Study Guide

Tom Jones Hypocrisy

By Henry Fielding

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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.

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