Fielding's Portrayal of Teachers

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Among the significant characters in Tom Jones, three are teachers. In a story of multi-layered and intertwined ironies, these characters, individually and collectively, are especially rich. While Fielding makes clear that all of his characters point beyond themselves, he draws the teachers in such a way that they point obviously—and unflatteringly— to certain groups. This is especially true of the tutors Thwackum and Square.

Teachers, of course, are supposed to be wiser than most, since they are entrusted to instruct others. Fielding’s teachers, however, are not wise, nor are they ethical. Therein lies one of the book’s many ironies.

Mr. Partridge, the wrongly accused schoolmaster, is the first of the three to appear. He is no worse a person than the average man or woman, but he is no better and no smarter. In fact, his lack of mental sharpness is his downfall. Fielding tells readers that Jenny Jones, the servant whom Partridge instructs in Latin, soon has more facility with the language than he does. This is certainly a clue to his limited intellect. On the other hand, the fact that he teaches her is to his credit; not only is she a mere servant, but she is a woman. She is not even an attractive woman, which would have given Partridge a selfish motive to spend time with her. He seems to have taught her purely out of recognition of her abilities.

If teaching Jenny was kind, though, it was not wise. Partridge’s mean, suspicious wife objects to it. When the schoolmaster is foolish enough to exchange words with Jenny in Latin while she is serving dinner, Mrs. Partridge jumps to conclusions about what has passed between them and soon uses these conclusions as an excuse to destroy her husband.

Partridge also does not excel in morality. When he takes up with Tom en route to London, he does so because he hopes for an opportunity to clear his name and re-establish his reputation. Therefore, while he, unlike many others, has no desire to harm Tom, if Tom is harmed in Partridge’s effort to redeem himself, Partridge will not mind and may not even notice. When Squire Allworthy approaches Partridge near the end of the book to find out what all transpired as Tom and Partridge traveled together to London, Partridge, if he thought for a moment, would realize that what he says may be critical in determining Tom’s fate. Partridge thinks only of himself, however; he takes the occasion to tell Allworthy not only that he is not Tom’s father but also that Tom has just committed incest with his mother. This added information (which turns out to be wrong) does not help Partridge’s cause, but it certainly hurts Tom’s until it is corrected. That Partridge speaks out of foolishness rather than hatred does not change the impact of his words.

The schoolmaster, then, is often either foolish or incorrect and is master of nothing—not even of himself. The best that can be said about him is that he is the least reprehensible of the three educators.

Thwackum and Square, the two men who tutor Tom and Master Blifil, seem to have more knowledge than does Partridge—although not enough to get what they want—but they definitely have even less moral fiber. Like Partridge, they are self-serving; unlike him, they are purposely destructive and just plain mean.

The tutors are in many ways twin characters; they share many attributes and goals. Both are pretentious and self-righteous, always eager to punish Tom (on a trumped-up charge, if necessary) while indulging themselves in hypocrisy and lies. Both eagerly absorb...

(This entire section contains 1250 words.)

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Master Blifil’s flattery; his kind of artificial virtue is exactly their cup of tea. Both covet Allworthy’s fortune, and both scheme to marry his sister, Bridget, to get their hands on it. To that end, they are doubly happy to conspire with her son, Master Blifil, against Tom at every turn. This is where their understanding, if not their villainy, falls short, however. In the first place, Bridget sees through them and has no intention of marrying either of them. In the second place, they have miscalculated in thinking that fawning over her son will endear her to them. They have failed to notice that Bridget despises her son, just as she despised his father.

Fielding writes of Thwackum that it is his practice to “regard all virtue as a matter of theory only.” This is a good summation and applies equally to Square. The only difference between the two men is that they fail to practice opposite theories of virtue. Fielding uses this difference to ridicule both of the two leading philosophies of his time.

Thwackum is the traditionalist of the two, an Anglican reverend who starts from the premise that all humans are evil at the core and need to have their badness quite literally beaten out of them. Square takes the newer view, popularized by the Enlightenment, that people are inherently good and that when they do evil, they have merely strayed off their normal course and need to be helped back onto the straight and narrow. While he does not share Thwackum’s enthusiasm for corporal punishment, he is not opposed to placing blame and accusation wherever he thinks it will further his own interests, justice be damned.

These two men spend much more time and energy arguing philosophy with each other than they do attending to their students. Both are pompous, verbose, and ridiculous, and both are deeply immoral. Through them, Fielding skewers Christian and deist alike. The message personified in Thwackum and Square is clear: actions, not words, constitute true morality.

If Fielding thinks that one camp is less depraved or less silly than the other, he does not give himself away. He brings both Thwackum and Square back onto the stage at the end of the book, allowing them to demonstrate that, unlike Tom, they have not been improved by time and experience. Each man sends a letter to Allworthy. Square is on his deathbed and, to his credit, does repent of the wrongs he did to Tom. However, he also proves to be a coward, confiding to Allworthy that, in fear of death and subsequent “utter darkness forever,” he has abandoned his former philosophy and has become “in earnest a Christian.” In short, everything in Square’s letter adds up to one final attempt to ensure his own eternal comfort. He is incapable of loyalty, even to the beliefs for which he argued all his life.

Thwackum, in his letter, regrets only that he did not whip Tom enough to whip the devil out of him, calls Square an atheist, chastises Allworthy for being too easy on Tom, and, finally, says that if the local vicar should die (“as we hear he is in a declining way”), he hopes that Allworthy will appoint him as successor. Thwackum is self-righteous and self-serving to the end.

Partridge, too, receives his final dispensation from the author’s hand; the reader learns that Sophia is working to arrange a marriage between Partridge and the slatternly Molly Seagram. The match is a fair one, as neither is dastardly, but both are fools.

And so, while the young student Tom has gained wisdom and corrected his course, those who should have been to him a font of wisdom continue in their folly.

Source: Candyce Norvell, Critical Essay on Tom Jones, in Novels for Students, Gale, 2003.

Historical Space in the History of: Between Public and Private in Tom Jones

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History remembers places as well as times, and the space of history is profoundly social rather than purely phenomenal or material. It is not produced wholly by individual psychology and yet cannot be reduced to abstract or natural space. Literary realism tends to be measured by one or the other of these extremes, as psychological realism or realism of naturalistic detail. Thus placing Fielding in the realist pantheon requires considerable exertion, if not outright violence. His scenes are starkly devoid of naturalistic detail, and he is far less concerned with accumulating the minutiae of psychological response than is his rival Richardson. But Fielding makes no claim to be a realist: his aim is to describe “not Men, but Manners.” And yet it is precisely by describing manners—by turning to the realm of the social rather than the psychological or the natural—that Fielding is able to represent historical space. In what follows, I will look at Fielding’s construction of scenes, and at the theory of history that informs his representation of manners. Ultimately, Fielding’s conception of scene—and of space—is a function of his theory of history: he rejects both the great man theory of history that relies on individual psychology, and the naturalistic detail of “mere topographers.” For Fielding, history is best explained by the social structures and strategies that constitute manners.

