Refections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book XIV

The narrator of Tom Jones offers some reflections on how modern critics have entered the Republic of Letters, however these modern critics are perhaps not as knowledgeable as they claim. For example, great writers like Aristotle or Cicero or Virgil. “For instance let us suppose that Homer and Virgil, Aristotle and Cicero, Thucydides and Livy could have met all together, and have clubbed their several Talents to have composed a Treatise on the Art of Dancing” (479). The narrator praises the ancients over the vulgarity of the modern critics who don silly wigs and lace and embroidery, and thus appear like a “comic class” (480).

Returning to the narrative, Tom Jones receives two threatening letters from Lady Bellaston before she suddenly arrives unannounced with her dress in disarray. She demands to know if Tom has been faithful to her, but then Mrs. Honour arrives unexpectedly. Tom hides Lady Bellaston in his room while Mrs. Honour complains about Lady Bellaston inviting men to her home and she hands Tom a letter from Sophia. Shortly hereafter, Lady Bellaston realizes that Sophia will always ‘possess the first place in Jones’s affections.’ Tom is then dismissed from his host’s house while Lady Bellaston and Sophia intend to maintain their separate ruses.

Tom’s troubles continue between Partridge, Nightingale, Nancy, Partridge, and Sophia. For the remainder of Book XIV, Tom becomes ensconced in Nightingale’s arranged marriage contra his love for Nancy Miller. It is a rather silly tangent which serves as a parallel to Tom’s own struggle between his love for Sophia, despite the fact that he is not an upper-class gentleman by birth. Book XIV concludes as Mrs. Honour arrives with bad news about Sophia, but this subject will be addressed in the following book.  

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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