born April 22, 1707, Sharpham Park, Somerset, Eng.
died Oct. 8, 1754, Lisbon
novelist and playwright, who, with Samuel Richardson, is considered a
founder of the English novel. Among his major novels are Joseph Andrews
(1742) and Tom Jones (1749).
Fielding was born of a family that by tradition traced its descent to a
branch of the Habsburgs. The 1st earl of Denbigh, William Fielding, was
a direct ancestor, while Henry’s father, Col. Edmund Fielding, had
served under John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, an early 18th-century
general, “with much bravery and reputation.” His mother was a daughter
of Sir Henry Gould, a judge of the Queen’s Bench, from whom she
inherited property at East Stour, in Dorset, where the family moved when
Fielding was three years old. His mother died just before his 11th
birthday. His father having married again, Fielding was sent to Eton
College, where he laid the foundations of his love of literature and his
considerable knowledge of the classics. There he befriended George
Lyttelton, who was later to be a statesman and an important patron to
Leaving school at 17, a strikingly handsome youth, he settled down to
the life of a young gentleman of leisure; but four years later, after an
abortive elopement with an heiress and the production of a play at the
Drury Lane Theatre in London, he resumed his classical studies at the
University of Leiden in Holland. After 18 months he had to return home
because his father was no longer able to pay him an allowance. “Having,”
as he said, “no choice but to be a hackney-writer or a
hackney-coachman,” he chose the former and set up as playwright. In all,
he wrote some 25 plays. Although his dramatic works have not held the
stage, their wit cannot be denied. He was essentially a satirist; for
instance, The Author’s Farce (1730) displays the absurdities of writers
and publishers, while Rape upon Rape (1730) satirizes the injustices of
the law and lawyers. His target was often the political corruption of
the times. In 1737 he produced at the Little Theatre in the Hay (later
the Haymarket Theatre), London, his Historical Register, For the Year
1736, in which the prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was represented
practically undisguised and mercilessly ridiculed. It was not the first
time Walpole had suffered from Fielding’s pen, and his answer was to
push through Parliament the Licensing Act, by which all new plays had to
be approved and licensed by the lord chamberlain before production.
The passing of this act marked the end of Fielding’s career as a
playwright. The 30-year-old writer had a wife and two children to
support but no source of income. He had married Charlotte Cradock in
1734, this time after a successful elopement, the culmination of a
four-year courtship. How much he adored her can be seen from the two
characters based on her, Sophia Western in Tom Jones and Amelia in the
novel of that name: one the likeness of her as a beautiful,
high-spirited, generous-minded girl, the other of her as a faithful,
much-troubled, hard-working wife and mother. To restore his fortunes,
Fielding began to read for the bar, completing in less than three years
a course normally taking six or seven. Even while studying, however, he
was editing, and very largely writing, a thrice-weekly newspaper, the
Champion; or, British Mercury, which ran from November 1739 to June
1741. This, like some of his later journalism, was strongly
As a barrister, Fielding, who rode the Western Circuit (a judicial
subdivision of England) twice a year, had little success. In 1740,
however, Samuel Richardson published his novel Pamela: or, Virtue
Rewarded, which tells how a servant girl so impressed her master by
resistance to his every effort at seduction that in the end “he thought
fit to make her his wife.” Something new in literature, its success was
unparalleled. A crop of imitations followed. In April 1741 there
appeared a parody entitled An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela
Andrews, satirizing Richardson’s sentimentality and prudish morality. It
was published anonymously and, though Fielding never claimed it, Shamela
was generally accepted as his work in his lifetime, and stylistic
evidence supports the attribution.
Fielding’s Joseph Andrews was published anonymously in 1742.
Described on the title page as “Written in Imitation of the Manner of
Cervantes, author of Don Quixote,” it begins as a burlesque of Pamela,
with Joseph, Pamela’s virtuous footman brother, resisting the attempts
of a highborn lady to seduce him. The parodic intention soon becomes
secondary, and the novel develops into a masterpiece of sustained irony
and social criticism, with, at its centre, Parson Adams, one of the
great comic figures of literature and a striking confirmation of the
contention of the 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky that
the positively good man can be made convincing in fiction only if
rendered to some extent ridiculous. Fielding explains in his preface
that he is writing “a comic Epic-Poem in Prose.” He was certainly
inaugurating a new genre in fiction.
Joseph Andrews was written in the most unpropitious circumstances:
Fielding was crippled with gout, his six-year-old daughter was dying,
and his wife was “in a condition very little better.” He was also in
financial trouble, from which he was at least temporarily rescued by the
generosity of his friend the philanthropist Ralph Allen, who appears in
Tom Jones as Mr. Allworthy.
