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.

Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book II

The narrator of Tom Jones is one of the more intriguing figures in the novel. He speaks with an air of presumptuous authority: “It hath been observed by wise Men or Women, I forget which, that all Persons are doomed to be in love once in their Lives. No particular Season is, as I remember, assigned for this…” (45). He includes many mistranslated Latin phrases rife with double-meaning. He seems to view himself as a noble servant, reiterating a deeply important history, while in. actuality he presents silly people doing silly things, examining the high-brow from the low-brow. In breaking all the rules, the narrator regards himself as a benevolent intellectual who is sometimes hurried and cannot be bothered to address certain points, however at other points he delivers lengthy orations on grand philosophical topics. At one point, he discourses on virtues and vices, at another, he diatribes on barbershops, both ancient and modern.

At any rate, returning to the novel’s main narrative, Bridget and the Captain soon have a child though Squire Allworthy continues to show favoritism for Tommy, the foundling. Meanwhile, Deborah Wilkins, the housekeeper, suspects that Tom’s father is Jenny Jones’s schoolmaster with whom she lived for four years, Mr. Partridge. Mr. Partridge has been married for nine years though he has given no “pledges of love” to his wife (she is apparently a shrew, a follower of Socrates’s wife, Xanthippe) and so she is paranoid of any sign that he might be unfaithful to her. She hires only unattractive maidservants like Jenny but she soon grows jealous and threatens Jenny with a knife before banishing her from the house. While Jenny protests her innocence, Mr. Partridge decides to remain silent and stand by his wife, he then sleeps with his wife and privately acknowledges that Jenny’s intellectual prowess was outgrowing his anyway so her banishment is a good thing. Not long thereafter Mrs. Partridge learns of the bastard child and she blames her husband once again. She brutally attacks him and then blames him for the fight, forever castigating Mr. Partridge as a lecherous abuser in the eyes of the town and the parish. Mr. Partridge is then publicly tried for incontinency. Ironically, Mr. Allworthy is the one who banishes Partridge with no annuity. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Partridge contracts smallpox and dies while Mr. Partridge flees town having now lost his wife, school, and annuity. He falls into squalid poverty while maintaining his own innocence in all these matters –how quickly fortune’s light fades!

The downfall of Mr. Partridge was woven via an intimate string of self-interested motives. The housekeeper, Deborah Wilkins, sought the Captain’s affection (because he despises Squire Allworthy’s affections for Tom rather than his own son) and so Mrs. Wilkins tries to upturn the most lurid rumors about Mr. Partridge and she spreads them to Captain Blifil and Squire Allworthy. Rumors have the power to destroy people. The narrator somewhat unwittingly exposes the compassionless English and their religious mores, especially Squire Allworthy, however even the narrator does not wish to be viewed as a sympathizer of Mr. Partridge, consider the following aside to the reader:

“Tho’ I called him, poor Partridge, in the last Paragraph, I would have the Reader rather impute that Epithet to the Compassion of Temper, than conceive it to be any Declaration of his Innocence. Whether he was innocent or not, will perhaps appear hereafter; but if the Historic-Muse hath entrusted me with any Secrets, I will by no means be guilty of discovering them till she shall give me leave” (68).

Despite all the Captain’s wishes, Tom only grows more favorable in the eyes of Alllworthy. It leads to lover’s quarrels between the Captain and Bridget, up to the point that they despise one another. Squire Allworthy is aware but he does not say anything to them about the dispute – a characteristic of a wise man according to the narrator “There is, perhaps, no surer Mark of Folly, than an Attempt to correct the natural infirmities of those we love” –praising the timid English fear of confrontation. The Captain ponders endlessly on the question of how much longer Squire Allworthy might live because he wants to inherit the estate. He pours through books on the matter, but then he suddenly dies of apoplexy one evening while out walking (here, the narrator once again mistranslates Horace’s Odes in a quote about delusions of grandeur while forgetting death).

When news of the Captain’s death reaches the household, Bridget feigns grief while a pair of doctors remain at the house to exploit the situation for as much money as possible (the narrator laments at the uselessness of ‘physicians’). A generous but false epitaph is written for the Captain’s headstone. As with most situations in the novel, keeping up false appearance is preferable to discovering the truth. As we learn more about Squire Allworthy, he is ironically hardly the noble aristocrat we have come to understand from our vainglorious narrator –Allworthy falsely condemns a man, shows blatant favoritism and nepotism, and he is taken advantage of by people like the Captain and his brother –all are hypocrites and liars here.