I. At what is very nearly the precise textual center of The History of Tom Jones (Book 9, chap. 2), Jones and the Man of the Hill view the prospect from “Mazard-Hill,” a fictitious peak of the Malverns. Rather than admiring “one of the most noble prospects in the World”—which Fielding coyly declines to describe—Jones is instead “endeavouring to trace out [his] own Journey hither.” By omitting a description, Fielding foregrounds the responses of Jones and the Man of the Hill to the prospect. The Man of the Hill, who has seen the “wondrous Variety of Prospects” in Europe and its “Beasts, Birds, Fishes, Insects, and Vegetables,” but almost nothing of its cultures and people, is interested only in the prospect itself, and indeed will shortly show his indifference to the screams of Mrs. Waters. Jones, on the other hand, invests the prospect with personal meaning by reading his own history in the landscape and measuring his distance from Sophia. By responding instantly to Mrs. Waters’s screams, he gives priority to social space over natural or psychological space, whereas the Man of the Hill, though armed with a gun, observes the struggle with the dispassionate interest of a natural historian. What becomes clear is that while the two share a physical location, and, to a considerable extent, occupy similar social positions, they inhabit wholly different kinds of space.

The prospect from Mazard-Hill merges three kinds of history: the novel itself as a history; Jones’s personal history; and, through the Man of the Hill’s recital of his part in Monmouth’s rebellion, the history of the Stuarts leading to the 1745 rebellion. It is a particularly revealing example of Fielding’s representation of space. Despite the “noble prospect,” the scene follows his typical construction—it is short on description, contains only significant characters, and is shaped primarily by the attitudes and actions of those characters. Such a scenic economy is by no means unique to Fielding—the very solid walls of Clarissa’s rooms are not shaped by the density of Richardson’s descriptions, but by Clarissa’s fears, by the oppression of Lovelace and her parents, and by the very limited possibilities for free action possessed by a minor female. What is unique to Fielding is his play with the possibilities of representing space through his own self-conscious theatricality. For example, he opens the prospect scene with a parody of heroic landscape description:

Aurora now first opened her Casement, anglicè, the Day began to break, when Jones walked forth in Company with the Stranger, and mounted Mazard-Hill; of which they had no sooner gained the Summit, than one of the most noble Prospects in the World presented itself to their View, and which we would likewise present to the Reader; but for two Reasons. First, We despair of making those who have seen this Prospect, admire our Description. Secondly, We very much doubt whether those, who have not seen it, would understand it.

While not as dramatic a reminder of the difference between representation and reality as his mock concern about “how to get thee down without breaking thy neck” after raising the reader to the height of the prospect from Allworthy’s estate, Fielding’s translation and apology serve a similar purpose: revealing the literary prospect as a convention.

At the same time, he suggests that the prospect itself—not just its literary representation—is a construction, and not simply an individual construction shaped wholly by Tom Jones or the Man of the Hill. It is, in Henri Lefebvre’s terms, a representational space, a space with both symbolic and real dimensions that exist for more than the individual consciousness. At first, it appears curious that Fielding chooses a fictitious hill to make a point about imposing conventions on the landscape, especially as it seems, according to Martin Battestin’s footnote, to be based on a real peak, the Worcestershire Beacon. Since Fielding does not hesitate to introduce other very real places like the Bell Inn into his narrative, it might be assumed that he has a purpose for disguising this one. While he may simply want to avoid too specific a location for the Man of the Hill’s residence, it seems more likely that he wants to preclude the possibility that readers who have seen the prospect from the Worcestershire Beacon will too quickly write their own prospect, and thus miss his point.

Fielding was well aware that landscapes are mentally constructed, though he does not regard them as purely subjective. The few landscapes he describes appear to be collectively constructed, as a matter of previous convention, rather than created by an individual consciousness. The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon provides a useful gloss on the prospects of Tom Jones. Fielding writes:

Here we past that cliff of Dover, which makes so tremendous a figure in Shakespear, [sic] and which, whoever reads without being giddy, must according to Mr. Addison’s observation, have either a very good head, or a very bad one; but, which, whoever contracts any such ideas from the sight of, must have, at least, a poetic, if not a Shakespearian genius. In truth, mountains, rivers, heroes and gods owe great part of their existence to the poets; and Greece and Italy do so plentifully abound in the former, because they furnished so glorious a number of the latter; who, while they bestowed immortality on every little hillock and blind stream left the noblest rivers and mountains in the world to share the same obscurity with the eastern and western poets, in which they are celebrated.

Poets half create not only what they see, but what their culture sees. Fielding is not simply concerned with the perception of the poet in Wordsworthian solitude, but with the shaping influence of poetry. By classing “heroes and gods” with mountains and rivers, Fielding makes landscape description into a kind of myth-making, though his comparison of “little hillock and blind stream” with “the noblest rivers and mountains in the world” suggests that landscape features possess qualities like nobility prior to being poeticized. And yet those noble rivers remain blind streams precisely because they are celebrated by poets obscured from sight. The perception of nobility, then, derives from the poets.

But Fielding was nonetheless able to gesture toward the ineffable real in his own description of natural scenes. Later in the Voyage he describes a sunset:

We were entertained with a scene which as no one can behold without going to sea, so no one can form an idea of any thing equal to it on shore. We were seated on the deck, women and all, in the serenest evening that can be imagined. Not a single cloud presented itself to our view, and the sun himself was the only object which engrossed our whole attention. He did indeed set with a majesty which is incapable of description, with which while the horizon was yet blazing with glory, our eyes were called off to the opposite part to survey the moon . . . Compared to these the pageantry of theatres, or splendor of courts, are sights almost below the regard of children.

Fielding invokes the sublime by suggesting the scene is unrepresentable. And yet it is closer to what Marshall Brown has called the “urbane sublime” than the Burkean sublime. He carefully situates the conditions of observation: he is not a solitary poet, but among a group, “women and all”—when the women had been seasick, Fielding found his hours of solitude “the most disagreeable” that had ever “haunted” him. The weather is so pleasant “that even my old distemper perceived the alteration of the climate,” and after weeks of waiting for a wind they have “flown” at ten knots an hour, and see a prospect of reaching Lisbon soon. Had a favorable wind not preceded, had the company been worse, had Fielding been less comfortable, the sunset would surely have been less majestic. In the passage on the cliffs of Dover, Fielding comments explicitly on the construction of landscape; in the second passage, he merely notes the coincidence of mood, circumstance, and natural setting without having to resolve whether the sunset is real. In both cases, however, the social predominates. The cliffs of Dover are not so much created by Shakespeare as by the cultural impact of Shakespeare. And Fielding is only able to experience the sunset fully among reunited company.

In Tom Jones, Fielding suggests that different perceptions of landscape correspond to particular groups within society, defined not so much by social rank as by sensibility. He contrasts “Taste and Imagination,” which can see beauty even in “objects of far inferior note,” with business travelers who simply measure abstract space:

Not so travels the Money-meditating Tradesman, the sagacious Justice, the dignified Doctor, the warmclad Grazier, with all the numerous Offspring of Wealth and Dulness. On they jogg, with equal Pace, through the verdant Meadows, or over the barren Health, their Horses measuring four Miles and a half per Hour with the utmost Exactness; the Eyes of the Beast and of his Master being alike directed forwards, and employed in contemplating the same Objects in the same manner.

