Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book XIII

The next narrator digression amusingly alludes to a Homeric invocation of the Muse, later employed by the likes of Virgil or Milton. Consider the following opening rhetoric used at the outset of Book XIII:

“Come, bright Love of Fame, inspire my glowing Breast: Not thee I call, who over swelling Tides of Blood and Tears, dost bear the Heroe on to Glory, while Sighs of Millions waft his Spreading Sails; but thee fair, fair, gentle Maid, whom Mnesis, happy Nymph, first on the banks of Hebrus, did produce. Thee, whom Moeonia educated, whom Mantua charm’d, and who, on that fair Hill which overlooks the proud Metropolis of Britain, sat’st, with thy Miton, sweetly tuning the Heroic Lyre; fill my ravished Fancy with the Hopes of charming Ages yet to come…” (443).

After invoking the inspiration behind Aristophanes, Lucian, Cervantes, Rabelais, Moliere, Shakespeare, Swift, and Marivaux, Fielding’s narrator hopes to find a path to a “happy conclusion” to this tale. We then return to Tom as he arrives in London. He and Partridge track Sophia to the house of Mrs. Fitzpatrick but they only just miss Sophia by mere minutes (the narrator amusingly compares Porters to Cerberus, the Porter of Hel in Virgil’s Aeneid). There is some confusion over whether Tom is actually Blifil. He stands vigil at Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s door until Lady Bellaston arrives (she is secretly in pursuit of Tom).

One evening, Tom encounters a fight between a young man named Nightingale over his lady, Nancy, the boardinghouse landlady’s daughter. Here, once again Tom is set to prove his heroism. Tom then receives a mysterious invitation to a masquerade which he assumes is from Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and Nightingale offers to join him at the party. They walk off with separate ladies at the party, but Tom intends to remain true to Sophia –Tom’s lady (the “Domino Lady”) reveals herself to be Lady Bellaston. When they meet up again, Tom and Sophia surprisingly run into one another –“to paint the Looks or Thoughts of either of these Lovers is beyond my power” (472)– and Tom clears his name from the accusation of bandying Sophia’s name about town. However, they don’t speak long before Lady Bellaston returns and both feign not knowing each until Tom departs and Sophia accidentally reveals that she knows Tom.   

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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