties, and starves his belly while he well lashes his back.
To say truth, the wisest man is the likeliest to possess all worldly blessings in an eminent degree; for as that moderation which wisdom prescribes is the surest way to useful wealth, so can it alone qualify us to taste many pleasures. The wise man gratifies every appetite and every passion, while the fool sacrifices all the rest to pall and satiate one. (6.3.15-6)
Fielding obviously disagrees with the idea that, to be a wise man, you have to live like a hermit or a monk. It's not necessary (says Fielding) to give up on pleasure to follow a moral life. In fact, the patience and moderation you learn by being a wise man can actively help you to achieve worldly wealth.
"'Ay!" answered the judge, "thou art a lucky fellow: I have travelled the circuit these forty years, and never found a horse in my life: but I'll tell thee what, friend, thou wast more lucky than thou didst know of; for thou didst not only find a horse, but a halter too, I promise thee." To be sure, I shall never forget the word. Upon which everybody fell a laughing, as how could they help it? […] It is indeed charming sport to hear trials upon life and death. One thing I own I thought a little hard, that the prisoner's counsel was not suffered to speak for him, though he desired only to be heard one very short word, but my lord would not hearken to him, though he suffered a counsellor to talk against him for above half-an-hour. I thought it hard, I own, that there should be so many of them; my lord, and the court, and the jury, and the counsellors, and the witnesses, all upon one poor man, and he too in chains. Well, the fellow was hanged, as to be sure it could be no otherwise, and poor Frank could never be easy about it. (8.11.26)
This passage is clearly critical of biased, overbearing judges. Partridge's mild observation that he "thought [it] a little hard" that the judge in this case totally refuses to listen to the arguments of the defense counsel emphasizes how awful this bullying judge truly is. He has all the power, and he treats the prisoner like a condemned man before the trial has even ended. Indeed, Tom Jones is filled with examples of judges who abuse their power (though usually in smaller ways than this guy). Both Squire Allworthy and Squire Western try to send women to Bridewell, the House of Correction, without actually being legally allowed to do so (see 4.11.3 and 7.9.3 for specific passages when the narrator stops and says these guys are acting outside their legal authority). Squire Allworthy may truly think he's doing what's best for Molly. But the fact remains that both he and Squire Western believethat, as magistrates, they can and should decide the fates of the people who live on their lands—even if those people have not actually broken any laws.
Jones […] asked Partridge, "if he was not ashamed, with so much charity in his mouth, to have no charity in his heart. Your religion," says he, "serves you only for an excuse for your faults, but is no incentive to your virtue. Can any man who is really a Christian abstain from relieving one of his brethren in such a miserable condition?" (12.4.1)
Tom scolds Partridge for his religious double standards. Partridge talks big about the importance of Christian kindness when he's trying to avoid fighting in war, but when a beggar asks him for spare change, Partridge refuses to be charitable (which is a classic Christian virtue). Tom laughs at Partridge's hypocrisy, but actually, there are a lot of characters in this book who hide their own selfishness behind religion—think Mr. Blifil and Mr. Thwackum. These are all people who literally refuse to practice what they preach. Fielding appears to be making an argument for a more active kind of religion, where a person has to back up faith with deeds.
I remember when puppet-shows were made of good scripture stories, as Jephthah's Rash Vow, and such good things, and when wicked people were carried away by the devil. There was some sense in those matters; but as the parson told us last Sunday, nobody believes in the devil now-a-days; and here you bring about a parcel of puppets drest up like lords and ladies, only to turn the heads of poor country wenches; and when their heads are once turned topsy-turvy, no wonder everything else is so. (12.6.3)
When Tom and Partridge happen on a puppet-show, Tom is disappointed: the puppet-man has censored everything that he finds too violent or sexual out of his chosen play, so the whole performance just seems flat and humorless. But even though Tom isn't happy with this censored product, it's not censored enough for some people. In this passage, the landlady complains that this immoral puppet show (what were these puppets up to?) has encouraged her maid to run off and have sex with a clown (shudder).
We find this passage interesting for a bunch of reasons: first, the narrator seems to be saying that, as an artist, you can never win. If you try to use your work to teach a moral lesson, there will always be people out there who think you don't go far enough to be decent. So moral instruction shouldn't be the only purpose of a work of art—you should work to be entertaining as well.
In reality, I know but of one solid objection to absolute monarchy. The only defect in which excellent constitution seems to be, the difficulty of finding any man adequate to the office of an absolute monarch. (12.12.38)
Fielding is thinking through a serious issue here: centralized power can be a good thing, but only if the person who holds it is competent and fair. He clearly does believe in the importance of authority: Squire Allworthy may sometimes get a little too bossy, as when he misjudges Partridge and Jenny Jones, or when he throws Tom out of the house. But in general, he does a lot of good in the neighborhood. His wealth and his power are good things. But then you look at a guy like Squire Western—he also has a lot of local power. Still, we know that he's a bad judge—he almost tries to prosecute Mrs. Honour for the dire crime of being rude to his sister. So Fielding doesn't have a problem with authority per se, but he does recognize the problem that a lot of the people who have power probably shouldn't. There doesn't really seem to be a remedy to this issue, though. If you are going to support the idea of a king and a landed aristocracy, then you have to accept the fact that some of them are going to be good at their jobs and some of them aren't.
"Alas! my lord," answered [Lady Bellaston], "consider the country—the bane of all young women is the country. There they learn a set of romantic notions of love, and I know not what folly, which this town and good company can scarce eradicate in a whole winter." (15.2.9)
Yeah, this line of dialogue comes across as clumsy and incredibly obvious to us. Even the most passionate hater of romance and love is not going to come out and say that it is the job of "this town and good company" to destroy the "romantic notions of love" of young women from the countryside. Still, this passage contains the novel's clearest statement of the moral difference between the countryside and London. In the country, people are still virtuous enough (or naive enough, depending on your point of view) to believe in love, while in the city, all of these romantic notions have been "eradicated." Do you think there is a difference between city love and country love? Could this distinction have been more of a thing back in the eighteenth century, or does it continue on today?
As I do not doubt your sincerity in what you write, you will be pleased to hear that some of my afflictions are at an end, by the arrival of my aunt Western, with whom I am at present, and with whom I enjoy all the liberty I can desire. One promise my aunt hath insisted on my making, which is, that I will not see or converse with any person without her knowledge and consent. This promise I have most solemnly given, and shall most inviolably keep: and though she hath not expressly forbidden me writing, yet that must be an omission from forgetfulness; or this, perhaps, is included in the word conversing. However, as I cannot but consider this as a breach of her generous confidence in my honour, you cannot expect that I shall, after this, continue to write myself or to receive letters, without her knowledge. A promise is with me a very sacred thing, and to be extended to everything understood from it, as well as to what is expressed by it; and this consideration may, perhaps, on reflection, afford you some comfort. (16.5.2)
We talk about Sophia's weird interpretation of the idea of obedience in her "Character Analysis." Here, we want to talk about Sophia's stated emphasis on keeping her promises. She believes that a promise is "a very sacred thing" (hinting that Tom should remember her promise not to marry anybody else). But consider the person to whom she has made promises: Mrs. Western. Her aunt has made Sophia swear that she won't meet with anyone without her aunt's permission, and Sophia plans to keep that oath. Yet, Mrs. Western has only been slightly less violent than her brother in her treatment of Sophia. She has lectured Sophia repeatedly about her ungratefulness and overall badness in refusing to marry, first, Mr. Blifil, and then, Lord Fellamar. So does Sophia really owe this woman any promises? Are there any circumstances when it might be okay not to keep your word? Or is a promise a promise, and that's that?
[Mrs. Partridge's] tongue, teeth, and hands, fell all upon [Mr. Partridge] at once. His wig was in an instant torn from his head, his shirt from his back, and from his face descended five streams of blood, denoting the number of claws with which nature had unhappily armed the enemy.
Mr Partridge acted for some time on the defensive only; indeed he attempted only to guard his face with his hands; but as he found that his antagonist abated nothing of her rage, he thought he might, at least, endeavour to disarm her, or rather to confine her arms; in doing which her cap fell off in the struggle, and her hair being too short to reach her shoulders, erected itself on her head; her stays likewise, which were laced through one single hole at the bottom, burst open; and her breasts, which were much more redundant than her hair, hung down below her middle; her face was likewise marked with the blood of her husband: her teeth gnashed with rage; and fire, such as sparkles from a smith's forge, darted from her eyes. So that, altogether, this Amazonian heroine might have been an object of terror to a much bolder man than Mr Partridge. (2.4.15-6)
The "funny parts" (bunny ears intentional) of this scene are based on the traditional idea that Mr. Partridge, the husband, is supposed to be stronger than Mrs. Partridge, the wife. In fact, in all the chapters that we see the Partridges, we realize that Mrs. Partridge is much more terrifying than her husband. And Fielding plays this switcheroo for laughs. The image of Mrs. Partridge, fighting so hard that her blouse comes undone and her hat gets torn off, is cringe-inducing and, yes, kind of funny. But honestly, the idea of a woman so upset that she keeps fighting even after her shirt gets torn off is also pretty disturbing. And the fact that Mrs. Partridge draws blood from Mr. Partridge's face is downright awful.
It may seem remarkable, that, of four persons whom we have commemorated at Mr Allworthy's house, three of them should fix their inclinations on a lady who was never greatly celebrated for her beauty, and who was, moreover, now a little descended into the vale of years; but in reality bosom friends, and intimate acquaintance, have a kind of natural propensity to particular females at the house of a friend—viz., to his grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, or cousin, when they are rich; and to his wife, sister, daughter, niece, cousin, mistress, or servant-maid, if they should be handsome. (3.6.3)
Here is the narrator's basic question: why is it that three of Squire Allworthy's guests (Captain Blifil, Mr. Thwackum, and Mr. Square—and he's forgetting poor dead Dr. Blifil) have all been so eager to marry Bridget, when she has never been pretty? His basic answer is: it's because Bridget is rich. Nothing else about her really matters. If she were really pretty, than her financial state would be less important. So at this point of the novel, the narrator is willing to accept two reasons for marriage: money and looks. Whoa, cynicism.
For such was the compassion which inhabited Mr Allworthy's mind, that nothing but the steel of justice could ever subdue it. To be unfortunate in any respect was sufficient, if there was no demerit to counterpoise it, to turn the scale of that good man's pity, and to engage his friendship and his benefaction.
When therefore he plainly saw Master Blifil was absolutely detested (for that he was) by his own mother, he began, on that account only, to look with an eye of compassion upon him; and what the effects of compassion are, in good and benevolent minds, I need not here explain to most of my readers.
Henceforward he saw every appearance of virtue in the youth through the magnifying end, and viewed all his faults with the glass inverted, so that they became scarce perceptible. And this perhaps the amiable temper of pity may make commendable; but the next step the weakness of human nature alone must excuse; for he no sooner perceived that preference which Mrs Blifil gave to Tom, than that poor youth (however innocent) began to sink in his affections as he rose in [Bridget's]. (3.7.2-4)
Even though Squire Allworthy is probably the best man in the whole book in terms of his generosity and good nature, he isn't perfect. The best example of this lack of perfection is his knee-jerk pity for the underdog, in the case of Master Blifil. He feels bad for Master Blifil because Bridget hates him. And what can we say? We feel bad for Master Blifil because his mother despises him. That's a tough card to get dealt, of course. But the fact that we feel sorry for him doesn't mean we can ignore the fact that he is a complete dirtbag.
The lesson here seems to be that everyone has biases, no matter how good-hearted they are. And you can't always use bad family relations as an excuse to cover for someone's faults. Master Blifil may have been unlucky in his origins, but he still has the choice to be a better man than he becomes. <em>He's </em>the one who decides to be nasty and deceitful, and Bridget's bad example can't take away his responsibility for his own actions (in our humble opinions. Though obviously, we're a bit biased against the guy.)