“Taste and Imagination” can be taken to personify an imaginary community of sensibility typified by Lord Lyttleton (one of the models for Squire Allworthy), a community of which the family-proud but inheritance-poor Fielding could feel himself a member, but from which he could exclude a fellow “sagacious Justice.”

Socioeconomic class alone, then, does not determine how Fielding’s characters respond to the landscape; it is determined as well by a hierarchy of taste and judgment. Both Jones and the Man of the Hill are dispossessed country sons, exiled in the sense of being removed from their proper places, their family land. To be sure, there are important differences—the Man of the Hill is merely a younger son while Jones is a bastard; the Man of the Hill is a hermit by choice whereas Jones is only by necessity a wanderer. Yet we are clearly to see parallels: the Man of the Hill is what Jones could become; he represents, in J. Paul Hunter’s words, “roads not taken, analogues in a different tone.” Both are in a situation where, as Pierre Bourdieu observes of the bastard and the younger son, “minimum objective distance in social space can coincide with maximum subjective distance.” Indeed, what both read in the landscape is precisely their own distance: while the Man in some sense owns the prospect from his hill, he has no living connection to it, and while Jones may trace his journey in the landscape, he reads only his distance from Sophia and Paradise Hall. But the Man of the Hill has generalized his own distance from humanity by severing humanity from the natural world. His habitual strategy is not avoidance but detachment; as a frequent traveller he has not so much been a hermit as a solitary. Echoing Defoe’s Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe, the Man of the Hill claims that he “could hardly have enjoyed a more absolute Solitude in the Deserts of the Thebais, than here in the midst of this populous Kingdom.” Jones, on the other hand, sees his separation as merely a local rupture; he is as averse to solitude as Fielding himself.

The difference between Tom Jones’s and the Man of the Hill’s constructions of the world is not simply a matter of temperament or life choices. The Man of the Hill is, after all, a kind of time traveller: he says that his own “History is little better than a Blank” since the time of the Glorious Revolution, and knows nothing of subsequent public history, including both Jacobite rebellions. He is a product of another time, believing in the possibility of a fully rational world with a certainty that was becoming more tenuous in Fielding’s time. He invokes the Great Chain of Being as evidence of rational order in the universe, but like the post-Houyhnhnm Gulliver, regards humanity as the one irrational link— for him “Human Nature is everywhere the same, everywhere the Object of Detestation and scorn.” Both his rationalism and his misanthropy stem from the same period, the age of Locke and the Royal Society, when a more rational form of government and a scientifically ordered world seemed possible, but stymied by human failings. His misanthropy, he tells Jones, arises from the contrast between his hopes for humanity and his observations of human beings. Indeed, he claims his solitude is a result of “great philanthropy”:

For however it may seem a Paradox, or even a Contradiction, certain it is that great Philanthropy chiefly inclines us to avoid and detest Mankind; not on Account so much of their private and selfish Vices, but for those of a relative Kind; such as Envy, Malice, Treachery, Cruelty, with every other Species of Malevolence.

Unlike Thwackum and Square, the Mail of the Hill is well versed in both philosophy and scripture, but the mixture has not produced the balance Fielding thought those characters lacked. His failure to act when Mrs. Waters screams stems not so much from hypocrisy or quietism as from a kind of paralysis brought on by contradiction.

When the Man of the Hill refuses to be “imposed upon to credit so foolish a Tale” as Jones’s report of the Jacobite rebellions, Fielding seems to be using him as a conventional wanderer from afar to sharpen the anti-Jacobite satire. But the Man of the Hill’s misanthropy is too particular for a stock character. Personal vices do not trouble him, but vices “of a relative Kind” do, a distinction which suggests a kind of extreme individualism for which only active malevolence toward others is vicious. Yet in his own story, the two kinds of vice are inextricably entwined. His education is marked by extremes; he is either completely withdrawn in study or completely abandoned to personal vices that lead to relative vices like theft. No doubt Fielding has in mind here a moral lesson in moderation, and yet it is worth pursuing the Man’s own explanation and excuses. He speaks, for example, of the “Contagion” that he avoids by living alone, and clearly regards Oxford and London, the sites of his own crimes, as places of disease. While he does not explicitly blame others, like his corrupt friend Sir George Gresham, for his failings, neither does he see them as arising from himself, and his detestation of human nature reflects this inverted causality. But he has in fact never lived in the world, he has only found alternate modes of selfabsorption. His inability to negotiate social space has left him in an abstract space of things—indeed, he has no name but the Man of the Hill.

During the Man of the Hill episode Partridge constructs the world in yet another way, and through him Fielding invokes an even earlier historical period. Partridge is the only Jacobite we really see in Tom Jones (Squire Western, despite toasting the “King over the Water,” is more properly an anti- Hanoverian than a Jacobite rebel, not willing, like Partridge, to join the rebellion), and what distinguishes him is his superstitiousness and credulity in interpreting events. He suspects witchcraft from the beginning, interrupts the Man of the Hill’s life history twice with supernatural stories, and finally runs from the hill in fear. While representing Jacobites as superstitious was commonplace, Fielding explores Partridge’s superstition at greater depth than might be expected. Partridge is associated not just with the Stuarts, but specifically with James I: when Partridge fears that the Man of the Hill’s servant is a witch, Fielding observes that “if this Woman had lived in the Reign of James the First, her Appearance alone would have hanged her, almost without any Evidence.” By implication, Partridge’s superstition places him in that earlier epoch. If the Man of the Hill sees a landscape in which people are insignificant, and Jones a landscape only made significant by the people in it, Partridge sees a world permeated with spirits. Paradoxically, the material is for him evidence of the spiritual: he asserts that a story about the devil carrying off an adulterer must be true because “I’ve seen the very house where it was done,” as if the reality of the setting were proof of the event. Partridge is an empiricist of sorts; when he hears of the Man of the Hill’s “slight wound” during Monmouth’s rebellion, he wants to know where the wound was. But his relationship to visible objects is different from the Man of the Hill’s. His fixing on an insignificant detail like the location of the wound emphasizes his inability to understand narrative, to understand a history (indeed, he sleeps through much of the Man’s story). Partridge’s understanding of the world is essentially emblematic; what he sees in the wound and the house is not physical evidence but signs and portents. Confusion in telling and understanding narratives is a typical class marker throughout eighteenth-century literature, but Partridge’s particular confusion is a historical marker as well.

We have, then, not simply three ways of constructing the world, but three sedimented layers of history. Partridge’s superstition is not simply the result of ignorance—however imperfect his Latin, he does possess some education—but of an outlook constructed in an earlier period. The Man of the Hill dates from a time when a rational world might have looked more possible than it does for Fielding in 1745. Whether Jones represents a thoroughly modern individual whose space is historical is not yet clear, but before answering that question, and analyzing Jones’s encounter with another time traveler, the King of the Gypsies, it will be helpful to look more closely at Fielding’s use of space and his theory of history. . . .

