Tom Jones starts with Squire Allworthy, a wealthy landowner who lives with his unmarried sister Bridget at his estate, Paradise Hall, in southwestern England. Squire Allworthy is a stand-up guy. So when he comes back from a three-month stay in London and finds an anonymous baby in his bed, he decides to raise the little tyke. He names this unknown child Tom.
According to rumors in the village, there is only one woman who can be Tom's mother: Jenny Jones, a servant in the household of the local schoolmaster. Squire Allworthy brings Jenny in to question her, and she admits that she was the one who put Tom in the squire's bed. She absolutely refuses to say who Tom's father is, though.
Squire Allworthy gives Jenny Jones some money so that she can move away and escape her bad reputation in the area. The rest of the village assumes that, because Squire Allworthy didn't send Jenny to jail for giving birth to a baby outside of marriage (seriously), he has to be the biological father. (It's a shame this book takes place a long time before paternity tests.)
Meanwhile, Squire Allworthy's fortune makes his sister Bridget very attractive to guys who want to get rich quick. Since the squire is a widower and has no intention of remarrying, Bridget and any children she might have will inherit Squire Allworthy's crazy amounts of land when he dies. One of these gold-digging dudes is Captain Blifil, who sets out to woo and marry Bridget ASAP.
Soon after, Captain and the newly-Mrs. Blifil have a baby boy. With his own baby son in the running to be Squire Allworthy's official heir, Captain Blifil turns strongly against poor little Tom. He doesn't want Tom to compete with the Blifil family for Squire Allworthy's cash. Captain Blifil hears a rumor that Mr. Partridge the schoolteacher is Tom's secret daddy and works it into conversation with Squire Allworthy. He hopes that, if Squire Allworthy can assign Tom to a dad, he'll give the kid up.
But while Squire Allworthy does eventually decide that Mr. Partridge must be Tom's deadbeat father, Squire Allworthy still won't abandon young Tom. Captain Blifil is furious that Tom keeps on living in the squire's household, but he doesn't have to worry about it for long: he suddenly drops dead of a stroke by the end of Book Two. Yesss.
We jump forward twelve years, and Tom is now a teenager. He's a huge mischief-maker, always stealing small things and causing trouble. But he's also clearly a good kid, if a little rough around the edges.
But this rowdy behavior gets Tom into no end of trouble with his two tutors, Mr. Thwackum and Mr. Square. Both of these guys think Tom is a bad seed who needs lots of beating to make him even halfway decent. They prefer young Mr. Blifil, Bridget's son and Squire Allworthy's nephew. Young Mr. Blifil always knows the right thing to say to suck up to grown-ups: everybody thinks he is saintly and perfect. But really, Mr. Blifil just knows how to talk a good game.
Squire Allworthy's nearest neighbor, Squire Western, has a lovely daughter named Sophia, who is around the same age as Tom and Mr. Blifil (now in their late teens). She has the hots for Tom, though she only half-notices her own feelings at first. And eventually, Tom realizes that he truly loves Sophia back. But in spite of their shared love, these two crazy kids still can't get together. Why not?
Surprisingly, the problem isn't Tom's hot on-again-off-again love affair with Molly Seagrim, the daughter of Squire Allworthy's gamekeeper. The biggest obstacle to the Tom-Sophia romance (Tophia? Stom? TomSoph?) is that Tom is not "well born." He can't expect that Squire Western will embrace an illegitimate kid like him as a son-in-law, not when Sophia is beautiful and rich and the apple of her father's eye.
While Tom is worrying about all of this, he also finds out that his beloved guardian is sick. Apparently, Squire Allworthy might well die. So the squire says his goodbyes and makes peace with the world. But then—he lives. In a classic switcheroo, the one who dies is actually Bridget, the squire's sister, who has been away from home. The news comes from a lawyer from the town of Salisbury. Believe it or not, this is a major plot point: we have to note the fact it's Mr. Blifil who gets the news of Bridget's death directly from the lawyer, and not Squire Allworthy.
Tom gets trashed celebrating Squire Allworthy's recovery. Between Tom's drunkenness and Mr. Blifil's grief and annoyance at Tom, bad stuff goes down: Mr. Blifil insults Tom for not knowing his parents and the two almost get into a fight. Later on in the evening, Mr. Blifil spots Tom (still drunk as a skunk) getting it on with Molly in the woods. (Yes, that's after Tom has realized that he's in love with Sophia.) Mr. Blifil grabs Mr. Thwackum, and the two of them gang up on Tom in a brutal fistfight. Squire Western comes along and helps Tom win the fight, but there are long-term consequences of this battle that Tom has to face.
