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.

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.

Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book XII

“The learned Reader must have observed, that in the Course of this mighty Work, I have often translated Passages out of the best antient Authors, without quoting the Original or without taking the least notice of the Book from whence they were borrowed” (400).

Our scholarly narrator begins Book XII by discoursing on the nature of borrowing quotations, citations, and even ideas from other writers. Thievery is a lowly act, however meditating upon the works of classical antiquity is a worthwhile endeavor. In the ongoing debate between ancients and moderns, the narrator of Tom Jones (and perhaps Henry Fielding, as well) comes to light as a defender of the ancients. I was especially reminded of Jonathan Swift’s defense of the ancients (i.e. Plato or Aristotle) contra the moderns (i.e. Descartes or Bacon) in his “Battle of the Books” and “A Tale of a Tub.”

Returning to our history, an irate Squire Western has been tracking his daughter Sophia but he becomes distracted by the prospect of hunting. Meanwhile, Tom and Partridge prepare to leave the inn at Upton, with Tom planning to join the military while Partridge remains terrified of the idea. Suddenly, they come upon a crossing where a beggar-man reveals Sophia’s prized pocketbook from Mrs. Western with one hundred pounds inside (the same one hundred pounds she is missing). Tom promises to compensate the beggar more fully in the future.

Next, they hear a drum banging off in the distance which Partridge fears might be the Rebels (Jacobites) and they decide to attend a puppet show, a performance of a part of “the Provoked Husband” which is “indeed a very grave and solemn Entertainment, without any low Wit, or Humour, or Jests” (413). It is a serious performance which claims to improve the morals of young people, and in this respect I was reminded of the puppet show in Part II of Cervantes’s Don Quixote. A scuffle ensues as the Landlady’s maid is found backstage with the puppeteer, and the landlady pines for the old days when puppet shows were filled exclusively with Biblical tales. Tom is once again mistaken for a wealthy gentleman, in fact the true heir of Squire Allworthy –doors open to him only when he is believed to be wealthy. Regardless of all other loudly proclaimed pieties in English society, possession of wealth is ultimately all that matters.

The puppeteer named Merry Andrew is attacked by the puppet master, only to be rescued by Tom who then heads for London. In this case, Tom represents a new kind of hero, distinct from the high-minded heroes of classical epics, in that Tom makes mistakes. He stumbles his way through this picaresque fantasy, while attempting to do the right thing, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the book. Generally speaking, the closer one is to the English upper classes, the less likely they are to be a good person.

En route to London, Tom encounters a man named Dowling and they stumble upon an Egyptian gypsy wedding which is mistaken for a witches’ den –all the while fears of the Jacobites persist. Then, Tom and Partridge are robbed by a highwayman at gunpoint by an anonymous man (who says he is desperate with five children at home) but a sympathetic Tom hands him a few guineas despite Partridge’s fears. Tom. Partridge claims the punishment for thievery is death, but Tom reminds him that he once stole, as well. In contrast to Partridge, Tom is compassionate, genteel, and altruistic. He hopes to catch up to Sophia soon as they continue along on the road.

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 XI

Why does Henry Fielding introduce contemporaneous politics into Tom Jones? What is gained by reminding us of Tom’s apparent contempt for the Jacobites? Published in 1749, Tom Jones was written against the backdrop of yet another final attempt at restoring the seed of James II which had been overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of William of Orange. Now, decades later, the “Young Pretender” Bonnie Prince Charlie had launched a foolhardy invasion of England which was quickly put down in 1745. He managed to escape, but the crown of England would never return to the head of a Stuart. It would not have been a terribly controversial for Henry Fielding to satirize the feeble uprising of the Young Pretender, however by grounding Tom Jones in a contemporary setting, Fielding reminds us that this is no high-minded epic mythology of the Homeric variety. Instead, Tom Jones takes place within a certain particular context, as if to remind us that the character of Tom Jones is a result of something peculiar to 18th century England.

At any rate, this chapter’s opening interlude offers new reflections on those “formidable Set of Men, who are called Critics” (365). The word Critic comes down to us from Greeks, signifying judgment not unlike a lawyer, however sometimes modern Critics appear as “common slanderers” -a class of most odious vermin. This latter type of slander is, in truth, an attack on a book’s author. Rules of the critics, just rules of the Christians, provide impossible standards for which none can be truly saved, in either this life or the next. Only a few critics have ever truly been judicious –namely Aristotle and Horace, or French critics like Dacier or Bossu.

Returning to the History, Sophia and Mrs. Honour flee the inn toward London when they realize they are being followed. It soon turns out to be her cousin Harriet Fitzpartick. Together, they arrive at another inn where Sophia is quickly mistaken for Jenny Cameron, one of the rebel ladies who traveled alongside Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie (sometimes called the “Young Chevalier”). However, the “politic” landlord soon learns that the Jacobites march toward London and thus he decides to hedge his bets and the landlady, impressed with Sophia’s courtesy for all classes of people, decides to convert to Jacobitism while believing Sophia to be Jenny Cameron. Mrs. Fitzpatrick then reminisces of her life in Ireland and tells Sophia her tragic story of a raucous marriage to Mr. Fitzpatrick and subsequent pregnancy, but the child died and then, depressed, she fled from Mr. Fitzpatrick who has been chasing her ever since.

Sophia starts to tell her story, while a pack of Jacobites marches past, and after losing one hundred pounds which was given to her by her father, Sophia seeks to part ways with Harriet Fitzpatrick (whom she suspects of merely scheming to acquire a new man) and Sophia calls upon a relation: Lady Bellaston. In the next chapter, we will return to the poor misadventures of our titular hero, Tom Jones, but for now we can rest easy knowing Sophia is in safe hands.

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