IV. Fielding’s two interpolated episodes—the visit to the Gypsy camp and to the Man of the Hill— have close parallels. Both precede examples of Jones’s imprudence—the incidents at Upton and his entanglement with Lady Bellaston—but also, more immediately, incidents of his benevolence— the rescue of Mrs. Waters and his assistance to the would-be thief. Both occur when Jones and Partridge are lost, and both are marked, through Partridge’s fear, by a sense of the uncanny; just as the light from the Man of the Hill’s house had seemed to him supernatural, Partridge sees the light of the gypsy camp as a certain sign of “Ghosts or Witches.” In the first episode, Fielding associates superstitious fear with the reign of James I, and in the second reminds us again that such superstition belongs to the past:

Had this History been writ in the Days of Superstition, I should have had too much Compassion for the Reader to have left him so long in Suspence, whether Beelzebub or Satan was about actually to appear in Person, with all his Hellish Retinue; but as these Doctrines are at present very unfortunate, and have but few if any Believers, I have not been much aware of conveying any such Terrors. To say Truth, the whole Furniture of the infernal Regions hath long been appropriated by the Managers of Playhouses, who seem lately to have lain them by as Rubbish, capable only of affecting the Upper Gallery; a Place in which few of our Readers ever sit.

That such theatrics do continue to affect the Upper Gallery is clear from Partridge’s subsequent reaction to a staging of Hamlet, when he believes the ghost is real. Fielding’s digression on superstition before introducing the gypsies does more than mock the foolishness of the past, or of such survivals as Partridge. It suggests that manners change unevenly, moving from society in general to a few holdouts in the upper gallery. Before introducing another kind of survival, then, Fielding is at considerable pains to remind us of history’s sedimentation.

Peter Carlton has observed that “the utopian nature of the gypsy Kingdom is matched by its geographical setting: Jones and Partridge . . . stumble across the gypsy camp in the middle of nowhere.” Indeed, Jones and Partridge seem to cross a threshold by entering the camp, entering another kind of space, which Fielding’s delaying digression emphasizes. But while Fielding’s gypsies are without a home, they are not without a history; he traces their lineage to Egypt. As Battestin has shown, Fielding’s use of Egyptian history, his presentation of a rogue society as utopian, and even his comparison of Egyptian absolutism to Jacobitism have analogues among his contemporaries. But Fielding’s choice of a gypsy camp in particular, given the theme of homelessness and exile throughout the work, must surely have a larger purpose than a conventional inversion of social norms.

Fielding’s Gypsy King would seem to be the epitome of wise governance. He judges Partridge not by his act—adultery—but by the circumstances of the act—the husband’s apparent desire to trick Partridge into paying amends. And yet, having opened up the possibility of an ideal absolute monarchy, Fielding appears anxious to close it down. First, in an uncharacteristically hortatory tone, he suggests that only “two or three” monarchs have ever had sufficient moderation, wisdom, and goodness to rule absolutely, and traces the origin of jus divinum to the “original Grant to the Prince of Darkness.” Then, as if realizing that the apparent success of the gypsy monarchy for “a tousand or two tousand Year” contradicts his argument, he relegates the gypsy utopia to nowhere because the gypsies differ in a “material respect”:

Nor can the Example of the Gypsies, tho’ possibly they may have long been happy under this Form of Government, be here urged; since we must remember the very material Respect in which they differ from all other People, and to which perhaps this their Happiness is entirely owing, namely, that they have no false Honours among them; and that they look on Shame as the most grievous Punishment in the World.

In the first instance, Fielding’s tone may derive from his model, a sermon by Bishop Hoadly. In the second instance, however, Fielding reverts to irony and his usual form of causality. Whereas Hoadly’s argument locates the problem of jus divinum in the corruptibility of the Great Man who becomes a tyrant, Fielding’s afterthought attributes it to “false Honours” in general. The “material Respect” in which the gypsies differ, then, is largely a question of manners. But Fielding’s apparent discomfort with giving the gypsy utopia any real historical existence is evident in his need to provide two different—and not entirely consonant— arguments against absolutism. He does not appear to be fully in control of his materials.

But Fielding’s discomfort may arise from more than the spectre of absolutism. If Fielding’s “useful and uncommon doctrine” is the necessity of judging a situation, then the Gypsy King would seem to have applied it in his judgment of Partridge. That kind of judgment, perhaps, seems unattainable to him; it is certainly questionable whether Tom Jones has attained that level. Fielding’s ambiguous use of the word “prudence” may reflect his ambivalence about the real possibilities of true prudence and judgment, as would his coyness in enunciating the doctrine. Prudence and judgment seem to be limited by the existing state of manners; thus he argues that the Gypsy King’s perfection is owing to the absence of “false Honours” and the efficacy of “Shame.” The “nowhere” of the Gypsy utopia is essentially outside of historical space; the Gypsy King has no need of calculating the effects of changing manners. But Prudence for Tom Jones must be both the art of life and the art of thriving because his actions take place within real and changing historical spaces.

While it is not altogether clear whether Tom is a more moral character at the end of the novel than when he first falls in love with Sophia, and this has been the subject of much critical debate, he is certainly more experienced and better able to thrive. He is now a fully modern individual—and he had not been one on Mazard-Hill—precisely because he now has a competent understanding of manners and the space of modernity. His “feel for the game” has improved to the point that, rather than being subject to Blifil’s machinations, he is ultimately able—though not without setbacks—to manipulate the outcome of Nightingale’s romance with Nancy, and to turn the tables on Lady Bellaston. But his moral improvement we have only on self-report. He informs Allworthy near the end of the work that his “Punishment hath not been thrown away upon me” and that he will make it “the whole Business of my future Life to deserve that Happiness you now bestow on me.” But this declaration bears a striking resemblance to earlier repentances, both to Allworthy and to Sophia. It suggests no remarkable insight into his own actions; his basic moral outlook is little altered from the time that he attempted to protect Black George for illegally shooting a partridge. He remains essentially good hearted, only somewhat less impetuous.

But his manners have changed. He has gained, in Fielding’s terms, experience, and if he has also gained prudence, it is as a result of becoming acquainted with the manners of others. His teachers as a youth were Square and Thwackum, and the also good hearted but easily manipulated Allworthy, and if his education was limited, it was not so much by Square and Thwackum’s hypocrisy, or even by their one-sidedness toward religion or philosophy, but instead by their excessive theoretical bias. Even Allworthy is unable to give him the lessons of experience, since Allworthy seems not to have learned them himself. Tom’s worldly teachers then, are characters like Partridge and Lady Bellaston, who teach him how to negotiate unfamiliar territory. As a child, for example, his failure to observe polite deference had gotten him into trouble, but Lady Bellaston teaches him how to dissemble politely. The Man of the Hill and the Gypsy King teach him largely negative lessons—they teach him what is not possible in the modern world. However, such moral lessons are not inconsistent with a view of morality that is less concerned with individual actions than with the larger chain of circumstances surrounding social interactions. Jones’s moral education, then, consists not simply in learning how to act, but to recognize where he is acting.

Source: George A. Drake, “Historical Space in the ‘History of’: Between Public and Private in Tom Jones,” in ELH, Vol. 66, No. 3, Fall 1999, pp. 707–37.