The reader must be very weak, if, when he considers the light in which Jones then appeared to Mr Allworthy, he should blame the rigour of his sentence. And yet all the neighbourhood, either from this weakness, or from some worse motive, condemned this justice and severity as the highest cruelty. (5.11.6)
Let's think for a second about "the light in which Jones" appears to Squire Allworthy right now. Squire Allworthy believes Tom is (a) a drunk who is (b) okay with seducing multiple women, and who (c) attacked his loyal childhood friend and his old teacher when they tried to stop him from doing such bad things. So it sounds like Squire Allworthy now sees Tom as a violent alcoholic, which is obviously horrible. However, we're not sure how we feel about the narrator's claim that we shouldn't "blame [Squire Allworthy] for the rigour of his sentence." What do you think about Squire Allworthy's decision to kick Tom out of the house for these crimes? Is it ever justifiable for a parent to throw a son or daughter out of the house, and if so, under what circumstances? Do Tom's crimes fit those circumstances?
In these Mrs Western herself began to talk to [Sophia] in a more peremptory stile than before: but her father treated her in so violent and outrageous a manner, that he frightened her into an affected compliance with his will; which so highly pleased the good squire, that he changed his frowns into smiles, and his menaces into promises. […]
Instances of this behaviour in parents are so common, that the reader, I doubt not, will be very little astonished at the whole conduct of Mr Western. If he should, I own I am not able to account for it; since that he loved his daughter most tenderly, is, I think, beyond dispute. So indeed have many others, who have rendered their children most completely miserable by the same conduct; which, though it is almost universal in parents, hath always appeared to me to be the most unaccountable of all the absurdities which ever entered into the brain of that strange prodigious creature man. (7.9.12-3)
We're glad that the narrator addresses this issue, because we have been wondering for the last, like, three books: how can Squire Western behave so cruelly towards Sophia when he keeps saying that he loves her so much? As soon as Sophia shows any signs of feelings and wishes separate from her father's, he turns against her violently. Our question is, can we still say that Squire Western "loved his daughter most tenderly?" If Squire Western does love her, than how can he be such a jerk to her? If Squire Western doesn't truly love Sophia, than why does he seem so attached to her?
"When I had got clear of the city, it first entered into my head to return home to my father, and endeavour to obtain his forgiveness; but as I had no reason to doubt his knowledge of all which had past, and as I was well assured of his great aversion to all acts of dishonesty, I could entertain no hopes of being received by him, especially since I was too certain of all the good offices in the power of my mother; nay, had my father's pardon been as sure, as I conceived his resentment to be, I yet question whether I could have had the assurance to behold him, or whether I could, upon any terms, have submitted to live and converse with those who, I was convinced, knew me to have been guilty of so base an action." (8.12.2)
Fielding's portrayal of good family ties in Tom Jones is surprisingly complex. On the one hand, lots of our characters gain comfort from their families: consider the Man on the Hill's reunion with his father or Tom's attachment to Squire Allworthy. But on the other hand, even the best and kindest of these family relationships are still based on judgment. It's because the Man on the Hill loves his father so much that he doesn't want to see him after he has barely dodged jail for theft. Family love makes the Man on the Hill feel ashamed where nothing else does. And that shame keeps the Man on the Hill away from the family home that might help him for two years. Why do you think the Man on the Hill feels so much particular shame at the thought of his father?
It hath been a custom long established in the polite world, and that upon very solid and substantial reasons, that a husband shall never enter his wife's apartment without first knocking at the door. The many excellent uses of this custom need scarce be hinted to a reader who hath any knowledge of the world; for by this means the lady hath time to adjust herself, or to remove any disagreeable object out of the way; for there are some situations in which nice and delicate women would not be discovered by their husbands. (10.2.4)
"The polite world" is the high-society world, probably of the city. Fielding strongly implies that, in more sophisticated families the whole question of a wife cheating on her husband isn't so much a question as it is a foregone conclusion. Fielding plays on the idea that people who "[know] the world" are more likely to be lax about maintaining strict moral discipline. Do you think that sophistication and morality are somehow contradictory?
Now it happens to this sort of men, as to bad hounds, who never hit off a fault themselves; but no sooner doth a dog of sagacity open his mouth than they immediately do the same, and, without the guidance of any scent, run directly forwards as fast as they are able. […] Much kinder was [Fortune] to me, when she suggested that simile of the hounds, just before inserted; since the poor wife may, on these occasions, be so justly compared to a hunted hare. Like that little wretched animal, she pricks up her ears to listen after the voice of her pursuer; like her, flies away trembling when she hears it; and, like her, is generally overtaken and destroyed in the end. (10.6.16)
Fielding admits that there is something totally messed up about the power that Mr. Fitzpatrick has to hunt down Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who has run away for really excellent reasons. The fact that Mrs. Kirkpatrick doesn't seem to have any legal right either to protect her money from her husband's greed or to defend herself from his cruelty and jealousy are really stark reminders that the position of women in the eighteenth century British family was, legally, extremely vulnerable.
"This was a love-match, as they call it, on both sides; that is, a match between two beggars. I must, indeed, say, I never saw a fonder couple; but what is their fondness good for, but to torment each other?" "Indeed, mamma," cries Nancy, "I have always looked on my cousin Anderson" (for that was her name) "as one of the happiest of women." "I am sure," says Mrs Miller, "the case at present is much otherwise; for any one might have discerned that the tender consideration of each other's sufferings makes the most intolerable part of their calamity, both to the husband and wife. Compared to which, hunger and cold, as they affect their own persons only, are scarce evils." (13.8.5)
When Mrs. Millers describes the awful financial situation of her cousin Anderson, she points out that the love the family has for each other actually makes their current dire state worse. It pains them horribly to see one another suffering from all of this poverty. This example of the Andersons goes to show that sometimes, love just is not enough to make a family happy. You have to have something to live on, no matter how strong your feelings for each other are. This family is another cautionary tale, along with the story of Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpatrick: if Tom and Sophia had eloped without any cash, this could have been them. They may love each other, but it's important to be practical when you are starting a family, too.
"Well, sir," said Western (the froth bursting forth from his lips the moment they were uncorked), "you cannot say but I have heard you out, and now I expect you'll hear me; and if I don't answer every word on't, why then I'll consent to gee the matter up. First then, I desire you to answer me one question—Did not I beget her? did not I beget her? answer me that. They say, indeed, it is a wise father that knows his own child; but I am sure I have the best title to her, for I bred her up. But I believe you will allow me to be her father, and if I be, am I not to govern my own child? (17.3.14)
Squire Western has made his view of parenthood absolutely clear: he believes it's the job of the parent to tell his kids what to do. He also thinks that, having raised Sophia, he must understand her completely (even though we have seen plenty of evidence that Squire Western does not truly know Sophia at all). Would you say that Squire Western ever realizes that his treatment of his daughter was wrong? How would you describe their relationship after Sophia successfully marries Tom?
The same animal which hath the honour to have some part of his flesh eaten at the table of a duke, may perhaps be degraded in another part, and some of his limbs gibbeted, as it were, in the vilest stall in town. Where, then, lies the difference between the food of the nobleman and the porter, if both are at dinner on the same ox or calf, but in the seasoning, the dressing, the garnishing, and the setting forth? Hence the one provokes and incites the most languid appetite, and the other turns and palls that which is the sharpest and keenest.
In like manner, the excellence of the mental entertainment consists less in the subject than in the author's skill in well dressing it up. […] In like manner, we shall represent human nature at first to the keen appetite of our reader, in that more plain and simple manner in which it is found in the country, and shall hereafter hash and ragoo it with all the high French and Italian seasoning of affectation and vice which courts and cities afford. By these means, we doubt not but our reader may be rendered desirous to read on for ever, as the great person just above-mentioned is supposed to have made some persons eat. (1.1.7-8)
Basically, the narrator uses food as a metaphor to explain why it's okay that Tom Jones jumps between lower class and upper class characters. Since the subject of Tom Jones is supposed to be human nature, that means all humans, no matter what their social positions. By reading about "plain things" (rough characters with gross habits), you will appreciate "the very quintessence of sauces and spices" (the characters with well-balanced and decent qualities) even more once you get to them. The narrator's message seems to be that class is mostly a matter of custom and education (and money) rather than real distinctions among people, which is pretty liberal for late eighteenth-century England.
Sure master might have made some difference, methinks, between me and the other servants. I suppose he hath left me mourning; but, i'fackins! if that be all, the devil shall wear it for him, for me. I'd have his worship know I am no beggar. I have saved five hundred pound in his service, and after all to be used in this manner. —It is a fine encouragement to servants to be honest; and to be sure, if I have taken a little something now and then, others have taken ten times as much; and now we are all put in a lump together. If so be that it be so, the legacy may go to the devil with him that gave it. (5.8.1)
All of Mrs. Wilkins's nasty feelings in this passage basically arise from the fact that Squire Allworthy won't leave her as much money as she feels she deserves in his will. We can't help but think, reading this, that it shows one of the major problems of any relationship between a master and a domestic servant. Mrs. Wilkins is an intimate part of Squire Allworthy's life. She has looked after Squire Allworthy's household for years and she has also helped to raise Tom. But she will never actually be a member of the family. She is still just a servant, and he treats her as such in his will. So, in a weird sort of way, by trying to be nice to Mrs. Wilkins and to blur the lines between master and servant, Squire Allworthy has actually made her more resentful of her position in his family than if he had kept more rigid discipline.
[Wine] heightens and inflames our passions (generally indeed that passion which is uppermost in our mind), so that the angry temper, the amorous, the generous, the good-humoured, the avaricious, and all other dispositions of men, are in their cups heightened and exposed.
And yet as no nation produces so many drunken quarrels, especially among the lower people, as England (for indeed, with them, to drink and to fight together are almost synonymous terms), I would not, methinks, have it thence concluded, that the English are the worst-natured people alive. Perhaps the love of glory only is at the bottom of this; so that the fair conclusion seems to be, that our countrymen have more of that love, and more of bravery, than any other plebeians. And this the rather, as there is seldom anything ungenerous, unfair, or ill-natured, exercised on these occasions: nay, it is common for the combatants to express good-will for each other even at the time of the conflict; and as their drunken mirth generally ends in a battle, so do most of their battles end in friendship. (5.9.10)
So, as you may have noticed, there is a lot of drinking going on in this book. But while Fielding mostly seems interested in the hilarious possibilities of drinking too much, alcohol also caused huge social rifts during his lifetime in the early 1700s. This subtle association between (a) poverty, (b) social disorder, and (c) booze seems to underlie the narrator's claim that, "no nation produces so many drunken quarrels, especially among the lower people, as England." (We're assuming that, by "lower people," the narrator means working class people. Not, like, mole people who enjoy living below ground.)
What's interesting about the book's approach to this issue is that, instead of finishing off this passage with a lecture—"in conclusion, drinking is bad and leads to fighting!"—the narrator just says, well, most of those drunken fights are friendly anyway. It's all in good fun!
Those who sat in the world's upper gallery treated that incident [of Black George stealing Tom's money], I am well convinced, with their usual vociferation; and every term of scurrilous reproach was most probably vented on that occasion. […]
The pit, as usual, was no doubt divided; those who delight in heroic virtue and perfect character objected to the producing such instances of villany, without punishing them very severely for the sake of example. Some of the author's friends cryed, "Look'e, gentlemen, the man is a villain, but it is nature for all that." And all the young critics of the age, the clerks, apprentices, &c., called it low, and fell a groaning.
As for the boxes, they behaved with their accustomed politeness. Most of them were attending to something else. Some of those few who regarded the scene at all, declared he was a bad kind of man; while others refused to give their opinion, till they had heard that of the best judges. (7.1.9-12)
In this metaphor of theater seats, the narrator talks about the ways that people of different classes respond to art. The poorest people have totally emotional reactions, commenting with "their usual vociferation." Artists and critics mostly think about artistic form and morality, without feeling anything in particular about what they are looking at. And the richest people (those who can afford "the boxes" in the theater) are very polite and quiet, but they are also barely paying attention. What are some of the shortcomings of each of these three different modes of interacting with art? How does the narrator's descriptions of these three artistic modes (emotional, mechanical, politely uninterested) fit in with common class stereotypes of the poor or the very wealthy?