In 1743 Fielding published three volumes of Miscellanies, works old
and new, of which by far the most important is The Life of Mr. Jonathan
Wild the Great. Here, narrating the life of a notorious criminal of the
day, Fielding satirizes human greatness, or rather human greatness
confused with power over others. Permanently topical, Jonathan Wild,
with the exception of some passages by his older contemporary, the
Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, is perhaps the grimmest satire in
English and an exercise in unremitting irony.
After the Miscellanies Fielding gave up writing for more than two
years, partly, perhaps, out of disappointment with the rewards of
authorship, partly in order to devote himself to law. His health was
bad; his practice at the bar did not flourish; worst of all, his wife
was still ill. In the autumn of 1744 he took her to Bath for the
medicinal waters; she “caught a fever, and died in his arms.” According
to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the 18th-century letter writer and
Fielding’s cousin, his grief “approached to frenzy,” and it was almost a
year before he recovered his fortitude. By then he had taken a house in
London in the Strand (on the site of the present law courts), and there
he lived with his daughter, his sister Sarah, also a novelist, and Mary
Daniel, who had been his wife’s maid. In 1747, to the derision of
London, he married Mary, who was pregnant by him. According to Fielding
himself, writing shortly before his death, she discharged “excellently
well her own, and all the tender offices becoming the female character .
. . besides being a faithful friend, an amiable companion, and a tender
In 1745 came the Jacobite Rebellion (an attempt to restore the
descendants of the deposed Stuart king James II), which led Fielding to
write the pamphlet “A Serious Address to the People of Great Britain. In
Which the Certain Consequences of the Present Rebellion, Are Fully
Demonstrated. Necessary To Be Perused by Every Lover of his Country at
This Juncture.” An upholder of the Church of England, he warned of the
implications of this rising led by the Roman Catholic pretender to the
throne, Prince Charles Edward. A month later, he became editor of a new
weekly paper, The True Patriot: And the History of Our Own Times, which
he wrote almost single-handedly until it ceased publication on the
defeat of the Pretender at the Battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746). A
year later, Fielding edited another one-man weekly called The Jacobite’s
Journal, the title reflecting its ironical approach to current affairs.
Its propaganda value was deemed so great that the government purchased
2,000 copies of each issue for free distribution among the inns and
alehouses of the kingdom.
Fielding was now a trusted supporter of the government. His reward
came in 1748, when he was appointed justice of the peace (or magistrate)
for Westminster and Middlesex, with his own courthouse, which was also
his residence, in Bow Street in central London. The office carried no
salary; former Bow Street magistrates had made what they could out of
the fees paid by persons brought before them and, often, out of bribes.
Fielding was a magistrate of a different order. Together with his blind
half brother, John Fielding, also a magistrate, he turned an office
without honour into one of great dignity and importance and established
a new tradition of justice and the suppression of crime in London. Among
other things, Fielding strengthened the police force at his disposal by
recruiting a small body of able and energetic “thieftakers”—the Bow
Street Runners. To improve relations between the law and the public, he
started a newspaper, The Covent Garden Journal, in which the following
All persons who shall for the future suffer by robbers, burglars,
etc., are desired immediately to bring or send the best description they
can of such robbers, etc., with the time, and place, and circumstances
of the fact, to Henry Fielding, Esq., at his house in Bow Street.
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling was published on Feb. 28, 1749.
With its great comic gusto, vast gallery of characters, and contrasted
scenes of high and low life in London and the provinces, it has always
constituted the most popular of his works. Like its predecessor, Joseph
Andrews, it is constructed around a romance plot. The hero, whose true
identity remains unknown until the denouement, loves the beautiful
Sophia Western, and at the end of the book he wins her hand. Numerous
obstacles have to be overcome before he achieves this, however, and in
the course of the action the various sets of characters pursue each
other from one part of the country to another, giving Fielding an
opportunity to paint an incomparably vivid picture of England in the
mid-18th century. The introductory chapters at the beginning of each
Book make it clear how carefully Fielding had considered the problem of
planning the novel. No novelist up until then had so clear an idea of
what a novel should be, so that it is not surprising that Tom Jones is a
masterpiece of literary engineering. The characters fall into several
distinct groups—romance characters, villainous characters, Jonsonian “humours,”
“low” comic characters, and the virtuous Squire Allworthy, who remains
in the background and emerges to ensure the conventional happy ending.