Tom Jones: Novel by Henry Fielding, 1749

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The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling is generally acclaimed as Henry Fielding’s masterpiece in its combination of dazzlingly virtuoso plot (Coleridge described it as one of “the three most perfect ever planned”), comic range, irony, variety of moods, and emotional and psychological intensity. It was Fielding’s third major novel, born of mature reconsideration of the formula of the “comic epic poem in prose” which he had pioneered in Joseph Andrews and of deeply disturbing experiences, both public and domestic. The public experience was the threat to the Hanoverian monarchy and the constitution that it represented by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745; the domestic one was the death of his wife, Charlotte, whom he remembers explicitly in the opening chapter of Book 13 and upon whom the character of the novel’s heroine, Sophia Western, is loosely based.

Brilliant intricacy of plot is matched in Tom Jones by corresponding intricacy of formal structure, for Fielding still believed, along with such conservative contemporaries as Pope, in the symbolic value of literary structure as a model of providential order (a notion inherited from Renaissance neo-Platonism). Its 18 books—the total alludes to the number of books in the first edition of Archbishop Fénelon’s influential prose epic Télémaque (1699), a moralised “continuation” of Homer’s Odyssey, and thus marks Fielding’s novel, too, as a journey novel in the Odysseyan tradition—are arranged in a system of complex symmetries in accordance with ancient epic practice: three sets of six books deal respectively with Tom’s upbringing in the country and expulsion by his Uncle Allworthy; his journey to London; and his experiences in London and return home. Within this broad symmetrical array the reader is led to detect further symmetries: the first and last books both have 13 chapters, and there are explicit cross-references between them; the most complicated (and celebrated) episode in the novel in which all the travellers’ paths cross, that at the Upton inn, occupies the centre of the novel (Books 9 and 10); interpolated stories correspond to each other exactly: the Man of the Hill’s long tale in Book 8 (the second book of the central section of six books) is answered by Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s in Book 11 (second from the end of the central block); this block opens with the Quaker’s tale of his daughter (Book 7, chapter 10) and concludes with the thematically relevant puppet show (Book 12, chapter 5).

Such elaborateness marks a refinement on the structural complexities of Joseph Andrews and Jonathan Wild; but whereas in Joseph Andrews especially structure had obviously reinforced the work’s comic affirmation of an essentially benevolent universe, in Tom Jones it seems, in its hectic over-determinateness, to be almost as mocking as the symmetries and coincidences of a late Hardy novel. For it is a curiously dark and anxious work. Unlike any other novel of its century which claims to be about lost, foundling, or wandering heroes, it explores loss and displacement in an almost existential way. Tom’s foundling status isn’t just a plot motif but, rather, the meaning of the novel; and it isn’t merely a device for exploring human benevolence (or lack of it) in relation to the underprivileged (something Fielding was deeply committed to): it is, instead, a way into areas of considerable psychological complexity. For one thing, the novel generates a double for Tom in the form of the legitimate child Blifil, whose father soon dies and who is, in fact, Tom’s half-brother. He is born in Book 2 and spends the rest of the novel blighting Tom’s life. The question the novel raises is, who (or what), exactly, is Blifil? Is he metaphysical evil? Is he a psychological double for Tom? For it is clear that he is no mere rogue, and the prefatory essays to each of the novel’s books in which Fielding discusses his theory and practice of writing are designed to implicate us as readers in the varieties of the novel’s self-questioning.

Then again, Tom is offered various reputed and symbolic fathers and mothers (Allworthy himself, Partridge, Jenny Jones, Lady Bellaston), so that the question the novel raises seems to be not so much who are (or were) Tom’s parents? but, rather, what is the significance of parents for the child’s sense of identity? The incest motif—Tom jumps into bed at Upton with Jenny Jones (now known as Jenny Waters) and is later told that he has made love to his own mother—suggests, as do several plot parallels, that we are in the territory of Sophocles’s Oedipus: like Sophocles, Fielding suggests that there is some necessary relationship between paternal absence and the discovery of maternal identity through sexual knowledge.

The profundity of the novel’s questioning of the foundling’s status (its working title had been simply The Foundling) is evident even from names. Blifil is known by his father’s surname: he has nominal legitimacy but is morally illegitimate. Tom is always known by his supposed mother’s surname, Jones. But in fact his mother was Bridget Allworthy, and his father was a passing visitor called Will Summer. His is a haunting name, but he, described in a couple of sentences only, turns out to be the non-discovery of the book. For it is the psychological journey to the parent (or so this text tells us) that is more important than parental identity itself. And why should Tom retain his mother’s name? At the very least, this fact questions the status of inherited patronymics.

And it is here that the psychological plot implicates political discourse. For while Tom quests for his parents, Bonny Prince Charlie has invaded and the constitutional monarchy is threatened. Tom enlists on the side of the Hanoverians; his companion Partridge is a Jacobite, believing firmly in the divine right of the ejected Stuarts. The constitutional monarch is a benevolent father; the Stuarts, accused of tyranny by their opponents, regarded themselves as the fathers of their country. Tom’s quest for his father raises questions about our perception and acceptance of kingship in the realm. The Man of the Hill irrupts into the action in Books 8 and 9 to tell of the expulsion of James II in 1688 and to draw the parallel with the invasion of 1745.

Tom’s persecution and quest are paralleled by Sophia Western’s. She, daughter of Allworthy’s Jacobite neighbour Squire Western, is intended for Blifil but loves Tom. Imprisoned by her father (Fielding is influenced here by Richardson’s monumental text of female persecution, Clarissa, 1747–48), she escapes, and their journeys shadow each other until, finally, misunderstandings cleared away, they marry. The significance of her name (Sophia = Wisdom in Greek) is relevant but not primary; for as her cousin and travelling companion Harriet Fitzpatrick reveals in her autobiographical tale in Book 11, woman’s (and women’s) history is to a large extent a story of domestic persecution, oppression, violence, and loneliness. Its message is, do not marry if you wish to remain in control of your destiny. Her tale, too, reveals parallels between domestic and constitutional politics. Sophia’s part of Tom Jones conveys clear signals of female freedom: Tom cannot marry her until he recognises the woman’s right to freedom from male hegemony; the Stuarts cannot reinherit the realm because they refused to negotiate their absolutist hegemony. It is in its working out of such perceptions that Tom Jones’s brilliance lies.

Source: Douglas Brooks-Davies, “Tom Jones: Novel by Henry Fielding, 1749,” in Reference Guide to English Literature, 2d ed., edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, Vol. 3, St. James Press, 1991, pp. 1893–94.

Multiple Structures and the Unity of Tom Jones

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Mingled admiration and bewilderment at the plot of Tom Jones is a recurrent motif in the history of criticism on that novel, and one returns from reading each critical essay to the novel itself with a sense that the insights one has gathered, however valuable, remain inadequate to the rich texture that the novel possesses. Perhaps one of the criteria of a masterpiece is its refusal to be pinned down by any critical formulation of it, yet that same sense of wonder and joy at the work itself leads critics again to attempt to account for their perception of its richness and coherence. A similar motif in Tom Jones criticism has been complaint at precisely the failure, despite numerous and notable attempts, to explain the role of the plot in unifying the novel. At times the blame for this has been thrown on Fielding himself, at times on his critics. Even those who share Coleridge’s famous view of the perfection of plot in Tom Jones have either dismissed it with a mechanical nod to its excellence or have tended to find it, in one way or another, insignificant.