"A servant of Squire Allworthy!" says the barber; "what's his name?"—"Why he told me his name was Jones," says she: "perhaps he goes by a wrong name. Nay, and he told me, too, that the squire had maintained him as his own son, thof he had quarrelled with him now."—"And if his name be Jones, he told you the truth," said the barber; "for I have relations who live in that country; nay, and some people say he is his son."—"Why doth he not go by the name of his father?"—"I can't tell that," said the barber; "many people's sons don't go by the name of their father."—"Nay," said the landlady, "if I thought he was a gentleman's son, thof he was a bye-blow, I should behave to him in another guess manner; for many of these bye-blows come to be great men, and, as my poor first husband used to say, never affront any customer that's a gentleman." (8.4.11)
(A "bye-blow" or by-blow is a slang term for a bastard, by the way.) What's interesting about the landlady's is-he-or-isn't-he anxieties is that her worries expose two or three very different meanings of the word "gentleman." On the one hand, it means someone born into a gentry family, so, someone "well-bred," to use the language of the time. On the other hand, it means someone with money. When the lieutenant uses the term, he means that Tom has a good, polite manner. But all the landlady hears from the word "gentleman" is the clinking of coins in her pocket.
"Here," said [Watson], taking some dice out of his pocket, "here's the stuff. Here are the implements; here are the little doctors which cure the distempers of the purse. Follow but my counsel, and I will show you a way to empty the pocket of a queer cull without any danger of the nubbing cheat." (8.12.9)
One thing we find striking about the Man of the Hill's story of crime and redemption is that he has to be taught by other people to be evil. It's through bad influences that the Man of the Hill learns real wrongdoing, first from Sir George Gresham and then by Watson, here. Similarly, Mr. Blifil may be proud and cold by birth, but he is encouraged in his evil by his (mis)education with Misters Thwackum and Square. It seems like Fielding believes that people are born (more or less) good but then are made bad by their social influences. On the other hand, the narrator specifies that Tom has natural instincts towards doing good (4.6.3) that protect him (at least somewhat) from bad influences.
Mr Dowling was indeed very greatly affected with this relation; for he had not divested himself of humanity by being an attorney. Indeed, nothing is more unjust than to carry our prejudices against a profession into private life, and to borrow our idea of a man from our opinion of his calling. […] A butcher, I make no doubt, would feel compunction at the slaughter of a fine horse; and though a surgeon can feel no pain in cutting off a limb, I have known him compassionate a man in a fit of the gout. […] n the same manner an attorney may feel all the miseries and distresses of his fellow-creatures, provided he happens not to be concerned against them. (12.10.8)
The key point here about Fielding's assessment of lawyers, who may be professionally ruthless but who can still be personally sympathetic, appears in that bit where he adds "provided he happens not to be concerned against them." When Mr. Dowling meets Tom in passing at an inn, he sympathizes with Tom's family troubles. But as soon as Mr. Dowling starts working for Mr. Blifil and (he thinks) Squire Allworthy, he does his best to make sure that Tom gets convicted for a murder he didn't commit. So according to Fielding, it's more or less Mr. Dowling's job to hurt whoever he's paid to hurt, no matter what his feelings about the person might be.
"Etoff entertained me last night almost two hours with [stories of Tom Jones]. The wench I believe is in love with him by reputation." Here the reader will be apt to wonder; but the truth is, that Mrs Etoff, who had the honour to pin and unpin the Lady Bellaston, had received compleat information concerning the said Mr Jones, and had faithfully conveyed the same to her lady last night (or rather that morning) while she was undressing; on which accounts she had been detained in her office above the space of an hour and a half. (13.3.6-8)
Lady Bellaston first hears about Tom (and starts lusting after him) from her dresser, a servant woman named Mrs. Etoff. It's odd: in many ways, the social classes seem pretty separate in this novel. Even in a crowded inn, the servants all hang out in the kitchen while rich people like Sophia stay in rooms upstairs. But servants often pass gossip and information on to their employers. It's through the servant-employee relationship that the characters in this novel most often seem to cross class barriers.
I will venture to say the highest life is much the dullest, and affords very little humour or entertainment. The various callings in lower spheres produce the great variety of humorous characters; whereas here, except among the few who are engaged in the pursuit of ambition, and the fewer still who have a relish for pleasure, all is vanity and servile imitation. Dressing and cards, eating and drinking, bowing and courtesying, make up the business of their lives. (14.1.11-2)
You may have noticed that, while there are characters from up and down the social ladder in Tom Jones, most of them are middle or working class. Even the two squires are low down on the hierarchy of landed, titled people in eighteenth-century Britain. Well, here, the narrator gives us an explanation: he thinks that there is more variety among lower-class people. Upper-class people may not always be the same, but they are mostly dominated by "vanity and servile imitation." Fielding implies that there isn't a lot going on at the top. Since the middle class was gaining social and political influence throughout the eighteenth century, we can understand why Fielding felt that his society's movers and shakers were mostly coming from there.
I have thought it somewhat strange, upon reflection, that the housekeeper never acquainted Mrs Blifil with this news [that Mr. Partridge is supposed to have had an affair with Jenny Jones], as women are more inclined to communicate all pieces of intelligence to their own sex, than to ours. The only way, as it appears to me, of solving this difficulty, is, by imputing it to that distance which was now grown between the lady and the housekeeper: whether this arose from a jealousy in Mrs Blifil, that Wilkins showed too great a respect to the foundling; for while she was endeavouring to ruin the little infant, in order to ingratiate herself with the captain, she was every day more and more commending it before Allworthy, as his fondness for it every day increased. This, notwithstanding all the care she took at other times to express the direct contrary to Mrs Blifil, perhaps offended that delicate lady, who certainly now hated Mrs Wilkins; and though she did not, or possibly could not, absolutely remove her from her place, she found, however, the means of making her life very uneasy. This Mrs Wilkins, at length, so resented, that she very openly showed all manner of respect and fondness to little Tommy, in opposition to Mrs Blifil. (2.5.10)
One reason why this book is both darkly funny and kind of depressing is that the narrator rarely suggests that anyone (except maybe Squire Allworthy) has a 100% honest and straightforward reason for anything that he or she does. So, Mrs. Wilkins treats baby Tom with great love—but only when Squire Allworthy is watching, since she wants to suck up to him. She knows that Captain Blifil hates the kid, so she does her best to help Captain Blifil bring him down, but only in secret. Mrs. Wilkins behaves in exactly opposite ways towards Tom depending on whose company she's in. Who knows how she really feels towards Tom, if she even knows herself? Is there any genuine feeling in this book? Who seems to be most honest about their feelings? And how does that honesty affect the other characters in the book?
Here, reader, I beg your patience a moment, while I make a just compliment to the great wisdom and sagacity of our law, which refuses to admit the evidence of a wife for or against her husband. This, says a certain learned author, who, I believe, was never quoted before in any but a law-book, would be the means of creating an eternal dissension between them. It would, indeed, be the means of much perjury, and of much whipping, fining, imprisoning, transporting, and hanging. (2.6.12)
This passage is a sidebar from the narrator on what a good idea it is not to allow a wife to testify either "for or against her husband," because wives are not usually objective when it comes to their life partners. Obviously, the narrator raises this issue because Mrs. Partridge does a horrible job of testifying against her husband, and Squire Allworthy just believes her because he assumes that, as Partridge's wife, she must know him best.
The biggest problem in legal cases that deal only with witness statements is that witnesses have all kinds of reasons to lie. Worst of all, Mrs. Partridge is so intensely jealous that she doesn't even know she's lying when she accuses her husband of cheating on her. Basically, the narrator seems to think that we can't trust anything that anyone says, since we all have biases and self-interests. So what do you guys think? What should be the role of witnesses in legal trials? Not to sound super-cynical or anything, but can we trust people to present really objective evidence? How do we balance out possible witness bias while still taking into account what they have to say?
Towards the gamekeeper the good man [Squire Allworthy] behaved with more severity. He presently summoned that poor fellow before him, and after many bitter remonstrances, paid him his wages, and dismist him from his service; for Mr Allworthy rightly observed, that there was a great difference between being guilty of a falsehood to excuse yourself, and to excuse another. He likewise urged, as the principal motive to his inflexible severity against this man, that he had basely suffered Tom Jones to undergo so heavy a punishment for his sake, whereas he ought to have prevented it by making the discovery himself. (3.5.6)
There's a double standard going on here: Squire Allworthy knows that Tom lied repeatedly about not having a partner in his crime. But in the end, Squire Allworthy doesn't blame Tom for that lie. He admires Tom for lying to protect Black George the gamekeeper from losing his job. Squire Allworthy feels that it's better to lie for someone else than to tell a lie to save yourself. What do you guys think—is that always true?
"Sir," answered the surgeon, "to say whether a wound will prove mortal or not at first dressing, would be very weak and foolish presumption: we are all mortal, and symptoms often occur in a cure which the greatest of our profession could never foresee."—"But do you think him in danger?" says the other.—"In danger! ay, surely," cries the doctor: "who is there among us, who, in the most perfect health, can be said not to be in danger? Can a man, therefore, with so bad a wound as this be said to be out of danger? All I can say at present is, that it is well I was called as I was, and perhaps it would have been better if I had been called sooner. I will see him again early in the morning; and in the meantime let him be kept extremely quiet, and drink liberally of water-gruel." (7.13.8)
A lot of doctors appear in this novel, and they are all basically the same. Their one basic trait is that they talk a lot, but they won't actually say anything. None of them want to be blamed for a patient's injury or death, but all of them want to make some money off other people's illnesses. Clearly, Fielding doesn't think much of the effectiveness and truthfulness of the medical profession. (And considering that he was writing at a time when doctors still thought that hand-washing wasn't necessary before surgery, we can understand his perspective!)
These are no other than invention and judgment; and they are both called by the collective name of genius, as they are of those gifts of nature which we bring with us into the world. Concerning each of which many seem to have fallen into very great errors; for by invention, I believe, is generally understood a creative faculty, which would indeed prove most romance writers to have the highest pretensions to it; whereas by invention is really meant no more (and so the word signifies) than discovery, or finding out; or to explain it at large, a quick and sagacious penetration into the true essence of all the objects of our contemplation. This, I think, can rarely exist without the concomitancy of judgment; for how we can be said to have discovered the true essence of two things, without discerning their difference, seems to me hard to conceive. (9.1.7)
This passage is not so much about the theme of "Lies and Deceit,"but more about its opposite, Truth—but we figured, hey, close enough. The way that Fielding talks about "finding out" the "true essence" of things makes it sound as though there is one eternal, unchanging truth waiting to be uncovered by smart observers. But another way of seeing truth is that it depends on the point of view of the observer. There might be different truths out there for different people, depending on the circumstances. Do you believe that some things in the world have a "true essence"? Or is truth something that we all have to make for ourselves?
"Why there," says Susan, "I hope, madam, your ladyship won't be offended; but pray, madam, is not your ladyship's name Madam Sophia Western?" "How is it possible you should know me?" answered Sophia. "Why that man, that the gentlewoman spoke of, who is in the kitchen, told about you last night. But I hope your ladyship is not angry with me." "Indeed, child," said she, "I am not; pray tell me all, and I promise you I'll reward you." "Why, madam," continued Susan, "that man told us all in the kitchen that Madam Sophia Western—indeed I don't know how to bring it out."—Here she stopt, till, having received encouragement from Sophia, and being vehemently pressed by Mrs Honour, she proceeded thus:—"He told us, madam, though to be sure it is all a lie, that your ladyship was dying for love of the young squire, and that he was going to the wars to get rid of you." (10.5.7)
At every single place where Tom stays, the people nearby start talking over some distorted version of his adventures. Rumor is practically a whole separate character in this book… it has so much influence on the story. Here, Partridge's gossip about Tom supposedly running away from home to escape Sophia gets back to the worst person possible: Sophia herself. What other moments can you think of where rumor directly affects the plot? Who are the main spreaders of rumor in this book, and what do they have in common? What are some of the stranger versions of Tom's story that we hear from these gossips?
At last, after much previous precaution and enjoined concealment, she communicated to me, as a profound secret—that my husband kept a mistress.
