Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book IV

Even though our wandering narrator had earlier stated that he is not the best person to distinguish truth from falsity, he nevertheless opens Book IV by claiming: “As Truth distinguishes our Writings from those idle Romances which are filled with Monsters, the Productions, not of Nature, but of distempered Brains…” (99). However, he also claims this “History” will not be a boring dreary venture for the reader, and he intends to introduce the “Heroine of this Heroic, Historical, Prosaic Poem” (100). He says, “Our Intention, in short, is to introduce our Heroine with the utmost Solemnity in our Power, with an Elevation of Stile, and all other Circumstances proper to raise the Veneration of our Reader” (101).

The narrator delivers an impassioned hail to the Muse in order to invite his eminently lovely maiden, Sophia Western, onto the stage –he hushes the “ruder breath” and beckons the heathen ruler of Boreas to tame its winds, so that every sound and color may spring forth, and not even Handel’s music can compare. Classical allusions abound. Educated by her Aunt, Sophia is perfectly proportioned like Venus and her mind is equally comparable. She is eighteen years old, and naturally she falls in love with Tom, though he is somewhat oblivious. In fact, Tom once gave her a pet bird named “Tommy” but when Master Blifil. deliberately releases it one day, Tom climbs a tree to retrieve it for Sophia but the he promptly falls off a branch into a pool of water below, and Bifil escapes punishment.

This leads to a lengthy discussion between Square, Thwackum, Allworthy, and Mr. Western’s lawerly friend about the nature of confining things like birds which leads to a rousing debate about virtue versus faith, and natural law. Square and Thwackum defend Master Blifil while the lawyer claims he did nothing worthy of condemnation and he ultimately concludes that their discussion makes no sense because it is in the category of nullus bonus (“no good”).

At any rate, Sophia’s heart is now lost to Tom as she realizes he is a good man who is simply somewhat accidentally his own worst enemy, whereas someone like Master Blifil is a cold and calculating figure who is easily overcome by self-flattery. One day, Tom asks Sophia for a favor –to help Black George’s family, to which Sophia readily complies after soothing over Mr. Western with ale and his favorite songs on the harpsichord (albeit bawdy tunes). Some people, like Squire Allworthy praise Tom’s virtue, while others like Square and Thwackum critique it.

Next, we learn that Black George’s real name is George Seagrim (Fielding once apparently brought a lawsuit against a man named Randolph Seagrim which he won in 1742) and at the moment Tom is actually infatuated with Molly Seagrim, Black George’s second eldest child. Unlike Sophia, she is not particularly beautiful nor intelligent –“her Beauty was not of the most amiable kind” (114). One day, she. cannot stop herself and recklessly throws herself at Tom and they make love. Shortly thereafter, she becomes pregnant and attends church adorned with a “sack” from Sophia which briefly hides her protruding belly. However, our narrator makes note of the ways in which scheming ambitions and vanities flourish in country churches –they are often places of “Prudes and Coquettes” as well as “Dressing and Ogling, Falshood, Envy, Malice, Scandal…” (116). Naturally, rumors soon spread of Molly’s pregnancy. In fact, a violent brawl unfolds between the church women and Molly. Our beneficent narrator reiterates a hilarious scene in which Molly battles her way through hoards of women while trying to escape the church, brandishing a skull and thigh bone as weaponry from the graveyard –and the whole brawl is told in high-minded “Homeric” epic style.

“Recount, O Muse, the Names of those who fell on this fatal day” (117).

Hair is pulled, blood is spilled, and a woman named Goody Brown (whom the narrator goes to great lengths to describe as having a small bosom) leads the attack on Molly until Tom Jones arrives to end this mob battle. He surveys the field of battle in the churchyard: “Having scoured the whole Coast of the Enemy, as well as any of Homer’s heroes ever did, or as Don Quixote, or any Knight-Errant in the World could have done, he returned to Molly…” (119).

Curiously, Sophia offers Molly a job in the Western household, and after a family fight, Molly’s mother decides she will accept the position instead, however Fortune soon puts a stop to her promotion. At one point here, our illustrious narrator identifies one of his chapters as the shortest in the book (though this is a false statement, there are other shorter chapters). He routinely quotes Juvenal (sometimes quoting Livy) as Molly’s pregnancy becomes known throughout the Western household and Tom tries to excuse himself but the damage has been done, much to the grave sorrow of Sophia. His blushing exposes his shame.