The critique is variously articulated: for some the plot seems contrived and mechanical; the events fall into place too neatly, and a balanced sense of realism is lost. Thus David Goldknopf has recently claimed that the digressive elements of the novel and the author’s intervening role as a commentator “as a systematic procedure for upgrading the applicability and stature of his work, . . . signalize his failure to integrate intelligence and imagination.” Similarly, Irvin Ehrenpreis suggests that such repeated appearances as those of Sophia’s pocket- book and muff, or the attorney Dowling “imply that the main line of action has insufficient energy of its own to contain the numerous episodes of the story.” Because of the symmetrical structure of the book, Ehrenpreis suggests, “one stops expecting development and tries to feel satisfied with a line of action that does not, in a cause and effect sense, lead anywhere.” Ehrenpreis attempts to account for the plot by suggesting that it be regarded not in terms of “physical deeds” but in terms of “insight.” “As in Clarissa, the dramatic moments in Tom Jones are moments of sudden understanding.” The revelation of Tom’s ancestry is, of course, the culmination of this process. I find this argument unconvincing, for unlike Clarissa, Tom Jones does not work through internal dramatization or psychological analysis of discovery, and the process of discovery itself merely throws us back to the patterns of coincidence, parallel, and symmetry that result in the discovery. Even Ehrenpreis finally suggests that “one can properly handle the complete design of Tom Jones as a fable illustrating the author’s views of hypocrisy and candour, malice and benevolence.” Plot, in Tom Jones, is not, then, Goldknopf and Ehrenpreis imply, satisfying in itself, but sustained by the lively mind and healthy morals of the author. Robert Alter, to cite another critic who writes incisively about Fielding, sees “virtually all of the action and dialogue, as well as the authorial comment” as referring to “one or another of a set of interrelated moral themes.” Here again, the appreciation of plot, despite Alter’s excellent discussion of the novel’s structure, seems basically to come through an escape from the plot itself—not, in this case, through projecting the plot upon a person (the narrator) but through abstracting from it its thematic content and explaining it in terms of these abstractions. Though it would be inaccurate to deny the importance of theme in Tom Jones, such an explanation of plot does not seem entirely to answer the charge that it is too circumscribed, too confined to action or manners, too intent, to use Dr. Johnson’s analogy, on showing us the brilliance of the dial rather than the true springs and inner workings of the watch itself. “Perfect for what,” Ian Watt asks of the plot, and answers, “Not, certainly, for the exploration of character and personal relations, since . . . the emphasis falls on the author’s skillfully contrived revelation of an external and deterministic scheme.”

This essay is an attempt to suggest that a way of accounting for the coherence of Tom Jones, particularly in the complex middle or “journey” books of the novel, lies in seeing and responding to multiple structures, distinguishable in their principles of organization, rather than viewing the novel through an Aristotelian concept of action, reading the novel in terms of a single concept of plot, or explaining it in terms of a moral view so large that, however well it may serve an abstract consideration of the novel, it fails to serve our specific sense of the novel itself.

In considering structure in Tom Jones, I shall be concerned primarily with the arrangement of events, rather than with such aspects as the narrator’s role, verbal structures, and irony, aspects which can in themselves be considered intrinsic to structure but which have been the subjects of much previous study. In developing the notion of multiple structures in the arrangement of events and their significance for the perception of Tom Jones, it will be necessary to review some aspects of the structure of the first and last sections of the novel and then to concentrate in more detail on the middle section. I recognize that this survey covers some territory that has been explored, but some important elements of structure have been overlooked, others inadequately emphasized, and my conclusions depend upon what can be uncovered.

I At the outset Fielding describes the clear structure of the novel in terms of basic locale and its moral implications: the novel, Fielding claims, is based on a Horatian country-city antithesis, with the values of wholesomeness and honesty seated in Somerset, in contrast to the “French and Italian seasoning of affectation and vice which courts and cities afford.” But the context for this moral categorization lies in the narrator’s concern for human nature as his subject (it is human nature itself which is thus “dressed” by the setting) and in his emphasis on providing a description of the relation of his subject to the interests of his reader. He thus leaves out of his “Bill of Fare” the central third of his novel, the journey from Somerset to London. His description itself implies the more static nature of the beginning and end of the novel, and this is, in fact, the kind of structure we find—a structure which analyzes a specific environment, like a microcosm, in terms of its salient moral characteristics.

Yet one of the major jokes of Fielding’s initial description is that its antithesis is really not true. Affectation and vice are no more a characteristic of the town than of the country, and natural goodness is no more easily discovered by a country justice than a city magistrate. Fielding thus compares two life-styles in order to reveal their basic unity, and it is ironically in the city rather than the country that the ultimate discoveries of the novel take place.

Fielding’s basic technique of structure is also similar in the first and last thirds of the novel. Fielding develops his characters, as most critics have empasized, through contrast—Jones against Nightingale, Jones against Blifil; Sophia and Lady Bellaston, Sophia and Molly Seagrim; Western and Nightingale’s father, Western and Allworthy. The list can be prodigiously extended, but Fielding’s method of comparison is more complicated than this. His primary comparisons are not directly between characters so much as between ideas of or attitudes towards a pair of characters in the mind of a third who must work out his relation to them both. Thus Tom’s great choice in the first third of the novel, a choice that perhaps does more to determine his identity and station than any further choice, is between Molly and Sophia, while Allworthy’s choice is between Jones and Blifil. And in the last section, Sophia, who loves and fears she cannot have Tom, is rescued from Lord Fellamar only to be subjected to Blifil (and her father, who rescues her from Fellamar, continues to reject him for reasons of political prejudice rather than parental solicitude). Such comparisons and their implicit value thus become dramatized in terms of choice, though there are other specific kinds of comparison, such as that between Old Nightingale and Western, which do not derive meaning primarily from dramatic choice so much as from large parallel movements of action. One of the major characteristics of this device of structure is that it is self-extending: the reader becomes aware of its importance as a dominant organizing device of the novel and thus begins to read character and incident in terms of comparison. As he does so, the reader becomes himself an organizer of the plot of the novel. The importance of Fielding’s “bill of fare” approach becomes evident, for the relationship between the reader and the material becomes woven into the structure of the novel as a unifying device.

In the first and last sections of the novel, Fielding develops his larger contrasts and his causal plot through the judicious introduction of character. Thus in the first book he introduces Allworthy’s household, moving towards the marriage of Bridget and Captain Blifil, which he develops further in the second. In book III he develops the contrast between Tom and Blifil, as well as the secondary contrast between Thwackum and Square. Book IV begins with the introduction of Sophia and continues with the contrasting introduction of Molly Seagrim. Tom’s choice between the two is resolved in book V, but book VI begins with the introduction of Mrs. Western, whose presence complicates the relationship between Sophia and Jones. The introduction of these characters is an element of the author’s manipulation of the action, but the plot of the novel develops naurally in relation to their appearance.