Meanwhile, Squire Western's sister Mrs. Western is visiting the estate. She realizes that Sophia is in love, but she gets the love object really, really wrong: she thinks her niece wants to marry Mr. Blifil. She passes this idea on to Squire Western, and he gets really excited. If Sophia marries Mr. Blifil, not only will she make a ton of money (since Mr. Blifil is Squire Allworthy's heir, and Squire Allworthy is super-rich) but she will also wind up settling next door to her dear father. As soon as Mr. Blifil hears of this potential marriage, he quickly gets on board: Sophia is rich, and Mr. Blifil likes that in a girl.
Sophia is the only one voting no on a match with Mr. Blifil: she tries to tell her dad that she wouldn't marry Mr. Blifil if he were the last man on earth. But Squire Western does not take this news at all well, and he locks Sophia in her room until she agrees to marry Mr. Blifil—he's not going to win Father of The Year any time soon.
Mrs. Western has finally found out that Sophia loves Tom instead of Mr. Blifil, so she tells her brother the true state of Sophia's feelings. Squire Western decides that he violently hates Tom, and goes to Squire Allworthy to read him the riot act.
Squire Allworthy is sad to hear that Tom has apparently been seducing his neighbor's daughter. Mr. Blifil also jumps at the chance to badmouth Tom to Squire Allworthy: he says that, secretly, Tom has been living a wild and crazy life. Not only does he like to seduce women (Molly, case in point) but he also gets into drunken fights. In fact (claims Mr. Blifil) Tom attacked him and Mr. Thwackum just the other day, when they were trying to persuade him to lead a better, cleaner life. Since Tom has to admit that he did get drunk, and he did get into that fight (though not for the reasons that Mr. Blifil claims), Squire Allworthy decides he has no choice but to kick Tom out of the house for his violent, lewd behavior.
While all this is going on with Tom, Sophia's decision not to marry Mr. Blifil, no matter what, under any circumstances, causes huge Family Drama in the Western household. Squire and Mrs. Western take it in turns to bully Sophia for refusing to obey their wishes. Squire Western seems to have decided that Sophia has to marry Mr. Blifil or her entire future will be ruined.
For his part, Mr. Blifil knows that Sophia hates him. And (here's where it gets really creepy) he likes it that way. At first, Mr. Blifil is mainly interested in her money. But as time goes on, he decides he really wants to sleep with her. He likes the idea of forcing her to obey his wishes. Blegh.
Sophia decides that it's worth any risk to escape marrying this jerk Blifil, so she grabs her maid, Mrs. Honour, sneaks out of her father's house, and runs away. After all, Sophia has a distant relative who lives in London, and Sophia is sure that this woman won't mind if Sophia shows up in the city without permission and uninvited.
Out on the road after being thrown out of Squire Allworthy's home, Tom befriends a local barber-surgeon named Little Benjamin. Little Benjamin is quite a comedian, and Tom takes to him right away. It's lucky that the two seem to like each other, since "Little Benjamin" turns out to be none other than Mr. Partridge, the schoolteacher whom Squire Allworthy convicted of being Tom's dad twenty years before. Partridge absolutely swears that he isn't Tom's dad. He has no idea who Tom's real father is. But he does ask if he can travel with Tom, and Tom agrees.
During Tom and Partridge's wanderings, Tom rescues a woman from her would-be murderer. This woman may be old enough to be Tom's mother, but she's also pretty hawt. She has been living with a dude named Captain Waters, a soldier in a nearby regiment, as his wife. (She isn't actually his wife legally speaking, but—close enough.) However, Captain Waters has been stationed away from home, and Mrs. Waters likes the look of Tom. She and Tom take a room at the nearby inn at Upton, and the two of them get to know each other very well, ifyouknowwhatwemean. Bow chicka wow wow.
In the middle of the night, a man arrives at the inn at Upton looking for his runaway wife. The maid assumes that this runaway is Mrs. Waters, and shows the man to her room (where Tom also happens to be sleeping). The man (whose name is Mr. Fitzpatrick) eventually realizes that he has the wrong woman: Mrs. Waters is no Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Keep an eye on this hothead Mr. Fitzpatrick—he's coming back into the story later on.
