Reflections on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Book XVIII

“We are now, Reader, arrived at the last Stage of our long Journey. As we have therefore travelled together through so many Pages, let us behave  to one another like Fellow-Travelers in a Stage-Coach, who have passed several Days in the Company of each other; and who, notwithstanding any Bickerings or little Animosities which may have occurred on the Road generally make all up at last, and mount, for the last Time, into their Vehicle with Chearfulness and Good-Humor; since after this one Stage, it may possibly happen to us, as it commonly happens to them, never to meet more” (595).  

Partridge suddenly arrives at Tom’s prison cell bearing news that his mother is actually Mrs. Waters (from the Upton inn). Then, Black George arrives at the prison and informs Tom that Squire Western and his sister Mrs. Western have had an intense argument. Later, Squire Allworthy learns of Tom’s generosity with the money he initially gave him when Tom was expelled from the Allworthy estate. As news breaks that Tom did not initiate the duel with Mr. Fitzpatrick, a letter from Square who is dying. In it, he confesses to Squire Allworthy that Tom is innocent of his past transgressions and that the true villain was Mr. Thwackum (with an enclosed letter exposing Thwackum’s haughty demands of Squire Allworthy).

Next, it is revealed that Tom’s father was Mr. Sumner, the son of a clergyman whom Squire Allworthy had raised, and –in the greatest twist of all—Mrs. Waters reveals that the true mother of Tom Jones was none other than Bridget Allworthy, the good Squire’s own sister! Blifil is found to be a villainous traitor whole Tom lobbies for forgiveness. Sophia and Tom are then reunited, and while she remains skeptical of Tom’s libertine ways, Tom manages to reassure her by guarding the armour of his own heart, if not always his own physical desires. All parties seem pleased, especially Squire Western who looks forward to having a grandson in nine months.

In a brief epilogue (“Chapter the Last”) Tom and Sophia are married and they have two children, living in perfect happiness each day on Squire Allworthy’s estate. They remain beneficent to all those around them. In what is perhaps the greatest farce of all in the novel, Tom’s fortunes in life only change when his birthright is revealed of aristocratic blood. No matter how many kind and good-natured deeds Tom performed in life, al that really mattered was that he was born of Squire Allworthy’s sister. Tom Jones offers a classic indictment of the prevailing mores of the British ruling class, who despite their platitudes of benevolence, prove to that the only thing dividing a hero from a villain is his bloodline. Goodness is a rare possession in England. As the book progresses, we are taken from 1) Somerset, 2) and the open road, 3) to finally concluding in London (all the while the young Pretender’s Jacobite rebellion serves as the backdrop). And interestingly enough, there is no real growth for any of the characters in the book (I suppose one could make the case that the confessions of Square and Mrs. Waters show some modest change of character). However, the only fact that changes the entire plot concerns the secret identity of Tom’s mother –Bridget Allworthy—which suddenly elevates Tom’s material situation and welcomes him back into his upper-class bubble. In this way, it is a markedly different kind of familial reveal than, say, Oedipus learning the hideous truth of his own mother. Tom finds his love of Sophia (“wisdom”) by sheer fortuity.     

Ever the rascal, Henry Fielding closes his blistering satire of trendy “novels of manners” (i.e. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela or Clarissa), a genre which so pervaded his age, by offering a fairy tale all too perfect to be believed. Tom Jones as a character becomes little more than a “thesis” as Kenneth Rexroth notes. Jones is a common enough fellow, the kind that was often absent from the novels of Fielding’s day, but Jones represents the universal hero not unlike other classical foundlings, such as Romulus and Remus raised by a she-wolf, or Moses found among the reeds. He is the natural gentleman, despite being a bastard, whose goodly nature is nevertheless his greatest flaw in the modern world, a world which seeks to crush him at every turn. He lacks tact and mischievousness while maintaining an overabundance of innocence and libido. In the end, his life is saved only by mere luck, happenstance, and fortune. This is the great irony of Tom Jones as, contra the realism of Daniel Defoe’s found diary entries in Robinson Crusoe, the unnamed narrator of Tom Jones ceaselessly reminds us that this whole tale is untrue via endless digressions and reflections intended to unseat and dethrone the modern reader from his place of presumed omniscience. In this way, Fielding owes a great debt to his intellectual forebear, Miguel Cervantes.

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 XVII

The narrator reflects on tragedy and comedy. Comic writers end their books when their characters are made as happy as can be; whereas tragic writers conclude only when their characters reach the pit of human misery. However, since Tom Jones is of the former variety, the narrator endeavors to bring his characters onto the safe shores of happiness soon. In this respect, the ancients had an advantage over the moderns with the widespread believability of their stories and legends.

Blifil, Mrs. Miller, and Squire Allworthy debate the moral character of Tom when Squire Western arrives and shares Mrs. Western’s plan for Sophia to marry Lord Fellamar. This leads to a vigorous discussion as Blifil pines for Sophia, but Squire Allworthy advises Blifil to examine his own heart as he appears to be driven mainly by lust. However, returning to Sophia from whom the narrator can “no longer bear to be absent,”—

“The lowing Heifer, and the bleating Ewe in Herds and Flocks, may ramble safe and unguarded through the Pastures. These are, indeed, hereafter doomed to be the Prey of Man; yet many Years are they suffered to enjoy their Liberty undisturbed. But if a plump Doe be discovered to have escaped from the Forest, and to repose herself in some Field or Grove, the whole Parish is presently alarmed, every Man is ready to set his Dogs after her; and if she is preserved from the rest by the good Squire, it is only that he may secure her for his own eating” (577-578).