The last third of the novel follows a similar pattern, in which the arrival of characters in London is a central organizing element. Tom arrives at the beginning of book XIII, and his attempts to deal with Mrs. Fitzpatrick and, through her, to find Sophia, put him in touch with Lady Bellaston, while at the same time his friendship with Nightingale and the Millers develops. The movement of this plot, through Tom’s chance meeting with Sophia and Lady Bellaston’s jealousy of her, is natural until Chapter 5 of Book XV, when Lord Fellamar’s attempts upon Sophia are interrupted by the sudden introduction of Western, whose presence is explained, in terms of the plot which has developed in London, in the following chapter. Western’s arrival reshapes the plot (as, to a lesser degree, does the arrival of his sister in Book XVI), but the action intensifies towards the apparent ruin of Jones as, in book XVI, Blifil and Allworthy arrive. By Book XVII, all the characters who know something of Tom’s history are in London, and the plot moves to unravel his past. Thus the last books of the novel are based on the comic entanglement of a plot whose essential features are changed in their basic relation to one another by the arrival of further important characters. To a far greater degree than in the first section, the natural development of the plot through entrances is complicated by Fielding’s use of coincidence in resolving the novel. But in this context, coincidence is itself appropriate and revealing, for each of the characters brings to his role at a given time in the course of the novel everything we know (and much we do not know) about him and his relation to Jones. Thus the activity of the reader in making connections, observing points of comparison, and drawing conclusions, is paralleled by the activity of the narrator in bringing his plot to a conclusion, and both stand as moral observers of the comic scene.

If the beginning and end of the novel are thus tightly organized in clear and natural ways, the same cannot be so immediately said for the middle. Instead of analyzing the moral implications of a static environment which connotes, however deceptively, a definite meaning, the scene shifts, both in time and place. While in the rest of the novel, the major events move clearly from the previous events, from the introduction of characters, and from the relationships between them, the middle third of the novel seems anecdotal and digressive. Events are not so clearly related to each other. It seems to make no difference that Tom meets the soldiers after his meeting with the Quaker rather than before. Moreover, comparisons of the sort that, earlier or later in the novel, are resplendent with potential meaning seem on the surface to be specious. Thus the reader can do little with much of the material, for its derivation from causal relations in plot or from the thematic development of character is unclear—and anyway, who really cares about the Quaker, or Northerton, or the much discussed Man of the Hill? They appear and disappear without doing much more than revealing Jones as a reactor to external events and advancing him appropriately further towards London. The problem of explaining coherence in Tom Jones becomes largely, then, the problem of explaining structure in books VII through XII.

II In terms of Fielding’s initial explanation of the novel, the middle third clearly acts, as most critics have noted, as a bridge between the Somerset and London scenes. The road section is loaded with comic incidents involving mistaken identity— scenes which, though not clearly related to one another, develop the novel’s early concern for the perception of virtue and the relation between virtue and prudence. Indeed, they provide an expansion of this thematic material, for instead of the limited world of Somersetshire, Tom is perceived by and in turn perceives a number of quite different characters. As the scope of his perception and judgment widens, Tom’s experience broadens and his character develops. Thus, in fact, the development of comparable events tends to move from Tom’s Somersetshire experience towards anticipation of London. This arch-like structure itself focuses, as Digeon first noted, on the Inn at Upton as its keystone, the central event of the middle books which provides the “turn” given to the plot of the novel.

The analogy of an arch is both important and exact as a description of the middle books, for it implies several dimensions of movement that proceed simultaneously to arrive at a point that is different in distance but similar in height. In order to perceive more clearly the function of different structures in the middle third of Tom Jones, it is necessary to examine them separately within the general notion of this archlike structure.

Most obviously, perhaps, the structure of the middle books is geographically organized. We are aware at all times that the characters are “on the road,” and both their actual and intended geographical positions are an index to their status as characters. But looked at more immediately, the geographical movement of the central books is not as orderly as the “arch” image implies. Tom’s initial intention on leaving Allworthy’s is to go to sea but his intention is thwarted by the ignorance of his guide, who takes him away from, rather than towards Bristol. Tom then meets the company of soldiers and changes his plans, thus setting his course more clearly on land but not towards London. He thus arrives at Gloucester and then at Upton. From Upton on, his purpose becomes clear: he sets forth “in quest of his lovely Sophia, whom he now resolved never to abandon the pursuit of.” Sophia’s arrival at Upton is, of course, the result of her determination to follow Jones. The geographical progression of the middle books thus depends on a basic definition of purpose in the travelers, and as the motives of each in approaching London become clearer, the resultant adventures in London begin to take shape. Thus the path to London represents, both internally and externally, a linear movement in the novel, from one point to another. The geographical movement of the novel is, then, a close analogue to the causal development of the plot (though distinguishable from it) and tends to focus, from among the complex of long-range and hidden relations, on the linear element of causality, in which the immediate cause leads to certain actions which themselves cause still further effects.

But once this linear emphasis is recognized, it becomes apparent that it cannot account for many of the events of the middle books. Certainly one can trace various links leading from the novel’s central chain of events and essential to it, but there are also events, particularly in Book XII, that do not fit into a causal pattern, even the long-range pattern that is resolved at the end of the novel, but which gather meaning from other kinds of pattern governing the novel.

The linear progression—both geographical and causal—is nonetheless so dominant a feature of the middle books that it tends to veil the fact that the temporal progression of the novel and the focus of its point of view are not linear, not moving in a continuous way towards a specific point. Thus the first two chapters of Book VII (after the introductory chapter) focus on Tom’s predicament after leaving Allworthy’s, while the next seven chapters turn to Sophia and bring her to the point of leaving her father’s. The story then takes up Jones’s journey and stays with him. Yet there are frequent interpolations: the story of the Lieutenant in VII, xii; the mutual self-revelations of Jones and Partridge in VIII, v and vi; the story of the Man of the Hill in VIII, xi–xv; and the account of how Mrs. Waters came to be attacked by Northerton in XI, vii. After the scene at the Upton Inn (during which Jones is seldom the center of revelation), the narrative moves backward in time for a summary of the events bringing Sophia to Upton (X, viii–ix), and the narrative then stays with Sophia through Book XI and the interpolated story of Mrs. Fitzpatrick. After XII, ii, where Western goes hunting, the story again turns to Jones and brings him to London. The general narrative movement of the central books is not, then, progressive and linear but follows instead a balanced pattern, alternating from Sophia to Tom and set around the Upton scene. This pattern is itself mingled not only with the progressive pattern of causation and geography but also with the reversal of roles that takes place at Upton. Before Upton, Sophia was the pursuer of Tom, but after she leaves the inn, he becomes her pursuer, and the nature of the switch is ironically reinforced by Western’s insistence on hunting (an example, in the Upton section, of imagistic patterns emerging onto the level of plot—further examples include the dinner of Tom and Mrs. Waters, as well as Sophia’s leaving of her muff on Tom’s bed). The overwhelming patterns of what I would call external symmetry (that is, symmetry of events) organized around the Upton scenes has been well summarized by other critics. It is important, in an analysis of multiple structures, to emphasize that mathematically there are two such patterns of symmetry. The book is divided into halves by the Upton section and into thirds according to geographical locale, and symmetrical repetition gains complexity by its appearance within these two systems. But the relation of such external symmetry to patterns in the handling of time and in the use of both Sophia and Tom as centers of revelation has not, I think, been sufficiently noted.