The next morning, Partridge starts joking with Tom about two women who arrived at the inn in the middle of the night looking for him. He seems to think that these women were yet another in Tom's string of booty calls. But Tom hears about them and realizes—OMG! Of all the bad luck—Sophia was just here, at this very inn. And now, she must know about his affair with Mrs. Waters!
Tom despairs: how will Sophia ever forgive him for sleeping with another woman (again)? And how will he even find Sophia now that she has run away to London?
Tom continues his wandering ways and finally reaches London. It takes him a little while to figure out where Sophia is staying, but all of his searching attracts the attention of someone else: Lady Bellaston, Sophia's fashionable older lady relative. Lady Bellaston hears of Tom's famous attractiveness and immediately starts scheming to seduce him. As for Tom, he realizes that Lady Bellaston has regular access to Sophia, so it would be smart of him to keep her happy. Tom has sex with Lady Bellaston and quickly becomes her kept man. It is Lady Bellaston who supports Tom financially while he is living in London.
In the last chapter of Book 13, Tom finally sees Sophia again. It happens completely by chance: Tom arrives at Lady Bellaston's house at her invitation. She's running a little late, so he waits in the drawing room. Sophia arrives home unexpectedly early and finds Tom standing there. Tom throws himself to his knees and apologizes to her for Mrs. Waters. He swears that she means nothing to him. Sophia forgives him, but the basic problem is still there: Squire Western will never let Sophia marry a poor, low-born man like Tom.
To make matters worse, Lady Bellaston arrives and interrupts their reunion. (Awkward.) All three of them—Tom, Sophia, and Lady Bellaston—pretend that Tom is a stranger on an errand. Lady Bellaston immediately suspects that Tom has been seeing Sophia behind her back, but she doesn't confront him about it directly. She's furious, but she keeps her jealousy and resentment tightly hidden.
And now, things get really ugly. Lady Bellaston may act like she is fine with the ongoing Tom-Sophia drama, but secretly she wants to get Sophia out of her way. Lady Bellaston knows that there is a wealthy nobleman, Lord Fellamar, who is extremelyinterested in Sophia. So she pulls Lord Fellamar aside and recommends to him that the only way that Lord Fellamar will be able to get Sophia to marry him is by raping her first. If he forces himself on Sophia, she will have to marry him.
Lord Fellamar agrees to Lady Bellaston's horrible scheme, and Lady Bellaston makes sure that he and Sophia are in a room alone together so that he can proceed with the plan. But just as Lord Fellamar is trying to assault Sophia, Squire Western arrives on the scene. (That is unexpected!) He doesn't put together that anything has been happening between Lord Fellamar and Sophia. Instead, he just starts up again with his usual you-will-marry-Mr.-Blifil-no-matter-how-you-feel nonsense. Squire Western insults Lord Fellamar for hoping to marry Sophia, and drags his daughter off to his inn.
Now that Squire Western has finally found his daughter, he only has one thing on his mind: getting her married to Mr. Blifil right away, before another disaster falls. When Tom hears that Squire Western has found Sophia and that Mr. Blifil and Squire Allworthy are on their way to London, he despairs: Squire Western will probably try to marry Sophia and Mr. Blifil in the city to seal the deal as soon as possible. The future of the Tom-Sophia relationship appears about as bleak as can be.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Western arrives at Squire Western's inn in London to find Sophia locked up. She yells at Squire Western for being an idiot and for treating Sophia so violently. She demands that Sophia come with her to her inn. Mrs. Western swears that, under her care, Sophia will get married. Squire Western finally agrees to let Sophia go, and Mrs. Western takes her away. Now, Sophia is no longer in a locked room (good!). But, she does have a new and deeply horrible problem. (Not good…)
Sophia's new difficulty is: Mrs. Western has gone to speak to Lady Bellaston. Mrs. Western hears all about Lord Fellamar, and she is very impressed with the idea of a niece of hers marrying a rich nobleman. So instead of forcing Sophia to marry the hateful Mr. Blifil, Mrs. Western starts lobbying for Sophia to marry her almost-rapist, Lord Fellamar.