You will certainly imagine I heard this news with the utmost insensibility—Upon my word, if you do, your imagination will mislead you. Contempt had not so kept down my anger to my husband, but that hatred rose again on this occasion. What can be the reason of this? Are we so abominably selfish, that we can be concerned at others having possession even of what we despise? Or are we not rather abominably vain, and is not this the greatest injury done to our vanity? (11.7.11-2)
By now, Mrs. Fitzpatrick has already realized that she hates Mr. Fitzpatrick. She thinks her husband is cruel, stupid, and selfish. But even though she despises him, she is still angry to hear that he is having an affair. And Mrs. Fitzpatrick asks some great questions: is it out of selfishness that she cares, that she doesn't want another woman to have what's hers, even if she doesn't want it? Or is it that she doesn't want her husband to desire another woman more than her, even if she doesn't desire him back? Why is it still hurtful to know that someone is cheating on you, even if you aren't into the relationship in the first place?
The elegant Lord Shaftesbury somewhere objects to telling too much truth: by which it may be fairly inferred, that, in some cases, to lie is not only excusable but commendable. […]
We are not, therefore, ashamed to say, that our heroine now pursued the dictates of the above-mentioned right honourable philosopher. As she was perfectly satisfied then, that Lady Bellaston was ignorant of the person of Jones, so she determined to keep her in that ignorance, though at the expense of a little fibbing. (13.12.1-3)
Sophia is generally an honest girl, but she isn't stupid. She decides to lie a bit to cover up Tom's identity to Lady Bellaston. (The narrator jokes that girls in love often lie, and that this is not only "excusable but commendable.") But Sophia is not a good liar, because she doesn't keep in practice. Lady Bellaston, on the other hand, is a really superb liar. We also find out that Mrs. Fitzpatrick is great at covering up the truth. These are two highly morally ambiguous people, so it makes sense that they work hard at their skills at lying. But do you think that it is possible to be both a good person and a good liar? When is it ethically okay to lie? Is Sophia's lie about Tom's identity morally justifiable?
Sophia is generally an honest girl, but she isn't stupid. She decides to lie a bit to cover up Tom's identity to Lady Bellaston. (The narrator jokes that girls in love often lie, and that this is not only "excusable but commendable.") But Sophia is not a good liar, because she doesn't keep in practice. Lady Bellaston, on the other hand, is a really superb liar. We also find out that Mrs. Fitzpatrick is great at covering up the truth. These are two highly morally ambiguous people, so it makes sense that they work hard at their skills at lying. But do you think that it is possible to be both a good person and a good liar? When is it ethically okay to lie? Is Sophia's lie about Tom's identity morally justifiable?
Honestly, we think this passage is one of the darkest parts of this whole novel. In it, Sophia tries to explain to Mrs. Western that she does not want to marry Lord Fellamar because he tried to assault her. And Mrs. Western is so committed to the idea that her niece is going to marry a rich lord that she has trouble believing her. In fact, Mrs. Western tells Sophia that she must be inventing this story "to raise [Mrs. Western's] indignation" against Lord Fellamar. Whoa, that's upsetting.
"For by [the loss of virginity] you are rendered infamous, and driven, like lepers of old, out of society; at least, from the society of all but wicked and reprobate persons; for no others will associate with you.
If you have fortunes, you are hereby rendered incapable of enjoying them; if you have none, you are disabled from acquiring any, nay almost of procuring your sustenance; for no persons of character will receive you into their houses. Thus you are often driven by necessity itself into a state of shame and misery, which unavoidably ends in the destruction of both body and soul.
Can any pleasure compensate these evils? Can any temptation have sophistry and delusion strong enough to persuade you to so simple a bargain? Or can any carnal appetite so overpower your reason, or so totally lay it asleep, as to prevent your flying with affright and terror from a crime which carries such punishment always with it?" (1.7.8-10)
Tom Jones is all about sex. This is an amazingly raunchy novel (if you sort through all of the old-fashioned language, that is). So why does Fielding start off the book with this long moral lesson from Squire Allworthy on the evils of sex outside of marriage? Why rain on everyone's parade before the novel has really gotten started?
There are a couple of reasons we can think of: maybe Fielding wanted to show that he knows<em> </em>what good moral behavior looks like, even if 99% of his characters don't follow a code of conventional morality. Or maybe Fielding is trying to set up a contrast between Squire Allworthy's super-strict ideals and the sympathetic way he actually treats Jenny Jones. Squire Allworthy reads Jenny the riot act for her sins, but then he treats her with great kindness. So maybe Fielding wants to show that codes of morality need to be softened with compassion for human weaknesses.
"La, ma'am, what doth your la'ship think? the girl that your la'ship saw at church on Sunday [Molly], whom you thought so handsome; though you would not have thought her so handsome neither, if you had seen her nearer, but to be sure she hath been carried before the justice for being big with child. She seemed to me to look like a confident slut: and to be sure she hath laid the child to young Mr Jones. And all the parish says Mr Allworthy is so angry with young Mr Jones, that he won't see him. To be sure, one can't help pitying the poor young man, and yet he doth not deserve much pity neither, for demeaning himself with such kind of trumpery. Yet he is so pretty a gentleman, I should be sorry to have him turned out of doors. I dares to swear the wench was as willing as he; for she was always a forward kind of body. And when wenches are so coming, young men are not so much to be blamed neither; for to be sure they do no more than what is natural. Indeed it is beneath them to meddle with such dirty draggle-tails; and whatever happens to them, it is good enough for them. And yet, to be sure, the vile baggages are most in fault." (4.12.3)
It's so weird that the women in this novel often turn all the blame on other women for their sexual wrongdoing. We find this bizarre because, obviously, it takes two to tango. Why is it more Molly's fault than Tom's that they had sex? Just because Molly physically has to have the kid doesn't mean she is solely responsible for its production. But Mrs. Honour (Sophia's maid) seems happy to call Molly a "confident slut," while Tom is "[doing] no more than what is natural." This suggests that Tom's sexuality is natural but that Molly's sexuality is immoral—a division that, from our twenty-first century perspective, seems really messed up.
Certain, however, it is, that [Tom] saw [Molly] in the light of compassion; and though his love to her was not of that kind which could give him any great uneasiness at her inconstancy, yet was he not a little shocked on reflecting that he had himself originally corrupted her innocence; for to this corruption he imputed all the vice into which she appeared now so likely to plunge herself.
This consideration gave him no little uneasiness, till Betty, the elder sister, was so kind, some time afterwards, entirely to cure him by a hint, that one Will Barnes, and not himself, had been the first seducer of Molly; and that the little child, which he had hitherto so certainly concluded to be his own, might very probably have an equal title, at least, to claim Barnes for its father. (5.6.2-3)
Fielding seems pretty open and accepting of sex, but he also presents the basic social reality of his time and place, which is that a woman who loses her virginity before marriage has to pay much harsher public consequences than a guy does. Tom appears to think of Molly's loss of virginity as an event that can entirely change her ethical world, making her "plunge" into "vice." A dude can afford be less worried about his own chastity (though it's not unimportant, as Squire Allworthy reminds us in his speechifying to Tom), but he has to worry a heck of a lot about his partner's virtue. Why would a lady's chastity be so much more important to these people than a man's?
Though Mr Blifil was not of the complexion of Jones, nor ready to eat every woman he saw; yet he was far from being destitute of that appetite which is said to be the common property of all animals. […] Now the agonies which affected the mind of Sophia, rather augmented than impaired her beauty; for her tears added brightness to her eyes, and her breasts rose higher with her sighs. Indeed, no one hath seen beauty in its highest lustre who hath never seen it in distress. Blifil therefore looked on this human ortolan with greater desire than when he viewed her last; nor was his desire at all lessened by the aversion which he discovered in her to himself. On the contrary, this served rather to heighten the pleasure he proposed in rifling her charms, as it added triumph to lust. (7.6.12)
When Tom first thinks of sleeping with Molly, he worries a lot about her reputation and her innocence. Tom has a lot of lust in his character—as this passage says, he is "ready to eat every woman he saw." But Tom's desire depends on the consent of his partner, which clearly makes a huge moral difference. Mr. Blifil wants Sophia because she doesn't want him, which obviously makes him the complete ethical opposite of Tom. Where a lot of people might condemn Tom for giving in to his lusts all the time (and it does get him into a lot of trouble), the narrator is saying, hey, hold up—the problem isn't lust itself. It's the kind of lust. Mr. Blifil's desire to hurt Sophia is morally wrong, where Tom's sexuality is just kind of undisciplined.
Now it required no very blameable degree of suspicion to imagine that Mr Jones and his ragged companion had certain purposes in their intention, which, though tolerated in some Christian countries, connived at in others, and practised in all, are however as expressly forbidden as murder, or any other horrid vice, by that religion which is universally believed in those countries. The landlady, therefore, had no sooner received an intimation of the entrance of the above-said persons than she began to meditate the most expeditious means for their expulsion. (9.3.6)
This passage is kind of ambiguous, but it also appears pretty critical of laws and customs that label sexuality as bad. We say that it's ambiguous because it's unclear if the "certain purposes" the narrator mentions here mean sex in general (outside of a marriage and not for reproduction) or something more specific, such as prostitution. Whichever it is, the narrator points out that you can find people having sex in every country, no matter how much of a "vice" it is supposed to be. The narrator points out that Tom and Mrs. Waters's activities are "practised in all" Christian countries. What is the point of declaring something "as expressly forbidden as murder" when it continues to happen all the time, everywhere? Isn't that just an invitation to hypocrisy and deception?
"La, madam," cries Honour, "you will make a very bad examiner. Hark'ee, child," says she, "is not that very young gentleman now in bed with some nasty trull or other?" Here Susan smiled, and was silent. "Answer the question, child," says Sophia, "and here's a guinea for you."—"A guinea! madam," cries Susan; "la, what's a guinea? If my mistress should know it I shall certainly lose my place that very instant." "Here's another for you," says Sophia, "and I promise you faithfully your mistress shall never know it." Susan, after a very short hesitation, took the money, and told the whole story, concluding with saying, "If you have any great curiosity, madam, I can steal softly into his room, and see whether he be in his own bed or no." She accordingly did this by Sophia's desire, and returned with an answer in the negative. (10.5.6)
The main problem with Tom's sleeping around is that he almost ruins his relationship with Sophia, the woman he claims he loves. So it seems like Fielding is arguing that the difficulty with totally giving in to your physical desires isn't what it does to "society" or abstract ideas like that. The issue is that, by being unfaithful, you can hurt the person you love (especially if that person expects you not to sleep around). And the one who ultimately almost pays for his lustfulness is Tom himself. After all, if Susan hadn't spotted him with Mrs. Waters at the inn at Upton, his issues with Sophia might have been resolved right then and there.
O my Sophia! my only love! you cannot hate or despise me more for what happened there than I do myself; but yet do me the justice to think that my heart was never unfaithful to you. That had no share in the folly I was guilty of; it was even then unalterably yours. Though I despaired of possessing you, nay, almost of ever seeing you more, I doated still on your charming idea, and could seriously love no other woman. But if my heart had not been engaged, she, into whose company I accidently fell at that cursed place, was not an object of serious love. Believe me, my angel, I never have seen her from that day to this; and never intend or desire to see her again. (13.11.5)
Tom tries to defend himself to Sophia about sleeping with Mrs. Waters by saying that his heart "was never unfaithful." It was just his pesky body that was getting some action. And actually, this excuse seems to hold some water with Sophia. (And honestly, since their relationship is so undecided and up in the air, maybe it's not fair to expect that Tom be monogamous?) Do you buy Tom's excuse here? Is it possible to be faithful at heart but unfaithful in body?
