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.

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