At this point, it seems like Lady Bellaston just doesn't want any other woman to have Tom. So besides egging on Mrs. Western to make sure that Sophia marries Lord Fellamar, Lady Bellaston also comes up with a crazy scheme to get Tom out of England altogether. She wants Lord Fellamar to kidnap Tom and throw him on a navy ship bound for anywhere-but-here. (This may seem like an absolutely insane idea, but it is slightly less insane in the eighteenth century when press-ganging still happened. For more on this, check out our "Detailed Summary" of Book 16, Chapter 8.) Lord Fellamar agrees, and hires a gang of guys to do his dirty work.
Tom has yet another horrible piece of bad luck: he bumps into Mr. Fitzpatrick—you remember, that hothead looking for his wife who caught Tom in bed with Mrs. Waters at the inn at Upton? Well, that same Mr. Fitzpatrick sees Tom in London, assumes that Tom is sleeping with Mrs. Fitzpatrick (which Tom still isn't), and attacks Tom. The two fight, and Tom stabs Mr. Fitzpatrick. The gang hired by Lord Fellamar sees this duel going down, catches Tom, and drags him to a local judge. They swear that (a) Mr. Fitzpatrick is certainly going to die, and (b) Tom should definitely be deported as a convict. With the evidence of this gang, the judge throws Tom in prison for murder.
No jury will believe Tom with Lord Fellamar's minions testifying against him. Tom is sure that he'll be executed. But then, a really surprising guest arrives: Mrs. Waters. She promises Tom that Mr. Fitzpatrick is on the mend; he is definitely going to live. What's more, Mr. Fitzpatrick has been telling everybody honestly that he started the duel with Tom, and not the other way around. So Tom can stop worrying about being convicted for a murder that wasn't even really a murder, it turns out.
Things must be looking up for Tom, right? Not so fast. Partridge comes by the prison to chat with Tom. He sees Mrs. Waters leaving Tom's cell and is completely shocked. Why is Partridge so shocked? Because he recognizes that "Mrs. Waters" is none other than Jenny Jones—you know, the girl from way back in Book One who is actually Tom's birth mother (according to all the village gossip, anyway). Partridge has to bring Tom the bad news that he totally slept with his own mom. Tom is beyond revolted with himself. He feels genuine disgust that this is what his loose attitude towards sex has brought him, especially since he really can't woo Sophia now, what with the whole accidental incest thing.
Meanwhile, Squire Allworthy and Mr. Blifil have arrived in London and are following the gossip about Tom's murder charge closely. Squire Allworthy receives a visit from Partridge with good news and bad news: the good news is, Tom's off the hook for murder. The bad news is, Tom might have slept with his own mother. Luckily, Mrs. Waters arrives just in time to explain everything to Squire Allworthy.
Mrs. Waters is Jenny Jones, but she is not Tom's birth mom (thank god). Tom's real mother was Bridget Allworthy, the squire's sister, who slept with a young friend of Squire Allworthy's named Mr. Summer. When Squire Allworthy traveled to London all those many years ago, Bridget paid Jenny Jones and her mother to help cover up her pregnancy. Bridget had always meant to tell Squire Allworthy the truth, but then Squire Allworthy took to Tom right away without even knowing Tom's real parentage. So Bridget started thinking it was not urgent for her to tell her brother the details of her shame—after all, he would take care of Tom either way.
That's not the only bombshell Mrs. Waters reveals in this conversation. She also explains that a lawyer working for Mr. Blifil has been going around trying to bribe people involved in Tom's case to testify against him for murder. The lawyer himself, Mr. Dowling, soon appears and confirms that Mr. Blifil has been working against Tom all of this time. Mr. Blifil found out that Tom is his half-brother when he intercepted that letter from Bridget meant for Squire Allworthy back near the beginning of this summary. Ever since then, he has been doing his best turn Squire Allworthy against Tom, since he doesn't want Tom to have any of Squire Allworthy's money.
So now, we know all. Tom is still not a legitimate son, since he was born to Bridget before she got married. But he is also a blood relation of Squire Allworthy's. Squire Allworthy feels so terrible about the way that he has been manipulated by Mr. Blifil that he immediately decides to disinherit him and adopt Tom as his legal heir. After a lot of convincing, Sophia also forgives Tom for being a womanizer. Tom really does seem to turn over a new leaf on that front, after his close brush with incest: he promises to be faithful to Sophia and the two get married and settle down to live happily ever after back on their country estates in southwestern England.