There is not, indeed, a greater error than that which universally prevails among the vulgar, who, borrowing their opinion from some ignorant satirists, have affixed the character of lewdness to these times. On the contrary, I am convinced there never was less of love intrigue carried on among persons of condition than now. Our present women have been taught by their mothers to fix their thoughts only on ambition and vanity, and to despise the pleasures of love as unworthy their regard; and being afterwards, by the care of such mothers, married without having husbands, they seem pretty well confirmed in the justness of those sentiments; whence they content themselves, for the dull remainder of life, with the pursuit of more innocent, but I am afraid more childish amusements, the bare mention of which would ill suit with the dignity of this history. In my humble opinion, the true characteristic of the present beau monde is rather folly than vice, and the only epithet which it deserves is that of frivolous. (14.1.13)
The narrator thinks it is kind of funny that so many people believe that there is a lot of immoral sex going on these days. In fact, the narrator believes that most upper-class families now train their daughters to believe that personal relationships and marriage should be about what they can get financially speaking. The idea of love matches seems completely out of fashion to the narrator; in fact, upper-class women appear mostly driven by vanity and love of money, rather than physical lust. Do you guys observe a class difference in how this novel portrays sexuality among poor people and among richer people?
Nightingale never once interrupted the narration, though he discovered violent emotions at many parts of it. But when it was concluded, after fetching a deep sigh, he said, "What you tell me, my friend, affects me in the tenderest manner. Sure there never was so cursed an accident as the poor girl's betraying my letter. Her reputation might otherwise have been safe, and the affair might have remained a profound secret; and then the girl might have gone off never the worse; for many such things happen in this town: and if the husband should suspect a little, when it is too late, it will be his wiser conduct to conceal his suspicion both from his wife and the world." (14.7.4)
Mr. Nightingale is usually a fun-loving guy who resembles Tom in his manners. But he has this London-y side of him (London meaning, in the context of Tom Jones, concerned mainly with appearances). When he first hears of Nancy's public shaming over his letter, he doesn't appear to regret knocking her up in the first place. What causes him guilt is that the secret is now out, so she can't go "off never the worse" for her affair. After all, "many such things happen in this town [London]." Mr. Nightingale does seem to love Nancy, but his first thought is for her reputation, and not for her baby or her desperate love for him. This response makes Mr. Nightingale seem kind of lame and unfeeling.
"Sure," cries Jones, "Fortune will never have done with me till she hath driven me to distraction. But why do I blame Fortune? I am myself the cause of all my misery. All the dreadful mischiefs which have befallen me are the consequences only of my own folly and vice. What thou hast told me, Partridge, hath almost deprived me of my senses! And was Mrs Waters, then—but why do I ask? for thou must certainly know her—If thou hast any affection for me, nay, if thou hast any pity, let me beseech thee to fetch this miserable woman back again to me. O good Heavens! incest——with a mother!" (17.2.5)
Tom's realization that he may actually have slept with his own mother is enough to scare him into regretting all of his self-indulgence and bad behavior of past days. He seems genuinely upset about the poor sexual decisions he has made over the course of the novel, particularly since he really doesn't think he can ask Sophia to marry him now, not when he has slept with his own (blegh) mother. This moment of Tom's incest fears may seem a little over-the-top and even contrived. But it does convince us that Tom has finally learned his lesson that he has been, in many ways, "the cause of all [his] misery."
The schoolmaster and his consort passed their time unpleasantly enough that evening [after Mrs. Partridge kicked Jenny out of their household], but something or other happened before the next morning, which a little abated the fury of Mrs Partridge; and she at length admitted her husband to make his excuses: to which she gave the readier belief, as he had, instead of desiring her to recall Jenny, professed a satisfaction in her being dismissed, saying, she was grown of little use as a servant, spending all her time in reading, and was become, moreover, very pert and obstinate; for, indeed, she and her master had lately had frequent disputes in literature; in which, as hath been said, she was become greatly his superior. This, however, he would by no means allow; and as he called her persisting in the right, obstinacy, he began to hate her with no small inveteracy. (2.3.17)
Mrs. Partridge fires Jenny as their family servant because she is sure that Jenny is getting it on with her husband, the teacher. Of course, Mrs. Partridge is wrong, which means she has fired Jenny unfairly. And there are couple of other things that seem horrible to us about how the Partridges treat Jenny: (1) there is the assumption that, if Jenny and Mr. Partridge had been having an affair, it would be all Jenny's fault. But Jenny is a servant; she doesn't have much power in this household. If anyone were at fault, we think it would be Mr. Partridge, for exploiting her. (2) Mr. Partridge is being a huge hypocrite. He teaches Jenny when she first comes into his household as a servant. But as soon as Jenny starts getting better at Latin and literature than Mr. Partridge, he wants her gone—even though she is poor and needs the job. Ugh—Fielding is seriously starting to bum us out with all of these horrible, selfish characters!
A treacherous friend is the most dangerous enemy; and I will say boldly, that both religion and virtue have received more real discredit from hypocrites than the wittiest profligates or infidels could ever cast upon them: nay, farther, as these two, in their purity, are rightly called the bands of civil society, and are indeed the greatest of blessings; so when poisoned and corrupted with fraud, pretence, and affectation, they have become the worst of civil curses, and have enabled men to perpetrate the most cruel mischiefs to their own species.
Upon the whole, it is not religion or virtue, but the want of them, which is here exposed. Had not Thwackum too much neglected virtue, and Square, religion, in the composition of their several systems, and had not both utterly discarded all natural goodness of heart, they had never been represented as the objects of derision in this history; in which we will now proceed. (3.4.3-5)
These are pretty strong words on the subject of religion and goodness! The narrator is saying, basically, that the worst non-believers and smartest evil-doers in the world have done less harm to ideas of religion and virtue than hypocrites have. So, it's the people who pretend they care so much about these two ideals but who truly don't who do the biggest amount of damage. Why does the narrator make this claim? Why is it so much worse to do evil in the name of good than just to be evil, outright? Can you think of any examples that might support the narrator's claim? How about counterexamples?
Philosophers are composed of flesh and blood as well as other human creatures; and however sublimated and refined the theory of these may be, a little practical frailty is as incident to them as to other mortals. It is, indeed, in theory only, and not in practice, as we have before hinted, that consists the difference: for though such great beings think much better and more wisely, they always act exactly like other men. They know very well how to subdue all appetites and passions, and to despise both pain and pleasure; and this knowledge affords much delightful contemplation, and is easily acquired; but the practice would be vexatious and troublesome; and, therefore, the same wisdom which teaches them to know this, teaches them to avoid carrying it into execution. (5.5.11)
This passage about philosophers being "flesh and blood as well as other human creatures" appears just when Mr. Square's sexual relationship with Molly gets all too exposed. In spite of Mr. Square's open disgust at Tom for his affair with Molly, he seems pretty eager to follow Tom's example in secret. The narrator reminds us that it is all very well to talk about repressing human instincts and controlling our urges. It's another thing entirely to do it. What do you think: is it possible to give up all human desire? And is it important to try?
"So far, sir, from injuring you or your estate," says Sophia, "if my aunt had died yesterday, I am convinced she would have left you her whole fortune."
Whether Sophia intended it or no, I shall not presume to assert; but certain it is, these last words penetrated very deep into the ears of her father, and produced a much more sensible effect than all she had said before. […] "Yesterday! she would have left me her esteate yesterday! would she? Why yesterday, of all the days in the year? I suppose if she dies to-morrow, she will leave it to somebody else, and perhaps out of the vamily."—"My aunt, sir," cries Sophia, "hath very violent passions, and I can't answer what she may do under their influence." (7.5.10-11)
The main reason that Squire Western seems to care about maintaining a relationship with his sister is because she is wealthy, and he has an eye on her estate. So what's keeping them together is not family affection, but Squire Western's sense that Mrs. Western can be financially useful to him. Tom, Sophia, and Squire Allworthy all seem largely motivated by emotion: they feel love and grief and disappointment, and these feelings make them do stuff. But characters like Squire Western or Mr. Blifil have other, unemotional concerns that drive their actions. Would you say that the wide range of emotions that Tom and Sophia experience makes them more three-dimensional and believable as characters than Squire Western or Mr. Blifil?
But however well affected he might be to James or Charles, he was still much more attached to Little Benjamin than to either; for which reason he no sooner discovered the principles of his fellow-traveller than he thought proper to conceal and outwardly give up his own to the man on whom he depended for the making his fortune, since he by no means believed the affairs of Jones to be so desperate as they really were with Mr Allworthy. (8.9.4)
We don't think of Tom Jones as a particularly political novel. Yes, the characters in Tom Jones refer to the Jacobite Rebellion all the time (see our "Detailed Summary" of Book 7, Chapter 11). But they mostly talk about politics as something abstract and distant from their own lives.
In this passage, Partridge is pro-rebel. And Tom is pro-King George II. But Partridge doesn't tell Tom of his support for "James or Charles" (a.k.a., James and Charles Stuart, the son and grandson of exiled King James II and VII) because Partridge wants to stay friends with Tom. The possibility of profiting off Tom's return to Squire Allworthy totally overshadows the importance of any kind of political commitment for Partridge. Do you believe that people will usually choose their self-interest over their political ideals (as Partridge does in this passage)?
"Events of this nature in the public are generally apt to eclipse all private concerns. Our discourse therefore now became entirely political. For my own part, I had been for some time very seriously affected with the danger to which the Protestant religion was so visibly exposed under a Popish prince, and thought the apprehension of it alone sufficient to justify that insurrection; for no real security can ever be found against the persecuting spirit of Popery, when armed with power, except the depriving it of that power, as woeful experience presently showed." (8.14.16)
So, here's the thing: King James II did have a reputation for authoritarianism and for religious intolerance. So some of the Man of the Hill's concern about the shift of power against Protestantism during his reign is justified according to James II's policies. But look at the language that he is using: he talks about "the persecuting spirit of Popery," as though it is basic to the nature of all Catholicism to be harassing and intolerant. So there is clearly some anti-Catholic bias coming out in this section of the novel. Tom also talks enthusiastically about the need to protect and defend Protestantism (see, for example, 7.12.13-15). We think there's a double standard here: several characters in this novel strongly condemn Catholicism because of the need for religious tolerance.
"No doubt," answered Partridge, "it is better to take away one's money than one's life; and yet it is very hard upon honest men, that they can't travel about their business without being in danger of these villains [highwaymen]. And to be sure it would be better that all rogues were hanged out of the way, than that one honest man should suffer. For my own part, indeed, I should not care to have the blood of any of them on my own hands; but it is very proper for the law to hang them all. What right hath any man to take sixpence from me, unless I give it him? Is there any honesty in such a man?"
"No, surely," cries Jones, "no more than there is in him who takes the horses out of another man's stable, or who applies to his own use the money which he finds, when he knows the right owner." (12.14.15-7)
Partridge thinks that highwaymen should all be hanged (though he doesn't want to do the executing himself). But Tom points out that, at different times during their journey, Partridge has also suggested that they "borrow" (but really, steal) a few horses from an inn or that they spend Sophia's hundred-pound bank note. As usual, part of Tom's job in talking to Partridge seems to be to expose Partridge's foolish double standards.
I have, in truth, observed, and shall never have a better opportunity than at present to communicate my observation, that the world are in general divided into two opinions concerning charity, which are the very reverse of each other. One party seems to hold, that all acts of this kind are to be esteemed as voluntary gifts, and, however little you give (if indeed no more than your good wishes), you acquire a great degree of merit in so doing. Others, on the contrary, appear to be as firmly persuaded, that beneficence is a positive duty, and that whenever the rich fall greatly short of their ability in relieving the distresses of the poor, their pitiful largesses are so far from being meritorious, that they have only performed their duty by halves, and are in some sense more contemptible than those who have entirely neglected it.
To reconcile these different opinions is not in my power. I shall only add, that the givers are generally of the former sentiment, and the receivers are almost universally inclined to the latter. (13.8.9-10)
Sometimes, we are just really struck by how deeply, marvelously cynical this book is. Here, the narrator points out that there are two views on charity: one perspective is that charity is a gift that builds up good karma for the giver (no matter how small the gift is). Another point of view is that charity is a requirement: that the haves must give to the have-nots. And while the narrator never says which of these two views he believes, he does note that the people who give charity usually believe the first thing, while the people who receive it usually think the second. In either case, there is a huge sense of self-interest: people who give away stuff want to get credit for having done so, and the people who receive charity desire as much of it as they can get.
