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Henry Fielding


Henry Fielding

English author

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).

Early life.
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 him.

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 anti-Jacobite.

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 nurse.”

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 appeared regularly:

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.

Last years.
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 committed.”

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 Andrews

Henry Fielding

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 artificiality.



Henry Fielding

Amelia, 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 inhabit.


Tom Jones

Henry Fielding

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 humiliated.
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
Locale: England
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.


Principal Characters

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 known.
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 his heir.
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 father.
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. Allworthy's wishes.
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 evil.
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 a duel.
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 Jones.


The Story

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 foot.
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 delight.
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 country.


Critical Evaluation

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.



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