The novel is further marked by deft alternations between humour and
romance, occasional tricks straight from the theatre, and above all the
speed and ease of the dialogue. The reading of this work is essential
both for an understanding of 18th-century England and for its revelation
of the generosity and charity of Fielding’s view of humanity.
Two years later Amelia was published. Being a much more sombre work,
it has always been less popular than Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews.
Fielding’s mind must have been darkened by his experiences as a
magistrate, as it certainly had been by his wife’s death, and Amelia is
no attempt at the comic epic poem in prose. Rather, it anticipates the
Victorian domestic novel, being a study of the relationship between a
man and his wife and, in the character of Amelia, a celebration of
womanly virtues. It is also Fielding’s most intransigent representation
of the evils of the society in which he lived, and he clearly finds the
spectacle no longer comic.
His health was deteriorating. By 1752 his gout was so bad that his
legs were swathed in bandages, and he often had to use crutches or a
wheelchair. In August of 1753 he decided to go to Bath for rest and the
waters. That year was a particularly bad one for crime in London,
however, and on the eve of his leaving he was invited by Thomas Pelham-Holles,
Duke of Newcastle (then secretary of war), to prepare a plan for the
Privy Council for the suppression of “those murders and robberies which
were every day committed in the streets.” His plan, undertaking “to
demolish the then reigning gangs” and to establish means of preventing
their recurrence, was accepted, and despite the state of his health—to
gout had been added asthma and dropsy—he stayed in London for the rest
of the year, waging war against criminal gangs with such success that
“there was, in the remaining month of November, and in all December, not
only no such thing as a murder, but not even a street-robbery
In the following June, Fielding set out for Portugal to seek the sun,
writing an account of his journey, The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon.
This work presents an extraordinarily vivid picture of the tortuous
slowness of 18th-century sea travel, the horrors of contemporary
medicine, the caprices of arbitrary power as seen in the conduct of
customs officers and other petty officials, and, above all, his
indomitable courage and cheerfulness when almost completely helpless,
for he could scarcely walk and had to be carried on and off ship.
Fielding landed at Lisbon on Aug. 7, 1754. He died in October and was
buried in the British cemetery at Lisbon.
Sir Walter Scott called Henry Fielding the “father of the English
novel,” and the phrase still indicates Fielding’s place in the history
of literature. Though not actually the first English novelist, he was
the first to approach the genre with a fully worked-out theory of the
novel; and in Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, and Amelia, which a modern
critic has called comic epic, epic comedy, and domestic epic,
respectively, he had established the tradition of a realism presented in
panoramic surveys of contemporary society that dominated English fiction
until the end of the 19th century.
Walter E. Allen
Joseph Andews actually begins as a "sequel" to Shamelo,
Fielding's short burlesque of Richardson's sensationally popular
Pamela. However, it quickly surpasses the original, displaying
Fielding's progress toward an original fictional voice and
technique, and revealing his moral preoccupation with the
question of "good nature"asthe basis for real virtue.
In a comic inversion of typical gender roles, Joseph (Pamela's
brother and a servant in the Booby household) virtuously resists
the lustful advances of Mrs. Booby, not because he lacks
masculine vigor (unthinkable for a Fielding hero), but because
he faithfully loves the beautiful Fanny Goodwill. When he is
dismissed by his irate mistress, Joseph embarks on a picaresque
series of adventures with Parson Abraham Adams, who overshadows
Joseph as the most vigorous presence in the novel. Adams' virtue
is matched by his naivete, continually entangling him and his
companions in difficulties that test his good nature. Nabokov,
among others, noted the cruelty of Joseph Andrews; Fielding
seems to relish placing his virtuous heroes and heroines in
compromising positions. The foolishness and eccentricity of both
the Parson and Joseph, however, are vindicated by their physical
and moral courage, their loyalty, and their benevolence—the
comic morality of Don Quixote is an obvious model. Fielding
manipulates the conventions of romance to bring about a happy
ending, with a wink to his readers to acknowledge its
Fielding's final novel, is quite unlike his exuberant earlier
fictions. With a sober, even documentary narrative technique,
Fielding focuses unblinkingly upon the squalor, misery, and
variety of the city of London, which he approaches with an
uncompromising moral tone. For its first readers, this
production of Fielding's combined the indecorous exposure of
London life with a soft, unfocused sentimentality, failing to
satisfy in any of its aspects.
It is precisely in these topics of condemnation, however, that
the strength of Amelia lies. Within a few pages of its
beginning, the novel's hero, Captain Booth, is thrown into the
depths of Newgate Prison. There he encounters a gallery of
grotesques whose unflinching physical descriptions are matched
by a precise moral commentary, elucidating the systematic
failures and hypocrisies responsible for their creation. Booth
is himself lured back to the gaming table despite his admiration
for the good. His wife, Amelia, provides us with a paradigm of
that restoring virtue, set brilliantly against the temptresses
of the world she inhabits.
