Study Guide

Tom Jones Appearances

By Henry Fielding

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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?

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