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

Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book I

Tom Jones is a subversive, acerbic work of fiction. It is outrageously funny, in the Aristotelian sense, because it presents lowly characters performing silly acts. The novel offers a satirical inversion of classical notions of heroism, as we follow the picaresque misadventures of Tom Jones, a foundling who lives a somewhat accidental and hedonistic life, while falling in and out of favor with his adopted father, Squire Allworthy. The novel’s Latin epigraph reads: “More hominum multorum vidit” (or “he saw the customs of many men”) which draws our attention to a section of Horace’s Ars Poetica wherein he examines the Homeric epics, particularly The Odyssey. We are thus asked to ironically compare the frivolities of Tom Jones to the heroism and ingenuity of Odysseus. In the novel, Fielding directly prods the stuffy, hypocritical English aristocracy by presenting a whimsical, bemused, armchair philosopher as the book’s narrator, a rambling sort of fellow who tirelessly breaks the fourth wall and never forgets to remind us of his lingering presence. While this self-aggrandizing narrator presents numerous jokes and digressions, perhaps the biggest joke of all is that in the end all that truly matters is Tom’s genealogical birthright after all. Despite all the fluff about a divine purpose and grand narrative to a person’s life, advancement still only comes to those who happen inherit financial means. As it turns out, the only hope for a wayward bastard youth like Tom is to simply have been born into an aristocratic lineage. This is the only thing that separates Tom from impoverishment and death, contra privilege and luxury. In this respect, Fielding’s novel is actually quite cynical. Perhaps the point is that nothing in the English aristocracy is ever truly earned, all is merely inherited.

At any rate, in his lengthy, verbose epistolary dedication, Henry Fielding takes great labors to praise the esteem and generosity of his benefactor, George Lord Lyttleton, Esq. (whose name is deliberately misspelled). In doing so, Fielding hopes to prevent the censure of his book –the writer is always aware of his own impending persecution. Consider the following passage:

“From the Name of my Patron, indeed, I hope my Reader will be convinced, at his very Entrance on this work, that he will find in the whole Course of it nothing prejudicial to the Cause of Religion and Virtue; nothing inconsistent with the strictest Rules of Decency, nor which can offend even the chastest Eye in the Perusal. On the contrary, I declare, that to recommend Goodness and Innocence hath been my sincere Endeavor in this History. This honest Purpose you have been pleased to think I have attained: And to say the Truth, it is likeliest to be attained in Books of this Kind, for an Example is a Kind of Picture, in which Virtue becomes as it were an Object of Sight, and strikes us with an idea of that Loveliness, which Plato asserts there is in her naked Charms” (7).

What is the purpose of Tom Jones? We are given a clue as to Fielding’s ironic intention in his dedication –to counter Plato and provide a true image of virtue and wisdom, in the form of a blistering mockery of the austere novels of manners. After all, he says it is much easier to make good men wise, than bad men good. He claims that he endeavors to “laugh Mankind out of their favorite Follies and Vices” (7). He asks that the candid reader will 1) not expect to find perfection in this work, and 2) excuse some parts of it if they fall short of merit. As a whole, the novel is directed to both Fielding’s benefactor (and two other unnamed “friends”) as well as the reader.

As Book I unfolds, we learn from our anonymous narrator that Tom Jones is a “History” –perhaps alluding to the Greek word historia meaning an “inquiry.” We begin with a digression likening this book to a feast, or a “Bill of Fare to the feast” with the cuisine being none other than Human Nature, as in the case of Roman Emperor Heliogabalus, each section will begin with a bill of fare before gradually building up to the main course with high French and Italian seasonings, thus promising to the reader that we will read on forever. Perhaps the endings of each chapter contain deeper insights into Human Nature than the beginning.

We are introduced to a country gentleman, Squire Allworthy, who resides on one of the largest estates in the west country of Somersetshire, he is the “Favourite of both Nature and Fortune” (27). Squire Alworthy was once married to a woman who bore him three children but, as was often the case in centuries past, all three died in infancy and she followed them in death shortly thereafter (about five years prior to when this “History” begins). Squire Allworthy has retired to his country estate with his beloved sister Bridget Allworthy and housekeeper Deborah Wilkins.