In tracing her warmth and loyalty, Fielding does not fall prey
to credulous sentimentality. Rather, he produces an encomium for
the redeeming power of married life. Not only does Amelia's
patient loyalty bring her husband economic security and social
status, their achievement of domestic contentment displays the
moral sense that will be required to reform the country they
Tom Jones is a picaresque comic novel in which we follow the
wanderings and vicissitudes of the engaging hero as he, born
illegitimate, grows up, falls in love, is unjustly expelled from
his foster-father's home, and roams England. Warmhearted but
impetuous, Tom is repeatedly involved in fights,
misunderstandings, and bawdy adventures. However, he is
eventually narrowly saved from the gallows and happily united
with his true love, Sophia, while his enemies are variously
This is not only a long and complicated novel but also a great
one. Anticipating Dickens at his best (Dickens reportediy said,
"I have been Tom Jones"), Fielding describes, with gusto, glee,
mock-heroic wit, and sometimes satiric scorn, the rich variety
of life in eighteenth-century England, from the rural poor to
the affluent aristocrats. Like his friend Hogarth's paintings,
Fielding's descriptions imply the sharp observation of a
moralist who is well aware of the conflict between Christian
standards, which should officially govern social conduct, and
the power of selfishness, folly, and vice in the world. In the
society he depicts, Good Samaritans are few and far between, and
snares await the innocent at every turn. Nevertheless, like an
ironic yet benevolent Providence, Fielding guides the deserving
lovers through the world's corruption to their happiness.
Maintaining the spirit of Chaucer, Fielding relished farcical
entanglements and sexual comedy: his hero is no virgin. Fielding
was a brilliant experimentalist (influencing Sterne), and Tom
Jones is delightfully postmodernistic: the narrator repeatedly
teasingjy interrupts the action to discuss with the reader the
work's progress—critics are urged to "mind their own business."
Type of work: Novel
Author: Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
Type of plot: Comic epic
Time of plot: Early eighteenth century
First published: 1749
Tom Jones, a major contribution to the history of the English
novel, has been admired by many readers as the most meticulously crafted
book of its type. With neoclassic objectivity, humor, and fine
psychological delicacy, Fielding dissects the motives of his characters
to reveal universal truths about human nature.
Tom Jones, a foundling. Although befriended by his foster father, Squire
Allworthy, Tom encounters many vicissitudes, some of them of his own
making, for he is a somewhat wild and foolish, though good-hearted young
man. His wild ways, exaggerated by enemies, including Master Blifil,
cause Tom to be cast off by Squire All-worthy. After Tom's goodness and
virtue eventually triumph over disastrous circumstances, the young man
is reconciled with the squire and, even more important, with Sophia
Western, the beautiful and virtuous woman he loves. He is acknowledged
as the squire's nephew when the secret of his real parentage becomes
Squire Allworthy, an extremely just and virtuous country gentleman who
becomes Tom's foster father after the infant is discovered in the
squire's bed. Tom's enemies play upon the squire's gullibility, for
Allworthy, like many another honest man, finds it difficult to believe
that there is dishonesty in other people. Eventually he sees Tom's
essential goodness, receives his as his nephew, and makes the young man
Sophia Western, the virtuous daughter of a domineering country squire.
She loves Tom Jones, even to facing down her father and aunt when they
try to marry her off to Master Blifil and Lord Fellamar. Though she
loves Tom, she is disappointed by his escapades, particularly those of
an amorous nature, and until she is convinced he can be a faithful
husband she refuses to accept his suit.
Squire Western, Sophia's domineering, profane father, who loves his
hounds, his horses, and his bottle almost as much as his only child.
When he insists upon forcing her to marry Master Blifil, the husband of
his choice, Sophia is forced into running away from home, placing
herself and her virtue in the path of adventure and danger. The squire,
though uncouth, is a good man at heart. Both he and Squire Allworthy are
exceptionally well-drawn characters.
Master Blifil, the villainous son of the squire's sister Bridget. A
great hypocrite, he hides his villainy under a cloak of seeming honesty
and virtue. He plays false witness against Tom Jones many times. He
becomes Sophia Western's suitor only because he wants her money and
hates Tom, the man she loves. His villainy is done, too, in the face of
his knowing that Tom is really an older half brother, not a foundling.
Bridget Blifil, Squire Allworthy's seemingly virtuous spinster sister.