Tom professes that he is, in fact, the father of Molly’s child to Squire Allworthy which earns him a lengthy moral lecture from Squire Allworthy (though the narrator decides not to reiterate it since we have already heard a similar lecture delivered to Jenny Jones earlier in the novel). Square and Thwackum seek to poison Squire Allworthy’s mind with unpleasant thoughts of Tom. Meanwhile, Sophia tries to avoid Tom but she falls from her horse in a hunting accident and Tom rescues her while breaking his arm –an act praised alongside the greatest of all men rescuing their maidens. Despite Tom’s scandal, Sophia continues to secretly fall in love with him (she converses about it with her maidservant, Honour).

For this reading I used the Norton Critical Edition of Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling edited by Sheridan Baker.

Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Eighteen “The Immunity Syndrome”

Stardate: 4307.1 (2268)
Original Air Date: January 19, 1968
Writer: Robert Sabaroff
Director: Joseph Pevney

“You speak of the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart,
yet how little room there seems to be in yours.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Enterprise is approaching Starbase 6 for “a much needed period of rest and recreation.” However, before arrival they learn that another starship, the USS Intrepid, has suddenly lost communication. Spock is then overcome by a strange feeling, he senses that the Intrepid has just been destroyed along with all 400 Vulcans aboard. In response to the disappearance, Starfleet orders the Enterprise to divert to sector 39J for a priority rescue mission. Kirk makes the order to head for the Gamma 7A system where billions of inhabitants currently reside, however when they arrive Chekov is shocked to find nothing –the whole star system is gone!

The Enterprise soon finds a strange entity lurking about –is it an interstellar dust cloud? Or a massive hole in space? It looks to be a gigantic amoeba. Rather than flee as Dr. McCoy would have it, Kirk orders the Enterprise probe the entity’s zone of darkness in order to discover what might have happened to the Intrepid. Once inside the boundary layer, a hideous noise causes slowly depleting power loss across the Enterprise, and a crewmen collapses (played by Eddie Paskey who actually previously died in the Star Trek episode “Obsession”). Dr. McCoy tells Kirk that according to the ship’s “life monitors” all aboard are slowly dying. Dr. McCoy begins handing out stimulants. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is also being pulled toward the center of darkness. At Spock’s suggestion, Kirk orders Scotty to thrust forward which causes some people aboard the Enterprise to stabilize, albeit temporarily, however it is not enough for escape.

Kirk convenes his leadership team to discuss (personally, I love these scenes of high-minded deliberation and strategy). Spock suggests the entity is actually an anti-energy field shaped like a giant single-celled amoeba. It is approximately 11,000 miles (not kilometers) in length, 2,000-3,000 miles wide, with an outer layer studded with space debris and waste while the interior consists of protoplasm from a gelatinous layer and a central fluid central mass. Kirk orders Scotty to push forward with an enormous burst of warp speed, using full power, however the sudden power surge causes the entity to suddenly notice the Enterprise. Now, the massive entity begins rapidly drawing the Enterprise closer inward and an unmanned probe is released to investigate.

There are lots of great scenes between Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty deliberating about next steps.  Ideas are discussed, questioned, examined, debated. Spock wants to approach the creature in order to destroy it, while Dr. McCoy wants to examine it scientifically. While time dwindles and power is drained, a decision is made. The sensors aboard the probe are not strong enough and so a manned expedition in the shuttlecraft is required. Al three men –Kirk, Spock, and Bones– play the role of self-sacrificial martyr until Kirk chooses Spock to board the shuttlecraft on what looks to be a suicidal mission. In the shuttlecraft, Spock makes entry into the giant amoeba and heads for the nucleus where he learns that the organism has stored enough energy to reproduce. There are about 40 chromosomes in the nucleus ready to replicate. Spock transmits a broken message about how to destroy the creature from the inside –using the medical knowledge of antibodies invading a cell inside the human body, the Enterprise violently enters the entity and Kirk suggests they use anti-power/anti-matter to deprive the entity of the power it so craves. Before launching the probe, there is a powerful scene of both Kirk and Spock side-by-side delivering highest commendations for one another should they not survive. Naturally, the explosion destroys the creature while the Enterprise and shuttlecraft carrying Spock manage to escape –“Shut up Spock! We are rescuing you.”