Sophia is compared to a hunted doe as three men seem to be chasing her. Mrs. Western sympathizes with Sophia after she shares that Lord Fellamar attempted to violate her. In shock, Mrs. Western shares her own personal “conquests and cruelty” toward her many suitors in her youth.

Meanwhile, in prison Tom receives news from Partridge that Mr. Fitzpatrick has not died from Mrs. Miller, Nightingale, and Partridge. Despite the fact that Tom is generally a good-natured person who has been wronged, neither Squire Allworthy nor Sophia are on speaking terms with him. At the end of Book XVII, news arrives from Mrs. Waters (from the Upton inn) that Mr. Fitzpatrick has survived and is admitting fault for the duel (which is especially timely as two witnesses to the duel were falsely claiming that Tom started the fight). However, the narrator claims this will be overshadowed by a piece of news which Fortune has yet in store for 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 XVI

The narrator delivers some unconsciously self-deprecating remarks on the nature of prologues. He notes that despite the difficulty of writing these introductory digressions to each section of Tom Jones, and the fact that they are entirely distinct from the following chapters in the narrative about Tom, these digressions are still of great value to the “indolent reader” and “spectator,” perhaps not unlike the pages of Homer, Virgil, Swift, and Cervantes.

We return to a bickering dispute between Sophia and Squire Western while Lord Fellamar continues his efforts to court Sophia. However, Sophia refuses to meet with him, causing further tension with her father. Then, she and Tom Jones trade bittersweet letters, as Sophia pledges never to marry another. Curiously, Tom attends a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and during the performance Partridge behaves like Don Quixote during the infamous puppet show –Partridge becomes consumed in the believability of the show as he trembles at the sight of Hamlet’s father’s ghost, and he speaks aloud to Hamlet during the play (when Hamlet picks up skull of Yorick).

Next, Blifil arrives in London, intending to court Sophia, as well. He barges into her room while Sophia is receiving a lesson on the nature of prudence and matrimonial politics. After a dressing down by Mrs. Western, Blifil departs while suspecting something suspicious might be happening behind the scenes. Naturally, this sets up a confrontation between Lord Fellamar and Blifil –as well as Tom who proposes marriage to Lady Bellaston out of compulsion while Mrs. Fitzpatrick lusts after him. For this, Sophia refuses to speak to Tom. As Tom departs Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s home, he is confronted by Mr. Fitzpatrick punches him in the face. Tom somewhat accidentally fights back and he stabs Mr. Fitzpatrick while crying out for help, however a band of men hired by Lord Fellamar arrest Tom, and following a trial, Tom is imprisoned as Mr. Fitzpatrick dies. Sadly, this chapter closes with a letter from Sophia cutting all ties with 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.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Review

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Director: Don Siegel

“Your new bodies are growing in there. They’re taking you over cell for cell, atom for atom. There is no pain. Suddenly, while you’re asleep, they’ll absorb your minds, your memories and you’re reborn into an untroubled world.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A classic of 1950s science fiction horror, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is based on Jack Finney’s three-part serialized novel simply entitled The Body Snatchers (published in Collier’s in 1955). The film rights were acquired by veteran Hollywood producer Walter Wanger, who had just been released from prison following an attempted murder incident (he suspected his wife was having an affair). The incident actually later became part of the inspiration behind Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). Starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is about an alien invasion experienced in a small fictional California town known as Santa Mira. Alien spores have been dropped all over town and as they hatch, the egg “plant pods” spawn doppelgängers of already existing people on earth. It is a “quiet” invasion in which the aliens intend to replace humans in pursuit of a more homogenous world, though interestingly not via a hostile, military takeover a la H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Instead, the aliens attempt a benevolent approach. These bubbling, oozing pods hatch and grow into human duplicates –in a way, the alien hatching foreshadows Ridley Scott’s Alien. If people fall asleep, they run the risk of being “snatched” by these emotionless aliens. The unsettling fear of falling asleep will be revisited time and again in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and classic shows like The Twilight Zone.

Who can be trusted? Which people are authentically human? The film is told in a flashback by Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) as he recounts his escape from the body snatchers alongside Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) until she falls asleep momentarily while hiding out in an abandoned mineshaft and Dr. Bennell is left to escape alone. In the end, we return to Dr. Bennell who has recently been picked up from the highway after banging on cars, screaming about an alien invasion. In his testimony to a psychiatrist, he is nearly declared insane, until a truck driver is wheeled into the hospital corroborating the pod invasion. Dr. Bennell breathes a sigh of relief while the hospital flies into a frenzy. Ironically, while desperate to escape the encroaching hive mind of the aliens, Dr. Bennell finally finds relief and validation within his own group, fellow humans sharing the same view. Safety in numbers. Perhaps this is a slightly more cynical movie than initially meets the eye.