She bears Tom out of wedlock and lets his become a foundling. Later she
marries and has another son, Master Blifil. On her deathbed she sends to
her brother a letter telling the story of Tom's parentage. The letter is
stolen and concealed by her legitimate son.
Captain Blifil, Bridget's husband, who marries her for her money. He
dies of apoplexy, however, before he can enjoy any of his wife's money.
Mr. Partridge, a schoolteacher and barber-surgeon. Long Tom's loyal, if
loquacious, companion, he is for many years suspected of being Tom's
Jenny Jones, later Mrs. Waters, a maid in Mr. Partridge's house, she is
accused of being Tom's mother, and her surname is given to him. As Mrs.
Waters she has a brief love affair with Tom, much to the horror of some
of his acquaintances, who believed the supposed mother and son have
committed incest. Through her testimony the identity of Tom's real
mother becomes known.
Mr. Dowling, a not-so-honest lawyer. Through his testimony Tom's
identity is proved, as he corroborates Jenny Jones's statements. He
keeps the secret for years, thinking that he is following Mr.
Black George Seagrim, so-called because of his extremely black beard, a
rustic and poacher. Though befriended by Tom, he steals from the young
man and plays him ill turns.
Molly Seagrim, a young woman of easy virtue, Black George's daughter.
Tom's escapades with her cause him grave trouble until her affairs with
other men take some of the blame from him.
The Rev. Roger Thwackum, an Anglican clergyman retained by Mr. Allworthy
to tutor Tom Jones and Master Blifil during their boyhood. A
self-righteous, bigoted man, he voices his prejudices at all times. He
beats Tom often and severely, living up to his name.
Mr. Thomas Square, a deistically inclined philosopher who is a pensioner
in Mr. All worthy's household and Mr. Thwackum's opponent in endless
debates over the efficacy of reason and religious insight. Though he
dislikes Tom Jones, he makes a deathbed confession that clears Tom of
some of his supposed misdeeds.
Lady Bellaston, a sensual noblewoman of loose morals who takes a fancy
to Tom Jones and, when she is spurned, tries to do him a great deal of
Mrs. Western, Lady Bellaston's cousin and Sophia's aunt. To satisfy her
own social pretensions she tries to marry off Sophia to Lord Fellamar
against the girl's will.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Sophia's cousin. They travel to London together.
Mr. Fitzpatrick, her jealous husband. Tom is jailed for wounding him in
Lord Fellamar, a licentious nobleman who makes love to Sophia and, with
Mrs. Western's approval, even attempts to ravish the girl in order to
force her to marry him. Misled by Lady Bellaston's advice, he tries to
have Tom Jones impressed into the naval service.
Mrs. Arabella Hunt, a pretty and wealthy widow who offers formally by
letter to marry Tom Jones. His refusal of this handsome offer helps
reestablish Tom with Sophia.
Honour Blackmore, Sophia's loyal, if somewhat selfish, maid, who shares
in most of her mistress' adventures.
Mrs. Miller, Tom's landlady in London. Convinced of his virtue by his
many good deeds she pleads on his behalf with Squire Allworthy and is
instrumental in helping restore Tom to his foster father's good graces.
Nancy and Betty Miller, the landlady's daughters.
Mr. Nightingale, Tom's fellow lodger at the Miller house. Tom persuades
the elder Nightingale to permit the son to marry Nancy.
Mr. Summer, a handsome young cleric befriended as a student by Mr.
Allworthy. It was he who seduced Bridget Allworthy and fathered Tom
Squire Allworthy lived in retirement in the country with his sister
Bridget. Returning from a visit to London, he was surprised upon
entering his room to find an infant lying on his bed. His discovery
caused astonishment and consternation in the household, for the squire
himself was a childless widower. The next day, Miss Bridget and the
squire inquired in the community to discover the baby's mother. Their
suspicions were shortly fixed upon Jenny Jones, who had spent many hours
in the squire's home while nursing Miss Bridget through a long illness.
The worthy squire sent for the girl and in his gentle manner reprimanded
her for her wicked behavior, assuring her, however, that the baby would
remain in his home under the best of care. Fearing malicious gossip in
the neighborhood, Squire Allworthy sent Jenny away.
Jenny Jones had been a servant in the house of a schoolmaster, Mr.
Partridge, who had educated the young woman during her four years in his
house. Because of Jenny's comely face, Mrs. Partridge was jealous of
her. Neighborhood gossip soon convinced Mrs. Partridge that her husband
was the father of Jenny's son, whereupon Squire Allworthy called the
schoolmaster before him and talked to him at great length concerning
morality. Mr. Partridge, deprived of his school, his income, and his
wife, also left the country.