In recording some instances of these, we shall, if rightly understood, afford a very useful lesson to those well-disposed youths who shall hereafter be our readers; for they may here find, that goodness of heart, and openness of temper, though these may give them great comfort within, and administer to an honest pride in their own minds, will by no means, alas! do their business in the world. Prudence and circumspection are necessary even to the best of men. They are indeed, as it were, a guard to Virtue, without which she can never be safe. It is not enough that your designs, nay, that your actions, are intrinsically good; you must take care they shall appear so. If your inside be never so beautiful, you must preserve a fair outside also. This must be constantly looked to, or malice and envy will take care to blacken it so, that the sagacity and goodness of an Allworthy will not be able to see through it, and to discern the beauties within. Let this, my young readers, be your constant maxim, that no man can be good enough to enable him to neglect the rules of prudence; nor will Virtue herself look beautiful, unless she be bedecked with the outward ornaments of decency and decorum. (3.7.6)
The author steps up to offer a lesson directly to the reader: you can't just be good-hearted or decent on the inside. If you want to avoid evil gossip from other people, you have to look honorable and decent on the outside. In other words, Fielding is saying that the only way to avoid a bad reputation is to fit into social ideals of what "good" people behave like. This is a really cynical thing to say: that it's not enough to be good, but you also have to look good for it to count. What do you guys think—is this bleak account of human society true?
"You'd better have minded what the parson says," cries the eldest [of the Seagrim family], "and not a harkened after men voke."—"Indeed, child, and so she had," says the mother, sobbing: "she hath brought a disgrace upon us all. She's the vurst of the vamily that ever was a whore." "You need not upbraid me with that, mother," cries Molly; "you yourself was brought-to-bed of sister there, within a week after you was married." "Yes, hussy," answered the enraged mother, "so I was, and what was the mighty matter of that? I was made an honest woman then; and if you was to be made an honest woman, I should not be angry; but you must have to doing with a gentleman, you nasty slut; you will have a bastard, hussy, you will; and that I defy any one to say of me." (4.9.1)
There are a lot of really interesting issues underlying this argument between Mrs. Seagrim, Molly, and her older sister. Mrs. Seagrim calls Molly a "whore" for getting pregnant outside of marriage. But then, Molly yells back that her mom was pregnant when she got married—in fact, the baby was born only a week after the wedding. So Mrs. Seagrim must have been just as guilty of sex outside of marriage as Molly is now. But—here's the interesting part—Molly has gotten pregnant by a gentleman. Since marriage across class lines is apparently impossible for Mrs. Seagrim to imagine, she assumes Molly's baby will be left a bastard. So for Mrs. Seagrim, marriage is all about preserving appearances. Molly won't be able to preserve appearances (since there's no way she can marry Tom), so Molly must be "a whore."
In short, Sophia so greatly overacted her part, that her aunt was at first staggered, and began to suspect some affectation in her niece; but as she was herself a woman of great art, so she soon attributed this to extreme art in Sophia. She remembered the many hints she had given her niece concerning her being in love, and imagined the young lady had taken this way to rally her out of her opinion, by an overacted civility: a notion that was greatly corroborated by the excessive gaiety with which the whole was accompanied. (6.3.6)
Tom Jones is a book where appearances matter a lot: it's by noticing Tom's intense glances in her direction that Sophia realizes how much he loves her. And it's by observing Sophia's unusual seriousness of expression that Mrs. Western figures out that Sophia is in love (even though she gets the object of those affections wrong). But the problem with spending so much time trying to read other people's faces is that sometimes you misread, and there's no way to double-check your assumptions. Here, Mrs. Western assumes that Sophia is being excessively nice to Mr. Blifil not because Sophia wants to distract from her feelings for Tom (the real reason), but because Sophia wants to throw Mrs. Western off the scent of her supposed "real" feelings for Mr. Blifil. (Mrs. Western's logic is reallyconfusing, we have to say.)
Mr Western having finished his holla, and taken a little breath, began to lament, in very pathetic terms, the unfortunate condition of men, who are, says he, "always whipt in by the humours of some d—n'd b— or other. I think I was hard run enough by your mother for one man; but after giving her a dodge, here's another b— follows me upon the foil; but curse my jacket if I will be run down in this manner by any o'um." (7.4.1)
We want to stop for a second to talk about the appearance of Tom Jones as a book. More specifically, what's going on with these strategic dashes in Squire Western's speeches? The "d—n'd b—" parts? Obviously, these dashes are like bleeps on live TV: they fill in for a swear word that we know is there, but that the author cannot print out without getting into trouble. He is swearing at his reader, while still maintaining the appearance that he isn't. So here's our question: What function do these bleeped-out swear words play in Tom Jones? And who are those dashes truly protecting, if anybody?
The new soldiers were now produced before the officer, who having examined the six-feet man, he being first produced, came next to survey Jones: at the first sight of whom, the lieutenant could not help showing some surprize; for besides that he was very well dressed, and was naturally genteel, he had a remarkable air of dignity in his look, which is rarely seen among the vulgar, and is indeed not inseparably annexed to the features of their superiors. (7.11.16)
Fielding is equally willing to make fun of working class people and rich people: consider his mockery of both the Seagrim family and the foolish Westerns. Still, a lot of his physical descriptions use pretty class-based language. Here, the lieutenant of Tom's new army company is surprised at Tom's "naturally genteel" appearance, which is "rarely seen among the vulgar." It is because of Tom's refined looks that the lieutenant invites him to dine with the officers. So, what exactly is a "naturally genteel" face? Or a "vulgar" one, for that matter? What do you think Fielding means by these kinds of descriptions?
"Very little indeed," answered the [Man of the Hill]: "those who travel in order to acquaint themselves with the different manners of men might spare themselves much pains by going to a carnival at Venice; for there they will see at once all which they can discover in the several courts of Europe. The same hypocrisy, the same fraud; in short, the same follies and vices dressed in different habits. In Spain, these are equipped with much gravity; and in Italy, with vast splendor. In France, a knave is dressed like a fop; and in the northern countries, like a sloven. But human nature is everywhere the same, everywhere the object of detestation and scorn. (8.15.2)
Okay, so the Man of the Hill has a grim view of the human species. We can't blame him! But besides demonstrating the Man of the Hill's deep pessimism and hatred for, well, us, he also states that, wherever you go, despite their appearances, people are the same. So as long as you describe real human nature in one place, you are describing it in all places. The Man on the Hill is basically giving us him grim rendition of "It's a Small World After All."
My landlord, who had been called out by the arrival of a horseman at the gate, now returned into the kitchen, and with an affrighted countenance cried out, "What do you think, gentlemen? The rebels have given the duke the slip, and are got almost to London. It is certainly true, for a man on horseback just now told me so." (12.7.18-21)
In the town where Tom and Partridge watch the puppet-show, they stay at an inn where the landlord and his guests wind up discussing current political issues of the day. The landlord hears news from a horseman that the rebels have escaped from the duke. And he's totally wrong.
But this scene reveals something interesting about news back in the day: no one in these smaller British towns really know what's going on with national politics at any given time. It's all rumor and gossip. These guys talk about politics the way we talk about our Fantasy Football leagues—it's all speculation and fandom.
He began therefore to make a very warm answer to her last speech, when a mask, in the character of an old woman, joined them. This mask was one of those ladies who go to a masquerade only to vent ill-nature, by telling people rude truths, and by endeavouring, as the phrase is, to spoil as much sport as they are able. This good lady, therefore, having observed Jones, and his friend, whom she well knew, in close consultation together in a corner of the room, concluded she could nowhere satisfy her spleen better than by interrupting them. (13.7.16)
This woman at the masquerade ball uses the fact that she is wearing a mask as an opportunity to offend the people whom she recognizes. (The fact that her mask is shaped like "an old woman" might also suggest a particular association between old ladies and mean gossip.) Honestly, this woman's strategy of hiding behind her anonymous identity to bully the people around her reminds us of something ultra-modern: online bullying. She's like any troll who uses the internet as a mask to tell people "rude truths" and to "vent ill-nature."
I shud sartenly haf kaled on you a cordin too mi prommiss haddunt itt bin that hur lashipp prevent mee; for to bee sur, Sir, you nose very well that evere persun must luk furst at ome, and sartenly such anuther offar mite not have ever hapned, so as I shud ave bin justly to blam, had I not excepted of it when her lashipp was so veri kind as to offar to mak mee hur one uman without mi ever askin any such thing, to be sur shee is won of thee best ladis in thee wurld, and pepil who sase to the kontrari must bee veri wiket pepil in thare harts. (15.10.10)
Oh jeepers, this effort by Fielding to imitate the bad spelling of an uneducated person (in this case, Mrs. Honour) is almost as embarrassing and offensive as his attempts to portray the gypsy king's accent. Why do you think Fielding includes Mrs. Honour's letter here in this manner? Why might Fielding be so focused on exactly describing his characters' accents or how they write?
Miss Bridget Allworthy (for that was the name of this lady) very rightly conceived the charms of person in a woman to be no better than snares for herself, as well as for others; and yet so discreet was she in her conduct, that her prudence was as much on the guard as if she had all the snares to apprehend which were ever laid for her whole sex. Indeed, I have observed, though it may seem unaccountable to the reader, that this guard of prudence, like the trained bands, is always readiest to go on duty where there is the least danger. It often basely and cowardly deserts those paragons for whom the men are all wishing, sighing, dying, and spreading, every net in their power; and constantly attends at the heels of that higher order of women for whom the other sex have a more distant and awful respect, and whom (from despair, I suppose, of success) they never venture to attack. (1.2.3)
Bridget Allworthy is an "old maid," which is a (pretty offensive by today's standards) term for a woman who is unmarried and probably too old to find a husband. Bridget is really nervous about being tempted in the sinfulness of sex, and she is always super careful around men. But, the narrator tells us, Bridget is foolish to worry about men. Her "prudence" is unnecessary, because she isn't in any danger of getting seduced into sin—she's not pretty enough. The narrator's tone towards Bridget is really condescending. How does the narrator's characterization of Bridget Allworthy influence your sense of the narrator's views on women as a whole?
This Jenny Jones was no very comely girl, either in her face or person; but nature had somewhat compensated the want of beauty with what is generally more esteemed by those ladies whose judgment is arrived at years of perfect maturity, for she had given her a very uncommon share of understanding. […] This advantage, however, like most others of an extraordinary kind, was attended with some small inconveniences: for as it is not to be wondered at, that a young woman so well accomplished should have little relish for the society of those whom fortune had made her equals, but whom education had rendered so much her inferiors; so is it matter of no greater astonishment, that this superiority in Jenny, together with that behaviour which is its certain consequence, should produce among the rest some little envy and ill-will towards her; and these had, perhaps, secretly burnt in the bosoms of her neighbours ever since her return from her service.
Their envy did not, however, display itself openly, till poor Jenny, to the surprize of everybody, and to the vexation of all the young women in these parts, had publickly shone forth on a Sunday in a new silk gown, with a laced cap, and other proper appendages to these.
The flame [of envy], which had before lain in embryo, now burst forth. Jenny had, by her learning, increased her own pride, which none of her neighbours were kind enough to feed with the honour she seemed to demand; and now, instead of respect and adoration, she gained nothing but hatred and abuse by her finery. The whole parish declared she could not come honestly by such things; and parents, instead of wishing their daughters the same, felicitated themselves that their children had them not. (1.6.8-10)
Jenny Jones really has it rough: she is a woman in a sexist society, so the people around her think it is inappropriate that she has so much education. But even worse, the villagers also think that her sudden riches—her new silk gown and lace hat—are proof that she has done something sinful. Everyone turns against Jenny Jones, both because they are jealous of her good luck and because she refuses to behave like the other poor women around her.
Jenny Jones's trouble with her fellow villagers illustrates something really horrible about both class and gender inequality. It is not <em>only </em>the rich and the men who keep these systems going. Even though it appears to go against their own interests, women participate in gender discrimination and working class people also take part in class discrimination. When it seems like Jenny Jones is getting <em>too rich</em> for her position as a poor person and<em> too educated</em> for her role as a woman, everyone in the village gets jealous, angry, and mean.