Finding a new creature like a giant destructive amoeba poses all manner of ethical quandaries in Star Trek. Should we kill it? Or study the creature? Is it intelligent? Can it feel pain? The higher path is not always clear. However, in this case, the flourishing of life across the galaxy supersedes this single-celled entity’s livelihood –it is a strikingly similar situation to Season 1’s “The Doomsday Machine” and it also reminds us modern viewers of black holes, a somewhat new concept in the 1960s. Ultimately, this massive entity cannot be reasoned with as it swallows up life and energy across the galaxy, and so it must be destroyed. This gives Spock’s suicide mission that much more gravity in this episode even as Dr. McCoy fails to say “good luck” (of course, thankfully Spock narrowly survives).

I thought this was a great episode, especially for being a “bottle episode,” taking place entirely aboard the Enterprise with nothing out of the ordinary for a budgetary reasons (i.e. no shore leave or surface visits). Complete with an exhausted crew facing a difficult ethical problem, as well as one of the most dangerous creatures the Enterprise has encountered (like Melville’s White Whale, it cannot be reasoned with), “The Immunity Syndrome” offers a bounty of themes worthy of consideration. One minor theme concerns the stark contrast between Spock and Bones –Spock’s natural abilities as a half-Vulcan are contrasted with Dr. McCoy’s impressive medical credentials. Both are key assets to the Enterprise and their playful banter comes to an end when Spock makes way for the Galileo in what all expect to be his final mission.

Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. This was his fourteenth and final episode of Star Trek.

Robert Sabaroff (1935-2007) wrote for a variety of shows including Bonanza and The Virginian. He later wrote two celebrated episodes of TNG, as well.

Star Trek Trivia:

  • In this episode, there is a great scene of Kirk addressing the entire crew which allows for a brief montage of crewmen completing various tasks across the ship. It is a helpful reminder that there are hundreds of people working together aboard the Enterprise.
  • The cost of the amoeba creature forced the show to re-use some old Star Trek footage in this episode. This was a cost-cutting “bottle episode.”
  • Vulcan collective memory is mentioned in this episode, and contrary to an earlier comment made by Kirk in the series, the Vulcans do not have a collective memory of being conquered.
  • In the original script, the Vulcan Satak was going to be captain of the Intrepid.
  • At the beginning and end of this episode, Kirk is distracted by a young yeoman crew member.
  • The scene of Spock telepathically reacting to the Vulcans deaths at a distance has often drawn comparisons to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars reacting to the destruction of Alderaan.
  • Many of the Star Trek staff have remarked on how discipline was breaking down around this time in the show’s production as Gene Coon had left and Joseph Pevney would soon leave too (this was his final episode).
  • Once again, George Takei was away filming The Green Berets and thus John Winston’s character Lt. Kyle takes his place (donning a gold tunic rather than his typical redshirt, though he can be briefly spotted wearing both). Kirk/Shatner repeatedly mispronounces his name as “Cowell.”
  • Music from “The Doomsday Machine” is appropriately used in this episode.
  • When discussing the size of the entity in this episode, characters regularly switch between measuring it in miles or kilometers.
  • The giant amoeba for the original episode was created by Frank Van der Veer of “Van der Veer Photo Effects.” It was created pressing liquids between two thin sheets of glass, giving the appearance of a pulsating amoeba.
  • Eddie Paskey actually previously died in the Star Trek episode “Obsession.” He will also appear again in “Omega Glory.”
  • Before passing through the barrier, Kirk lists off all the crewmen worthy of praise along with their ranks. He mentions Dr. McCoy as a “lieutenant commander” –the only time his rank is mentioned in TOS.
  • This was the first episode to originally feature a Paramount Television logo rather than Desilu logo –Delisu had been just sold to Paramount.  

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

On Rod Serling’s “The Lonely”

“It was like the surface of a giant stove –this desert that stretched in a broiling yellow mat to the scrubby line of mountains on one side and the shimmering salt flats on the other. Occasional dunes and gullies punctuated the yellow sameness with thin, dark purple streaks. But for the most part it looked endless and unchanging; a barren mass of sand that beckoned the heat rays and then soaked them unto itself” (opening lines).