Shortly afterward, Captain Blifil won the heart of Bridget Allworthy.
Eight months after their marriage, Bridget bore a son. The squire
thought it would be advisable to rear the foundling and his sister's
child together. The foundling had been named Jones, after his mother.
Squire Allworthy became exceedingly fond of the foundling. Captain
Blifil died during his son's infancy, and Master Blifil grew up as
Squire Allworthy's acknowledged heir. Otherwise, he remained on even
terms with the foundling so far as opportunities for advancement were
concerned. Tom, however, was such a mischievous lad that he had only one
friend among the servants, the gamekeeper, Black George, an indolent man
with a large family. Mr. Thwackum and Mr. Square, who considered Tom a
wicked soul, were hired to instruct the lads. Tom's many deceptions were
always discovered through the combined efforts of Mr. Thwackum, Mr.
Square, and Master Blifil, who disliked Tom more and more as he grew
older. It had been assumed by all that Mrs. Blifil would dislike Tom,
but at times she seemed to show greater affection for him than for her
own son. In turn, the compassionate squire took Master Blifil to his
heart and became censorious of Tom.
Mr. Western, who lived on a neighboring estate, had a daughter whom he
loved more than anyone else in the world. Sophia had a special fondness
for Tom because of a kind deed he had performed for her when they were
still children. At the age of twenty, Master Blifil had become a
favorite with the young ladies, while Tom was considered a ruffian by
all but Mr. Western, who admired his ability to hunt. Tom spent many
evenings at the Western home, with every opportunity to see Sophia, for
whom his affections were increasing daily. One afternoon, Tom had the
good fortune to be nearby when Sophia's horse ran away. When Tom
attempted to rescue her, he broke his arm. He was removed to Mr.
Western's house, where he received medical care and remained to recover
from his hurt. One day, he and Sophia had occasion to be alone in the
garden, where they exchanged confessions of love.
Squire Allworthy became mortally ill. The doctor assumed that he was
dying and sent for the squire's relatives. With his servants and family
gathered around him, the squire announced the disposal of his wealth,
giving generously to Tom. Tom was the only one satisfied with his
portion; his only concern was the impending death of his foster father
and benefactor. On the way home from London to see the squire, Mrs.
Blifil died suddenly. When the squire was pronounced out of danger,
Tom's joy was so great that he became drunk through toasting the
squire's health, and he quarreled with young Blifil.
Sophia's aunt, Mrs. Western, perceived her niece's interest in Blifil;
wishing to conceal her affection for Tom, Sophia had given Blifil the
greater part of her attention when she was with the two young men.
Informed by his sister of Sophia's conduct, Mr. Western suggested to
squire Allworthy that a match be arranged between Blifil and Sophia.
When Mrs. Western told the young girl of the proposed match, Sophia
thought that she meant Tom, and she immediately disclosed her passion
for the foundling. Nevertheless, it was unthinkable that Mr. Western,
much as he liked Tom, would ever allow his daughter to marry a man
without a family and a fortune, and Mrs. Western forced Sophia to
receive Blifil under the threat of exposing the girl's real affection
for Tom. Sophia met Tom secretly in the garden, and the two lovers vowed
constancy. Mr. Western discovered them and went immediately to Squire
Allworthy with his knowledge.
Aware of his advantage, Blifil told the squire that on the day he lay
near death, Tom was out drinking and singing. The squire felt that he
had forgiven Tom's wrongs, but Tom's seeming unconcern for the squire's
health infuriated the good man. He sent for Tom, reproached him, and
banished him from his house.
With the help of Black George, the gamekeeper, and Mrs. Honour, Sophia's
maid, Tom and Sophia were able to exchange love letters. When Sophia was
confined to her room because she refused to marry Blifil, she bribed her
maid to flee with her from her father's house. Tom, setting out to seek
his fortune, went to an inn with a small company of soldiers. A fight
followed in which he was severely injured, and a barber was summoned to
treat his wound. When Tom had told the barber his story, the man
surprisingly revealed himself to be Partridge, the schoolmaster,
banished years before because he was suspected of being Tom's father.
When Tom was well enough to travel, the two men set out together on
Before they had gone far, they heard screams of a woman in distress and
came upon a woman struggling with a soldier who had deceived her and led
her to that lonely spot. Promising to take her to a place of safety, Tom
accompanied the unfortunate woman to the nearby village of Upton, where
the landlady of the inn refused to receive them because of the woman's
torn and disheveled clothing. When she heard the true story of the
woman's misfortune and had been assured that the woman was the lady of
Captain Waters, a well-known officer, she nevertheless relented. Mrs.