"Well but, sister, what would you advise me to do; for I tell you women know these matters better than we do?"—"Oh, your humble servant, sir," answered the lady: "we are obliged to you for allowing us a capacity in anything. Since you are pleased, then, most politic sir, to ask my advice, I think you may propose the match to Allworthy yourself. There is no indecorum in the proposal's coming from the parent of either side. […] "Fear not," cries Mrs Western; "the match is too advantageous to be refused." "I don't know that," answered the squire: "Allworthy is a queer b—ch, and money hath no effect o'un." "Brother," said the lady, "your politics astonish me. Are you really to be imposed on by professions? Do you think Mr Allworthy hath more contempt for money than other men because he professes more? Such credulity would better become one of us weak women, than that wise sex which heaven hath formed for politicians." (6.2.5)
Mrs. Western's gender identity in this book is kind of puzzling. She does a lot of supposedly unwomanly things, including studying up on politics and history and traveling the world. In fact, the narrator even specifies that, "her masculine person, which was near six foot high, added to her manner and learning, possibly prevented the other sex from regarding her, notwithstanding her petticoats, in the light of a woman" (6.2.2). In other words, she looks and acts like a man (according to the assumptions of her time), even though she wears dresses. But she also spends a lot of time saying that women know much more about love than men do and using terms like "us weak women." She draws on some common stereotypes of women and of femininity while still not behaving at all like a typical lady of her time.
The morning in which Mr Jones departed, Mrs Western summoned Sophia into her apartment; and having first acquainted her that she had obtained her liberty of her father, she proceeded to read her a long lecture on the subject of matrimony; which she treated not as a romantic scheme of happiness arising from love, as it hath been described by the poets; nor did she mention any of those purposes for which we are taught by divines to regard it as instituted by sacred authority; she considered it rather as a fund in which prudent women deposit their fortunes to the best advantage, in order to receive a larger interest for them than they could have elsewhere. (7.3.1)
Mrs. Western dismisses the idea of marriage "arising from love." Instead, she tells Sophia that marriage is an investment for women, so that they can increase their own fortunes. Clearly, considering how foolish Mrs. Western is as a character, the narrator doesn't want us to agree wholeheartedly with this vision of marriage as a business transaction. But let's be realistic: marriage was a kind of job opportunity for ladies, at least in Fielding's day and age. At a time when it was not customary for women—especially upper class women—to work outside the home, how else were women supposed to guarantee their financial and social positions but through good marriages? And even if Fielding is pro-love, we can't help but notice that Sophia and Tom don't get married until after Tom's fortune has been settled.
"Yes, upon my truly was it," says she: "the gentleman speaks very much like a gentleman, and I see very plainly is so; and to be certain the house is well known to be a house of as good reputation as any on the road, and though I say it, is frequented by gentry of the best quality, both Irish and English. I defy anybody to say black is my eye, for that matter. And, as I was saying, if I had known your ladyship to be your ladyship, I would as soon have burnt my fingers as have affronted your ladyship; but truly where gentry come and spend their money, I am not willing that they should be scandalized by a set of poor shabby vermin, that, wherever they go, leave more lice than money behind them; such folks never raise my compassion, for to be certain it is foolish to have any for them; and if our justices did as they ought, they would be all whipt out of the kingdom." (9.4.8)
We can't help but notice that the landlady here imagines the same punishment for prostitutes (that they be "whipt out of the kingdom") that Mrs. Wilkins wants for the mothers of bastards (that they be "whipt at the cart's tail" (1.3.5)). When the landlady at Upton speaks to Mrs. Waters once she realizes that she's not a prostitute, her face is still scratched with the marks of Mrs. Waters's fingernails. And Mrs. Waters is still wearing a pillowcase across her chest. Nothing has really changed about either of them from one minute to the next, but the label that the landlady uses—from prostitute to "ladyship"—seems to transform Mrs. Waters into an entirely different species of woman in the landlady's eyes.
Mr Jones, of whose personal accomplishments we have hitherto said very little, was, in reality, one of the handsomest young fellows in the world. His face, besides being the picture of health, had in it the most apparent marks of sweetness and good-nature. […]
It was, perhaps, as much owing to this as to a very fine complexion that his face had a delicacy in it almost inexpressible, and which might have given him an air rather too effeminate, had it not been joined to a most masculine person and mien: which latter had as much in them of the Hercules as the former had of the Adonis. He was besides active, genteel, gay, and good-humoured; and had a flow of animal spirits which enlivened every conversation where he was present. (9.5.5-6)
It's interesting to contrast the narrator's description of Tom here with Squire Western's character. The squire loves hunting above everything else, he's constantly drinking, he has a furious temper, and he hates women. He associates himself with extremely stereotypical masculinity. What makes Tom so attractive, on the other hand, is that he doesn't go overboard with the whole manly man thing. In fact, his face is "rather too effeminate." But while his appearance may be filled with "delicacy in it almost inexpressible," his body is 100% beefcake. So Tom combines the sweetness associated with femininity with marked masculine strength. And it's this combination of feminine and masculine qualities that makes him appealing and likable to both women and men.
And hence, I think, we may very fairly draw an argument, to prove how extremely natural virtue is to the fair sex; for, though there is not, perhaps, one in ten thousand who is capable of making a good actress, and even among these we rarely see two who are equally able to personate the same character, yet this of virtue they can all admirably well put on; and as well those individuals who have it not, as those who possess it, can all act it to the utmost degree of perfection. (10.2.17)
Okay, we're just going to say it: ugh. There are so many obnoxious things about this passage that it's hard to know where to begin. let's start with "we" versus "they." Whenever the narrator talks about women, he always talks about "them." But when he addresses the reading audience, it's "we," as in "we men." Not all your readers are dudes, Fielding! Secondly, the narrator is basically calling women natural liars, because those who "have [natural virtue] not" can still "put [it] on" as well as those who "possess it." Thirdly, the tone of this whole passage is funny and sarcastic, as though the narrator is nudging us with an elbow and saying, "Huh? Huh? Am I right? Chicks, bro—I tell ya." We can take a joke, but after a while, this tongue-and-cheek teasing about women lacking virtue gets really, really old.
Notwithstanding the many pretty arts which ladies sometimes practise, to display their fears on every little occasion (almost as many as the other sex uses to conceal theirs), certainly there is a degree of courage which not only becomes a woman, but is often necessary to enable her to discharge her duty. It is, indeed, the idea of fierceness, and not of bravery, which destroys the female character; for who can read the story of the justly celebrated Arria without conceiving as high an opinion of her gentleness and tenderness as of her fortitude? At the same time, perhaps, many a woman who shrieks at a mouse, or a rat, may be capable of poisoning a husband; or, what is worse, of driving him to poison himself. (10.9.3)
And once again, Tom Jones reminds us that it was written a couple of centuries before feminism. The narrator's view on what kind of strength it is appropriate for women to have is pretty condescending. He says that women should be brave, yes, but not fierce. In other words, women's courage should be strong but not angry or confrontational. The ideal that the narrator invites us to admire is a woman who is definitely brave, but who uses her bravery strictly in support of the man she loves. What do you guys think of this model of womanly courage?
To clear, therefore, the honour of Mr Jones, and to do justice to the liberality of the lady, he had really received this present from her, who, though she did not give much into the hackney charities of the age, such as building hospitals, &c., was not, however, entirely void of that Christian virtue; and conceived (very rightly I think) that a young fellow of merit, without a shilling in the world, was no improper object of this virtue. (13.8.2)
This passage is actually pretty hilarious: Lady Bellaston may not be big on conventional charities, but she does like to support poor (and handsome) young men every now and again. Tom appears to be one of these lucky lads. In fact, it's thanks to her that Tom has been able to survive in London. Tom is Lady Bellaston's kept man. One reason why we find this darkly funny is that Squire Western keeps insulting his daughter by calling Sophia a prostitute. Yet, isn't it actually Tom who is the prostitute? He is the one who is having sex with Lady Bellaston for money!
Sophia, notwithstanding her fright, presently knew her father's voice; and his lordship, notwithstanding his passion, knew the voice of reason, which peremptorily assured him, it was not now a time for the perpetration of his villany. Hearing, therefore, the voice approach, and hearing likewise whose it was (for as the squire more than once roared forth the word daughter, so Sophia, in the midst of her struggling, cried out upon her father), he thought proper to relinquish his prey, having only disordered her handkerchief, and with his rude lips committed violence on her lovely neck. (15.5.3-4)
In this scene, her father's sudden appearance is what keeps Lord Fellamar from raping Sophia. But Squire Western is also the one who, by enthusiastically supporting Sophia's marriage to a man she despises, is putting his daughter in danger of sexual assault by Mr. Blifil. This confrontation between Squire Western and Lord Fellamar only emphasizes that Sophia's sexuality has been made into a pawn, to be traded among the men in her life. She has very little self-determination, though she fights hard to make her own choices.
I never heard anything of pertness, or what is called repartee, out of [Sophia's] mouth; no pretence to wit, much less to that kind of wisdom which is the result only of great learning and experience, the affectation of which, in a young woman, is as absurd as any of the affectations of an ape. No dictatorial sentiments, no judicial opinions, no profound criticisms. Whenever I have seen her in the company of men, she hath been all attention, with the modesty of a learner, not the forwardness of a teacher. You'll pardon me for it, but I once, to try her only, desired her opinion on a point which was controverted between Mr Thwackum and Mr Square. To which she answered, with much sweetness, "You will pardon me, good Mr Allworthy; I am sure you cannot in earnest think me capable of deciding any point in which two such gentlemen disagree." (17.3.9)
Squire Allworthy is praising Sophia's quietness and good nature in the company of men. He likes that she doesn't speak up for herself too much, and that she doesn't offer "profound criticisms" of the men around her. But we think this is another example where Squire Allworthy is being a terrible judge of people. Sophia may not be as outspoken as her aunt, Mrs. Western. But when she says that she can't resolve an argument between Mr. Thwackum and Mr. Square because she is unable to decide "any point in which two such gentleman disagree," we don't think she's being straightforward. We find that line completely sarcastic: Sophia can't decide anything between two such gentlemen (read: idiots).
For all which I shall not look on myself as accountable to any court of critical jurisdiction whatever: for as I am, in reality, the founder of a new province of writing, so I am at liberty to make what laws I please therein. And these laws, my readers, whom I consider as my subjects, are bound to believe in and to obey; with which that they may readily and cheerfully comply, I do hereby assure them that I shall principally regard their ease and advantage in all such institutions: for I do not, like a jure divino tyrant, imagine that they are my slaves, or my commodity. I am, indeed, set over them for their own good only, and was created for their use, and not they for mine. Nor do I doubt, while I make their interest the great rule of my writings, they will unanimously concur in supporting my dignity, and in rendering me all the honour I shall deserve or desire. (2.1.6)
This passage gives us a great example of Fielding's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. If you read this passage literally, the narrator says: (1) I'm the boss, so I have the right to make up any rules I want about my new style of writing; (2) as readers, you have to follow my rules; (3) but I'm only bossing you around for your own good! (4) So I'm sure that you will all praise me just like I deserve.
And yet, there is a contradiction here: how can a "tyrant"rule over people "for <em>their </em>own good"? The contradiction here lets us know, hey, Fielding is being funny here. He's <em>dripping </em>sarcasm: he doesn't expect us (the readers) to obey him, and he doesn't expect us to praise him as he "shall deserve or desire." So—how much of this passage (if any) do you think we can read as straightforward? Why might Fielding present even his essays in this sly, funny, and above all <em>not </em>literal manner?
As truth distinguishes our writings from those idle romances which are filled with monsters, the productions, not of nature, but of distempered brains; and which have been therefore recommended by an eminent critic to the sole use of the pastry-cook; so, on the other hand, we would avoid any resemblance to that kind of history which a celebrated poet seems to think is no less calculated for the emolument of the brewer, as the reading it should be always attended with a tankard of good ale. (4.1.1)
Tom Jones is a novel, which means (of course) that it's fictional. This is Literary Analysis 101: novels = not true. But Henry Fielding also says that Tom Jones *is* true: "truth distinguishes [his] writings." So how can Tom Jones be both fictional and true? It all depends on how you define "truth." For Fielding (at least in this passage), truth means "of nature." In other words, what makes Tom Jones true is that its plots and characters don't go against what we supposedly know in real life about human nature. Fielding wants us to distinguish Tom Jones from "idle romances which are filled with monsters. The "truth" lies in the novel's closeness to possible lived experience.
