Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book IX

Our illustrious narrator begins his next digression by defending his own presence in the novel –he hopes to help readers delineate between what is “true and genuine” versus things that are “false and counterfeit.” He foresees a new brand of novels featuring spectators like himself who are well-educated and reflective in order to help guide readers through stories. He then offers some reflections on what makes a good writer, people who are not necessarily imitators, but rather as Horace says, the kinds of authors who actually live their writing. They weep before they hope to make their readers weep (of course, the narrator often engenders laughter rather than weeping, and he is very much self-conscious of this fact). The narrator views himself as some version of a Historian, after all, this book is the “History of a Foundling.”  

At any rate, we return to our quixotic hero as he ventures out walking with the Man of the Hill and they suddenly hear a woman screaming. They rush ahead into the woods and find a half-naked woman being strung up in a tree by a ruffian, thus Tom charges and pounds the man with his stick until the woman begs him to stop. Their eyes meet, and despite being a middle-aged woman, Tom is infatuated (her nudity apparently helps). Moments later, the ruffian arises and is revealed to be none other than ensign Northerton who attacked Tom at the inn. Northerton soon runs away with his hands tied. And so, Tom leads this woman, bare-breasted, along the road to Upton –Fielding amusingly compares them to Orpheus and Eurydice.  

They arrive at another inn, and once it is realized that Tom is not a rich gentleman, a brawl unfolds with the landlady. Again, Tom’s class status prevents him from truly becoming a hero. The fight grows out of control until a troupe of soldiers arrives and we learn that the abused woman Tom has rescued is actually the wife of Captain Waters.

Our narrator tells us that “Heroes… have certainly more of Mortal than Divine about them” (327) and consequently, our hero Tom falls prey to the seductions of Mrs. Waters while still pining for Sophia. We also learn that Mrs. Waters was not actually married to the Captain, but that they simply lived together, and that she was secretly having an affair with Northerton. They planned to elope together with her providing the finances, but he decided to rob her and that is the moment Tom Jones arrived and saved the day. Our amusing narrator ends this book by cautioning the reader:

“Thou wilt be pleased to consider, that this Fellow, as we have already informed thee, had neither the Birth nor Education of a Gentleman, nor was a proper Person to be enrolled among the Number of such. If therefore his Baseness can justly reflect on any besides himself, it must be only on those who gave him his Commission” (337).

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s