Waters invited Tom to dine with her so that she could thank him properly
for her rescue.
Meanwhile, a lady and her maid arrived at the inn and proceeded to their
rooms. They were followed, several hours later, by an angry gentleman in
pursuit of his wife. Learning from the chambermaid that there was a
woman resembling his wife in the inn, he burst into Mrs. Waters'
chambers, only to confront Tom Jones. At his intrusion, Mrs. Waters
began to scream. Abashed, the gentleman identified himself as Mr.
Fitzpatrick and retreated with apologies. Shortly after this disturbance
had subsided, Sophia and Mrs. Honour arrived at the inn. When Partridge
unknowingly revealed Tom's relationship with Mrs. Waters and the
embarrassing situation that Mr. Fitzpatrick had disclosed, Sophia,
grieved by Tom's fickleness, decided to continue on her way. Before
leaving the inn, however, she had Mrs. Honour place on Tom's empty bed a
muff that she knew he would recognize as hers.
Soon after setting out, Sophia overtook Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who had
arrived at the inn early the previous evening and who had fled during
the disturbance caused by her husband. Mrs. Fitzpatrick was Sophia's
cousin, and they decided to go on to London together. In London, Sophia
proceeded to the home of Lady Bellaston, who was known to her through
Mrs. Western. Lady Bellaston sympathetized with Sophia.
Unable to overtake Sophia, Tom and Partridge followed her to London,
where Tom took lodgings in the home of Mrs. Miller, a home Squire
Allworthy patronized on his visits to the city. The landlady had two
daughters, Nancy and Betty, and a lodger, Mr. Nightingale, who was
obviously in love with Nancy. Tom found congenial residence with Mrs.
Miller, and he became friends with Mr. Nightingale. Partridge, who still
harbored a hope of future advancement, was still with Tom. Repeated
visits to Lady Bellaston and Mrs. Fitzpatrick finally gave Tom the
opportunity to meet Sophia during an intermission at a play. There Tom
was able to allay Sophia's doubts as to his love for her. During his
stay with the MDlers, Tom learned that Mr. Nightingale's father objected
to his marrying Nancy. Through the kindness of his heart, Tom persuaded
the elder Nightingale to permit the marriage, to Mrs. Miller's great
Mr. Western had learned of Sophia's whereabouts from Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
He came to London and took Sophia from Lady Bellaston's house to his own
lodgings. When Mrs. Honour brought the news to Tom, he was in despair.
Penniless, he could not hope to marry Sophia, and now his beloved was in
the hands of her father once more. Then Partridge brought news that
Squire Allworthy was coming to London and was bringing with him Master
Blifil to marry Sophia. In his distress, Tom went to see Mrs.
Fitzpatrick but encountered her jealous husband on her doorstep. In the
duel that followed, Tom wounded Fitzpatrick and was carried off to jail.
There he was visited by Partridge, the friends he had made in London,
and Mrs. Waters, who had been traveling with Mr. Fitzpatrick since their
meeting in Upton. When Partride and Mrs. Waters met in Tom's cell,
Partridge recognized her as Jenny Jones, Tom's reputed mother.
Horrified, he revealed his knowledge to everyone, including Squire
Allworthy, who by that time had arrived in London with Blifil.
At Mrs. Miller's lodgings, so many people had praised Tom's goodness and
kindness that Squire Allworthy had almost made up his mind to forgive
the foundling when news of Tom's conduct with Mrs. Waters reached his
ears. Fortunately, however, the cloud was soon dispelled by Mrs. Waters
herself, who assured the squire that Tom was no son of hers but the
child of his sister Bridget and a student whom the squire had
befriended. Tom's true father had died before his son's birth, and
Bridget had concealed her shame by putting the baby on her brother's bed
upon his return from a long visit to London. Later, she had paid Jenny
liberally to let suspicion fall upon her former maid.
Squire Allworthy also learned that Bridget had claimed Tom as her son in
a letter written before her death, a letter Blifil probably had
destroyed. There was futher proof that Blifil had plotted to have Tom
hanged for murder. Fitzpatrick, however, had not died, and he recovered
sufficiently to acknowledge himself the aggressor in the duel; Tom was
released from prison.