Having been drawn away for work in London, he returns home one day late in the evening to find an infant wrapped in linen among the sheets. He orders his housekeeper Deborah Wilkins to care for the child (despite her protestations that the mother was likely a “slut” and that the child should be placed at the church’s door instead). The narrator then delves into one of his famous digressions about the gracious Gothic style of architecture found throughout Squire Allworthy’s home. At any rate, Squire Allworthy bestows the child upon his sister Bridget, but like Deborah, she lobs insults at the child’s unknown mother –“an impudent Slut, a wanton Hussy, an audacious Harlot, a wicked Jade, a vile Strumpet, with every other Appellation with which the Tongue of Virtue never fails to lash those who bring a Disgrace on the Sex” (32).  

Deborah Wilkins visits the local Parish where the fire of suspicion is pointed at Jenny Jones, an object of envy among the church-going women. Squire Allworthy takes Jenny into his study for a discussion while Bridget and the housekeeper listen from the keyhole a la the classical tale of Thisbe in Ovid (here, the narrator misquotes Thisbe instead of Pyramus and he mistranslates a Latin legal phrase). Our narrator hints at Bridget’s guilty conscience, while Jenny offers her confession to Squire Allworthy. Bridget then praises Jenny’s character and pities her –it seems Jenny was the victim of a wicked man (this will all be important at the novel’s conclusion).

The power of Squire Allworthy lies in his reputation as a benevolent man, the narrator goes to great lengths to portray him as a blameless and noble country aristocrat despite him making numerous mistakes throughout the novel –“For it is a secret well known to great Men, that by conferring an Obligation, they do not always procure a Friend, but are certain of creating many Enemies” (41). Mr. Allworthy then removes Jenny to a place where her reputation might recover.

Next, we meet Dr. Blifil, a forty-year-old doctor whose father once pushed him into the medical profession, but the narrator notes that Dr. Blifil gives the appearance of being religious (even if he is not in his heart). He is a married man but soon fancies Squire Allworthy’s sister, Bridget. Dr. Blifil develops a scheme –he has a thirty-five-year-old brother, a military man named Captain Blifil, who also falls in love with Bridget at Dr. Blifil’s invitation (the doctor serves as match-maker for his brother). However, we quickly learn that Squire Allworthy often accidentally surrounds himself with self-seeking opportunists like these two brothers. In this case, the Doctor and the Captain are very much enamored with Squire’s home and riches, thus they intend to produce a child with the Squire’s only heir, his sister Bridget, in order to inherit Squire Allworthy’s estate. The Captain’s courtship of Bridget proceeds quietly but soon they are married, and this little scheme leads to a falling out between the two brothers. Dr. Blifil takes leave of Squire Allworthy’s estate and returns to London where he soon dies, heartbroken.

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

On Rod Serling’s “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”

“It was Saturday afternoon on Maple Street and the late sun retained some of the warmth of a persistent Indian summer” (136).

The scene is a panorama of a picturesque small-town in America. Lawns are being mowed, cars are being washed, kids are playing hopscotch –“4:40pm. Maple Street in its last calm and reflective moments –before the monsters came.”

Suddenly a flash of light explodes across the sky and blocks out the sun. Was it a meteor? Then the electricity goes out, and the neighbors on Maple Street begin to wonder what happened. A little boy named Tommy suggests it might be aliens from outer space. At first, he is brushed off, but soon people start growing suspicious. Perhaps one of their neighbors is truly an alien. They point the finger at one another, always suspicious, arguments break out, robbery and thieving begins to take hold.

Gradually, the neighborhood goes steadily more chaotic and paranoid until all hell breaks loose and this once safe paragon of American suburbia devolves into “an outdoor asylum for the insane.” Glass is broken, children are trampled, and all is bedlam. Violence ensues.

Then, from a nearby hill overlooking Maple Street, a cohort of aliens stands beside their spaceship and watch the madness unfold. The pattern is always the same: shut off the electronics for a few hours and watch the madness unfold. “They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find and it’s themselves. All we need to do is sit back –and watch.” The aliens make plans to take over the United States one Maple Street at a time.

The ending to Mr. Serling’s short story is considerably more violent than I remember the Twilight Zone episode being. Most of the houses are burned. Bodies are strewn about on sidewalks and draped over railings. And then all is still and silent, there is no more life. A new race of creatures moves into Maple Street from their perch on a nearby hill.

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

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