Study Guide

Tom Jones Family

By Henry Fielding

Family

[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?