Upon these disclosures of Blifil's villainy, Squire Allworthy dismissed
Blifil and made Tom his true heir. Once Tom's proper station had been
revealed, Mr. Western withdrew all objections to his suit. Reunited, Tom
and Sophia were married and retired to Mr. Western's estate in the
Henry Fielding was a poet and a playwright, a journalist and a jurist,
as well as a pioneer in the formal development of the modern novel. His
early poetry may be disregarded, but his dramatic works gave Fielding
the training that later enabled him to handle adeptly the complex plots
of his novels. Although he wrote perhaps half a dozen novels (some
attributions are disputed), Fielding is best remembered for The History
of Tom Jones, a Foundling, as it was originally titled. This novel
contains a strong infusion of autobiographical elements. The character
Sophia, for example, was based on Fielding's wife Charlotte, who was his
one great love. They eloped in 1734 and had ten years together before
she died in 1744. Squire Allworthy combined traits of a former
schoolmate from Eton named George Lyttleton (to whom the novel is
dedicated), and a generous benefactor of the Fielding family named James
Ralph. Moreover, Fielding's origins in a career army family and his
rejection of that background shaped his portrayal of various incidental
military personnel in this and his other novels; he had an anti-army
bias. Fielding's own feelings of revulsion against urban living are
reflected in the conclusion of Tom Jones (and in his other novels): the
"happy ending" consists of a retreat to the country. Published a scant
five years before Fielding's death, Tom Jones was a runaway best-seller,
going through four editions within a twelve-month period.
The structure of the novel is carefully divided into eighteen books in a
fashion similar to the epic form that Fielding explicitly praised. Of
those eighteen books, the first six are set on the Somersetshire estate
of Squire Allworthy. Books 7 through 12 deal with events on the road to
London, and the culmination of the six books is laid in London. The very
midpoint of the novel, books 9 and 10, covers the hilarious hiatus at
the inn in Upton.
Apparent diversions and digressions are actually intentional exercises
in character exposition, and all episodes are deliberately choreographed
to advance the plot— sometimes in ways not evident until later.
Everything contributes to the overall organic development of the novel.
This kind of coherence was intimately connected with Fielding's
preoccupation with the craft of fiction. It is no accident that Tom
Jones is one of the most carefully and meticulously written novels in
the history of English literature. It is, in fact, remarkably free of
inconsistencies and casual errors. Fielding saw his task as a novelist
to be a "historian" of human nature and human events, and he felt
obligated to emphasize the moral aspect of his work. More important,
Fielding introduced each of his eighteen books with a chapter about the
craft of prose fiction. Indeed, the entire novel is dotted with
intercalary chapters on the craft of the novel and on literary
criticism. The remainder of the novel applies the principles enunciated
in the chapters on proper construction of prose fiction—an amazing tour
de force. The detailed analyses in themselves constitute a substantial
work of literary criticism; however, Fielding amplified these theories
with his own demonstration of their application by writing a novel, Tom
Jones, according to his own principles. So compelling a union of theory
and practice rendered Fielding's hypotheses virtually unassailable.
As Fielding made practical application of his theories of craftsmanship,
their validity became readily apparent in his handling of
characterization. He viewed human nature ambivalently, as a combination
of good and bad. Whereas the bad person had almost no hope of
redemption, the fundamentally good person could be somewhat tinged with
bad but nonetheless worthy for all that, according to Fielding.
Therefore, the good person could occasionally be unwise (as Allworthy
was) or indiscreet (as Jones often was) but still be an estimable human
being, for such a person was more credible as a "good" person, Fielding
thought, than the one who was without defect. Consequently, the villain
Blifil is hopelessly wicked, but the hero Tom Jones is essentially good,
although morally flawed. To succeed, Jones had to improve morally—to
cultivate prudence and religion, as Squire Allworthy recommended. Some
minor characters are not so fully psychologized—they are essentially
allegorical, representing ideas (Thwackum and Square, for example)—yet
overall, Fielding's command of characterization is impressive. At the
same time, he does not allow character sketches to dominate the novel,
for all of them are designed to contribute to the development of the
story. Such a system of priorities provides insight into Fielding's
aesthetic and epistemological predispositions.
Fielding subscribed to a fundamentally neoclassical set of values,
ethically and aesthetically. He saw the novel as a mirror of life, not
an illumination of life. He valued literary craftsmanship; he assumed a
position of detached objectivity; he esteemed wit; and he followed the
neoclassical unity of action: his plot brought Tom Jones full circle
from a favored position to disgrace back to the good graces of Squire
Allworthy and Sophia. In the course of the book, Fielding achieves
aesthetic distance by commenting critically on the form of the novel.
The easygoing development of the plot also reveals Fielding's detachment
and objectivity, and the great variety in the types of characters which
he presents is another indication of his neoclassical inclinations
toward universality. Above all, however, it is Fielding's moral stance
that unequivocally marks him as a neoclassicist.