Meet James W. Corry (played in The Twilight Zone episode by Jack Warden), a forty-year-old prisoner who has been sentenced to solitary confinement on a remote asteroid some five years prior. His home is a shack made of corrugated metal and he is granted a 1943 sedan to drive around the barren asteroid. Otherwise, he is entirely alone day after day, trapped on a foreign rock hurting through the space.  

In Rod Serling’s short story, we are given more color to Corry’s backstory than in the Twilight Zone episode (for example, it takes place in the 1990s whereas the episode takes place in the 2040s) –Corry’s wife was struck by a drunk driver. He tragically watched the whole event unfold from an upper-floor apartment and then immediately ran down to confront the offender and wound up strangling him to death. The extenuating circumstances of his brief trial dictated that Corry be “banished” to a thirty-five-year sentence of solitary confinement rather than simply granting him “release pills” which long ago replaced the gas chambers, gallows, and electric chairs of the past.

Now undergoing his sentence, his only engagement with fellow humans occurs four times per year when a supply ship arrives for twelve brief minutes. Corry yearns for these brief moments, particularly the arrival of one good man named Allenby who initially gave Corry the car. Corry wonders if he himself will become like the car, an inanimate object against the endless desert with nowhere to go. We also learn that Corry was once been a retiring man, uneasy around people, but now he paints pictures and fantasizes himself around huge crowds of people.

“There was a ritual even to loneliness, he thought” (3).

Three days pass and Captain Walter Allenby, an eighteen-year veteran of the space force, arrives on Corry’s asteroid with two others, Jensen and Adams. Corry’s is the last in a string of four asteroids where convicts are serving out their sentences. While Adams is somewhat rude to Corry, Allenby brings a unique gift –a robot built to resemble a woman named Alicia. Before he leaves in his spaceship, Allenby wonders if he brought either “salvation” or a mere “illusion” to Corry. At first, Corry rejects the companionship of a robot, but once he sees that she can cry and feel pain, he pities her and slowly begins to fall in love. Now, the loneliness begins to fade away as they embrace each day and night, watching the beauty of the stars, taking in the expansive desert.

Suddenly, one day about eleven months later, Allenby’s ship returns for an unscheduled stop on Corry’s asteroid. He comes to announce that Corry has been pardoned and the asteroid “banishment” program is being discontinued. However, they need to leave in no more than 21 minutes with meteor showers and limited fuel to keep in mind, as well as three other passengers –and they can only carry fifteen pounds worth of Corry’s items. Suddenly, it dawns on Corry that he cannot bring his beloved Alicia. He rushes to her in the desert but with time running out, and Corry refusing to leave without his woman, Allenby pus out a gun and shoots Alicia exposing a mess of wires as her voice trails off like a broken turntable “Corry… Corry… Corry” and the she is silent. Corry is reminded of what Alicia truly is. He slowly turns to leave with Captain Allenby while sand gathers around Alicia lifeless mechanical body.

“All you’re leaving behind you, Corry, is loneliness(31).

While The Twilight Zone episode is one of my all-time favorites in the series, I thought Rod Serling’s short story was even better. It offers a more intimate character portrait, as we learn more about James Corry and also Captain Allenby, their particular motivations ad sympathies, as well as Corry’s unique relationship with machines. He once imagined himself rusting like a broken down car on his asteroid, and that is exactly the fate which befalls Alicia. The themes of loneliness and artificial intelligence remain as prescient as they did when it was written in the 1950s.   

“Down below on a microscopic piece of sand that floated through space was a fragment of a man’s life. Left to rust were the place he’d lived in and the machines he’s used. Without use they would disintegrate from the wind and the sand and the years that acted upon them. All of Mr. Corry’s machines… including the one made in his image and kept alive by love. It lay mutilated in the sand. It had become obsolete” (32, closing paragraph).

Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to read my review of the The Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely.”

Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book III

Rather than simply beginning where he pleases, our amusing narrator announces that he will be skipping through vast spaces of time, for why would it profit us readers to learn about the grief suffered by Squire Allworthy and Bridget at the passing of the Captain? The narrator believes his reader to be of an upper-crust variety, thus he endeavors to proceed forward, ignoring certain minor events in this span of twelve years and introduce us to fourteen year old Tommy Jones (even though in this introductory chapter the narrator suggests it contains “little or nothing”).

Young Tommy Jones has garnered many enemies (many want him “hanged”) because he is subsumed with vices –he has already been caught committing robbery three times. In contrast, young master Blifil is regarded as blameless and morally upright, universally admired. Tommy does find a find in the Allworthy estate’s gamekeeper, a man of loose disposition. Nevertheless, the narrator repeatedly refers to Tom as the “hero” of this story. In what ways is Tom heroic?

An anecdote is offered about Tom and the gamekeeper as they venture out shooting one day and wind up illegally trespassing which earns Tommy the full blame and a flogging from Mr. Thwackum, a reverend Mr. Allworthy has hired to teach Tom and Master Blifil about religion (notably, the first introduction to this reverend comes in the form of a wrongful beating, and his name almost sounds like “wack ’em!”

We are also introduced to Mr. Square, another gentleman who is living at the Allworthy estate. Unlike Reverend Thwackum, who loudly professes the doctrine of “original sin,” Mr. Square is well-read in the works of the pre-Christian ancients, particularly Plato and Aristotle. Morally, he professes himself to be a Platonist, Religiously he claims to be an Aristotelian. However, he has “contradictions” in his character –he believes that Virtue is a matter of theory only. He regards Human Nature to be the perfection of virtue, while it can exist independent of religion, and vice to be merely a deviation of Human Nature, not unlike deformities of the body. Reverend Thwackum, however, claims the human mind is little more than a sink of iniquity until purified and redeemed by grace. Mr. Square praises the natural beauty of virtue, while Thwackum claims redemption comes only through the divine grace. Thwackum bases his arguments solely on the presumed authority of his scriptures.

The two wind up disputing semantics, with Square asking for a common definition of “honour” and “religion,” while Thwackum seeks to amusingly defend the Church of England as the true sect of Christianity. However, Allworthy interrupts and ends the conversation, and the narrator offers yet another lengthy digression –“Before I proceed farther, I shall beg leave to obviate some Misconstructions…” In doing so, he offers an apology to readers who are persuaded by the merits of either virtue or religion. He then ingratiates himself before the reader and tells a story about a fight between Tommy and Master Blifil, in which Thwackum naturally blames Tommy. When the case is brought before Squire Allworthy, Tommy pleads for the Squire to forgive the gameskeeper (whose name we learn to be Black George) for the earlier trespassing incident. However, Squire Allworthy dismisses Black George yet denies Square and Thwackum the right to beat Tom as punishment. Tom is praised by the servants for his courage, while Master Blifil is praised by Square and Thwackum. By now, Master Blifil has learned the art of flattery –he boasts of religion to Thwackum and of virtue to Square, thus he earns their admiration.

However, Square and Thwackum remain at the Allworthy estate because they are infatuated with his widowed sister, Bridget. Consider the following amusing rumination from our beloved narrator:

“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 Valle 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” (89-90).

Both Thwackum and Square attempt to please Bridget by lauding her son and punishing Tom, and while she firts with them, her love for Tom only continues to grow. This, they attribute, to Tom’s growing up into an attractive young man –they assume Bridget is infatuated with Tom.

Our bemused narrator makes his “Appearance on the Stage” as he refers to readers as his worthy “Disciples” and his appearance as akin to a Greek “Chorus.” He shares that Squire Allworthy sees Bridget’s attachment for Tom and it naturally inspires him to provide more care for Master Blifil. Next, we see an incident in which Tom sold a horse Squire Allworthy gave him and he is punished by the Squire until we learn that Tom gave the money to the banished Black George. However, this was not the end of Tom’s troubles: “It hath been observed by some Man of much greater Reputation for Wisdom than myself, that Misfortunes seldom come single” (95). Tom is accused of sacrilege after selling a Bible to Master Blifil, the book was a gift from Squire Allworthy, and Black George’s name is once again besmirched by Blifil.

For this reading I used the Norton Critical Edition of Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling edited by Sheridan Baker.