But using these standards, what would happen to the Harry Potters and the Hunger Games that make up our current literary landscape? Or would these books still be valuable according to Fielding, since they focus on human nature even against a backdrop of sci-fi and/or fantasy? Do you think that fiction is at its best (or its most serious) when it sidesteps "monsters"?
As a vast herd of cows in a rich farmer's yard, if, while they are milked, they hear their calves at a distance, lamenting the robbery which is then committing, roar and bellow; so roared forth the Somersetshire mob an hallaloo, made up of almost as many squalls, screams, and other different sounds as there were persons, or indeed passions among them: some were inspired by rage, others alarmed by fear, and others had nothing in their heads but the love of fun; but chiefly Envy, the sister of Satan, and his constant companion, rushed among the crowd, and blew up the fury of the women; who no sooner came up to Molly than they pelted her with dirt and rubbish. (4.8.6)
Tom Jones is supposed to be (mostly) realistic. But it's also a comedy, which means that some of the plot twists have to be exaggerated to make the reader laugh. In this passage, we have this ridiculous scene where the village women are so jealous and annoyed at Molly that they actually throw garbage at her. This is obviously a completely unrealistic depiction of the way people normally interact with each other—especially once Molly picks up a skull from a fresh grave nearby to throw at her attackers. Though, we can't say—maybe throwing garbage and skulls was like the eighteenth-century version of texting out an angry-face >:-(
So here's our question: why is this kind of super-exaggerated comedy still supposedly realistic, while werewolves and vampires are not? And how does Fielding's use of fancy language to present this ridiculous fight increase<em> </em>the comedy of the scene?
Who ever demanded the reasons of that nice unity of time or place which is now established to be so essential to dramatic poetry? What critic hath been ever asked, why a play may not contain two days as well as one? Or why the audience (provided they travel, like electors, without any expense) may not be wafted fifty miles as well as five? Hath any commentator well accounted for the limitation which an antient critic hath set to the drama, which he will have contain neither more nor less than five acts? Or hath any one living attempted to explain what the modern judges of our theatres mean by that word low; by which they have happily succeeded in banishing all humour from the stage, and have made the theatre as dull as a drawing-room! Upon all these occasions the world seems to have embraced a maxim of our law, viz., cuicunque in arte sua perito credendum est: for it seems perhaps difficult to conceive that any one should have had enough of impudence to lay down dogmatical rules in any art or science without the least foundation. (5.1.2)
Back when Henry Fielding was writing, there were many more do's-and-don'ts that writers had to obey to be taken seriously. If you wanted to be a respected playwright in the classical tradition, you had to produce drama that (a) has five acts; (b) deals with "serious" themes like Love and Death and Heroism and Gods, etc., etc.; and (c) keeps to the dramatic unities.
But in this passage, the narrator is practically shouting through the page: why do we have to follow these rules? What is the reason for all of this structure? Partly, Fielding is speaking out against critics who might say that Tom Jones is bad just because it deals with funny topics and ordinary, non-heroic people. But he also has a real point to make: critics shouldn't let themselves get so distracted by the form of a work of art that they pay no attention to its substance. Just because Tom Jones is a little more realistic (and more fun) than a classical play doesn't mean that it has no serious value.
Sophia was in her chamber, reading, when her aunt came in. The moment she saw Mrs Western, she shut the book with so much eagerness, that the good lady could not forbear asking her, What book that was which she seemed so much afraid of showing? "Upon my word, madam," answered Sophia, "it is a book which I am neither ashamed nor afraid to own I have read. It is the production of a young lady of fashion, whose good understanding, I think, doth honour to her sex, and whose good heart is an honour to human nature." Mrs Western then took up the book, and immediately after threw it down, saying—"Yes, the author is of a very good family; but she is not much among people one knows. I have never read it; for the best judges say, there is not much in it."—"I dare not, madam, set up my own opinion," says Sophia, "against the best judges, but there appears to me a great deal of human nature in it; and in many parts so much true tenderness and delicacy, that it hath cost me many a tear." (6.5.1)
It's hard to imagine a time when reading novels was barely respectable, but the eighteenth century was, indeed, such a time. The English novel was just getting started, and a lot of people disapproved of the strong emotional content of these new books. They thought that novels were for women (in a bad way), and not worth the attention of serious readers. Ugh.
Now, we are sure that a lot of these early novels were really silly. (After all, lots of novels now are pretty dumb.) But Tom Jones is clearly making the case that, just because a novel can be emotional doesn't mean that it can't also deal with really important topics. Here, Sophia defends the novel she's reading using the same terms that the narrator uses in the first chapter of Tom Jones, that, "there appears […] to be a great deal of human nature in it." How could a book that deals in real emotions and in "human nature" not be worth reading? Why should we not value a book just because it makes its readers cry? Does everything we read have to be high-toned philosophy? Obviously, we're on Fielding's side with this one.
The only supernatural agents which can in any manner be allowed to us moderns, are ghosts; but of these I would advise an author to be extremely sparing. These are indeed, like arsenic, and other dangerous drugs in physic, to be used with the utmost caution; nor would I advise the introduction of them at all in those works, or by those authors, to which, or to whom, a horse-laugh in the reader would be any great prejudice or mortification.
As for elves and fairies, and other such mummery, I purposely omit the mention of them, as I should be very unwilling to confine within any bounds those surprizing imaginations, for whose vast capacity the limits of human nature are too narrow; whose works are to be considered as a new creation; and who have consequently just right to do what they will with their own. (8.1.4-5)
Some parts of Tom Jones read less like a novel and more like a rant about What Literature Should Be Like. This is definitely one of those parts: the narrator stops the novel for a while to talk about ghosts, elves, and fairies and why they should never be in real works of art ever, ever, ever.
We're not surprised at Fielding's anti-elf policy, since he keeps emphasizing that his novel is about "human nature" (emphasis on the "human"). But it does raise another question, which is: what exactly is literature for? Obviously, this question is huge, and we don't want to get too philosophical. It's just that Fielding gives us this list of do's-and-don'ts for novel writing. Having a set of guidelines implies that there is something specific that the novel can achieve or accomplish if it follows these rules. Do you think that there is something in particular that novels should do? Or are they purely entertaining? Are novels supposed to teach us something about life? About other people? What's the end game here?
These authors [Aristotle and Plato], though they instructed me in no science by which men may promise to themselves to acquire the least riches or worldly power, taught me, however, the art of despising the highest acquisitions of both. They elevate the mind, and steel and harden it against the capricious invasions of fortune. They not only instruct in the knowledge of Wisdom, but confirm men in her habits, and demonstrate plainly, that this must be our guide, if we propose ever to arrive at the greatest worldly happiness, or to defend ourselves, with any tolerable security, against the misery which everywhere surrounds and invests us. (8.13.15)
It's funny that the Man of the Hill so admires the minds of Aristotle and Plato when he so hates mankind. Like, why do Aristotle and Plato get a pass from his hatred of other people? Is it just because they've been dead for a really long time? Is it because he doesn't have to meet them face to face? But anyway, we picked out this passage because it outlines why the Man of the Hill thinks literature is important: it guides us to be better, and it supports us against the pressures of the world. In other words, if the Man of the World believes that it is society that makes individuals bad, he also appears to think that literature can protect you from those social evils. According to this guy, literature is like a defense mechanism—a Kevlar vest against evil influences.
The coach which had brought the young lady and her maid, and which, perhaps, the reader may have hitherto concluded was her own, was, indeed, a returned coach belonging to Mr King, of Bath, one of the worthiest and honestest men that ever dealt in horse-flesh, and whose coaches we heartily recommend to all our readers who travel that road. By which means they may, perhaps, have the pleasure of riding in the very coach, and being driven by the very coachman, that is recorded in this history. (10.6.12)
We can't find a real-life person who matches this description of "Mr. King," but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. Still, moments like these, when the narrator stops the plot to give what amounts to a commercial in the middle of the novel, happen pretty often. Think of the narrator's admiration for the Bell at Gloucester (Book 8, Chapter 8). Or his shout-out to "the celebrated Mrs. Hussey" (10.3.25), who makes fashionable gowns for ladies. How do these non-fictional recommendations affect your experience reading Tom Jones? How do these moments influence your sense of Tom Jones's realism? Do they give you any ideas about the reading audience at the time, or about Fielding's intended readership?
Vice hath not, I believe, a more abject slave; society produces not a more odious vermin; nor can the devil receive a guest more worthy of him, nor possibly more welcome to him, than a slanderer. The world, I am afraid, regards not this monster with half the abhorrence which he deserves; and I am more afraid to assign the reason of this criminal lenity shown towards him; yet it is certain that the thief looks innocent in the comparison; nay, the murderer himself can seldom stand in competition with his guilt: for slander is a more cruel weapon than a sword, as the wounds which the former gives are always incurable. (11.1.6)
And here, we say to Fielding: oh, so you can dish it out, but you can't take it? "Slander" means spreading hurtful lies about a person. But Fielding uses "slander" in this passage specifically to refer to unfairly critical judgments of good books. Fielding claims that such criticism is worse than a sword wound, because people can recover from physical injuries, but criticism hurts them forever. (So Fielding is presenting the opposite view of that old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." For Fielding, only words really hurt.)
However, we are sure that Nicholas Rowe (whom Fielding dismisses as an "imitator" (9.1.4) of Shakespeare) would say that Fielding is the harsh one. Fielding is hyper-critical. Fielding may be super-sensitive about his own work, but he's perfectly happy to rip apart other authors he doesn't respect—double standard, much?
Those members of society who are born to furnish the blessings of life now began to light their candles, in order to pursue their daily labours for the use of those who are born to enjoy these blessings. The sturdy hind now attends the levee of his fellow-labourer the ox; the cunning artificer, the diligent mechanic, spring from their hard mattress; and now the bonny housemaid begins to repair the disordered drum-room, while the riotous authors of that disorder, in broken interrupted slumbers, tumble and toss, as if the hardness of down disquieted their repose.
In simple phrase, the clock had no sooner struck seven than the ladies were ready for their journey; and, at their desire, his lordship and his equipage were prepared to attend them. (11.9.1-2)
Fielding really lays on the poetic language at the beginning of this passage. Check out the line, "the sturdy hind now attends the levee of his fellow-labourer the ox." A "hind" in an old-fashioned word for a farm worker. A "levee" is a reception that aristocrats and kings used to hold immediately after getting up for the day. So basically, all Fielding is saying in this line is that it's that time of the day when the farmer goes to deal with his awakening oxen. But Fielding doesn't just say all of this to be poetic. He provides his own snarky translation of all this high-flown language, when he adds, "In simple phrase, the clock had no sooner struck seven." Fielding makes a joke out of his lovely language by bringing everything right back down to earth. Fielding is showing off here: he can be elaborate and stylish and he can be straightforward and easy to follow.
Nay, I absolutely claim a property in all such sentiments [written by ancient writers such as Horace or Virgil] the moment they are transcribed into my writings, and I expect all readers henceforwards to regard them as purely and entirely my own. This claim, however, I desire to be allowed me only on condition that I preserve strict honesty towards my poor brethren, from whom, if ever I borrow any of that little of which they are possessed, I shall never fail to put their mark upon it, that it may be at all times ready to be restored to the right owner. (12.1.6-7)
Fielding basically describes modern copyright law: it's okay for him to copy the ideas of ancient writers without always mentioning them by name because their work is the common property of all modern scholars. But he's not going to borrow the work of anyone writing now without carefully citing that person's name. The problem with taking the work of his "poor brethren" writing now is that it's a matter of money—he doesn't want to deprive them of their financial rights to their own work. The ancients can't profit off their ideas, since they're long dead and don't have to worry about money any longer. It makes sense that this question of plagiarism and copyright would matter a lot to Fielding because (a) he made his living as a writer, and (b) copyright was just becoming a settled part of English law in the eighteenth century, when this novel was published.