Such critics as Dorothy Van Ghent and V. S. Pritchett have made much of Fielding’s use of summary and his ability to achieve dramatic immediacy of scene. In that respect the narrative of the middle books provides brilliant focus on the Upton scene. In Book VII, for example, the reader is sufficiently informed of Sophia’s intentions to understand her sudden appearance at Upton, and at the end of Book X Fielding adds information from the past, in two summary chapters, which puts in perspective her behavior at Upton and focuses on her progress, the subject of Book XI.

The relation of the past to the present is perhaps the major comic feature of the scene at Upton. Jones is involved in an affair of the present when his real love emerges from the past (a past recent in time but remote in terms of events). The situation is complicated by the comic mistakes of Mr. Fitzpatrick and Squire Western, and these lead coincidentally to the revelation to Sophia of still another figure from her own past, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. But these interrelationships of past and present are themselves ironic in terms of later revelation— Partridge’s misapprehension that Mrs. Waters, or Jenny Jones, is Tom’s mother, and the final unravelling of Tom’s birth. The past forms an almost inexhaustible pattern, enveloping the characters and their actions, and at the inside of this Chinese box arrangement of discovery rests Tom’s true heritage. Thus one general element of the symmetry of the novel is its progressive movement both forward and backward in time. But this balancing of past and present rests upon a rather different sense of movement than a causal sequence of events, for behind these events rest their analogues in the past, as well as their hidden causes, and these reveal, once they are known, the true significance of the present. But these analogues are not the only kind of comparison focused by Fielding’s use of symmetry in the middle section of the novel.

One element of this symmetry is the parallel development of Tom and Sophia. Indeed, the accidents of chance that throw their paths together— such as Sophia’s encounter with Jones’s guide and Jones’s discovery of Sophia’s wallet (two happenstances which themselves balance symmetrically at either end of the middle section)—ultimately work in the structure of the novel as they reflect on one level comparisons that are valid at deeper levels. Similar balances on either side of the Upton fulcrum are clear in focusing attention on similar aspects of Tom and Sophia: the comparable stories of the Man of the Hill and Mrs. Fitzpatrick have been frequently noted and analyzed, but in addition Sophia’s incomplete revelation to Mrs. Fitzpatrick recalls Jones’s similar revelation to Partridge; the landlord’s supposition that Sophia is Jenny Cameron echoes Partridge’s false impression of Jones’s politics; and Sophia’s loss of 100 pounds corresponds to Jones’s loss of Allworthy’s gift (and Jones’s supposed honesty contrasts with Black George’s supposed dishonesty, just as his purposelessness at finding himself virtually penniless contrasts to the purpose he finds along with Sophia’s pocketbook). In themselves these and other such parallels have different values: some merely suggest interesting similarities, others can be analyzed in detail. Taken together, they reveal the richness of texture in the central books, and a single chapter, looked at in some detail, can indicate the pervasiveness of these parallels and their functions in relating the stories of Tom and Sophia to each other.

Chapter viii of Book XI, for example, deals with two major events—Mrs. Honour’s violent reaction to the discovery that her landlord has mistaken Sophia for Jenny Cameron (“that nasty stinking wh—re that runs around the country with the Pretender”) and the arrival of a “noble peer,” a friend of Mrs. Fitzpatrick who offers room in his coach to take the ladies to London. Both of these episodes have slight significance in the causal sequence of the novel, but both strongly recall Sophia’s relation to Jones. Honour’s language to the landlord (“‘My lady!’ says I,” . . . is meat for no Pretenders. She is a young lady of as good fashion, and family, and fortune as any in Somersetshire,” . . .) is reminiscent of her anger at the landlady who had earlier carried on about Tom’s proclaimed love for Sophia (“‘What saucy fellow,’ cries Honour, ‘told you anything of my lady?’ ‘No saucy fellow,’ answered the landlady, ‘but the young gentleman you enquired after, and a very pretty young gentleman he is, and he loves Madam Sophia Western to the bottom of his soul.’ ‘He love my lady! I’d have you know, woman, she is meat for his master.’ ” . . .). Fielding extends this comparison by explaining Honour’s motives in terms of a footman who fought for the honor of Nell Gwynn, but the analogy has reference to Sophia as well as Honour because the comparison to Jenny Cameron is symbolically appropriate to Sophia. Like Jenny Cameron, she is beautiful and ladylike, but furtive and fearful of discovery; and Jones is a metaphoric equivalent to the Pretender, at least insofar as he is a pretender to the love of Sophia and all that means in terms of social position and moral rectitude. But the reader learns, from the arrival of the “noble peer,” that the landlord’s suspicion of the ladies’ romantic situation, though inaccurate in specific detail, is accurate in other respects which Sophia is unaware of. Harriet’s description of her relationship to this gentleman echoes Sophia’s incomplete account of her escape from her father, as well as the similar Jones-Partridge exchange in VIII, v and vi, while the peer’s conclusion that Sophia, like Mrs. Fitzpatrick, is also escaping the tyranny of a husband recalls both the landlord’s mistake and the several mistakes at Upton. The culmination of the chapter comes in Harriet’s comment that the peer, a married man, is

entirely constant to the marriage bed. “Indeed,” added she, “my dear Sophy, that is a very rare virtue amongst men of condition. Never expect it when you marry; for, believe me, if you do, you will certainly be deceived.”

A gentle sigh stole from Sophia at these words, which perhaps contributed to form a dream of no very pleasant kind; but as she never revealed this dream to anyone, so the reader cannot expect to see it here.

The chapter ends, then, by reinforcing Tom’s relevance to the incidents of the chapter, themselves parallel in nature, by the strongest parallel in Sophia’s mind.

Such a specific analysis reveals two essential kinds of comparison. Fielding’s approach to character, here as elsewhere, is indirect in revealing the inner life of his characters. Thus he playfully does not “tell” us what Sophia’s dream is, though the context makes its nature fairly clear. Some of the comparisons focus indirectly on the inner life of character, revealing what the narrator conceals or the characters do not wish to articulate. Other comparisons fill the more conventional function of providing frames of reference in terms of which we can perceive the moral situations of the characters at given points in the novel. Thus the Jenny Cameron-Sophia comparison broadens to include Nell Gwynn and Mrs. Fitzpatrick until Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s mendacious remarks on male chastity bring both Tom’s and Sophia’s intentions into clearer focus, both in Sophia’s mind and the reader’s.

But beyond this specific sense of the richness of texture in the comparisons of the novel, the larger symmetrical comparisons that arch across the Upton scenes suggest the significance of Sophia’s development as a secondary narrative line, parallel to Tom’s development. The external parallels of Jones and Sophia in the central books are fairly straightforward elements of the novel’s plot, and both characters move, in parallel fashions shaped by Fielding’s handling of his centers of revelation, from country to city—both books XI and XII pointing towards the London episodes. But both Jones and Sophia journey as well towards their own marriage and ultimate return to Somersetshire. For both characters the journey embodies the problem of learning to express their inner feelings in a world of convention dominated by quite different values than those associated with these feelings. The journeys of both involve encounters with this world of convention, both personally and vicariously. Moreover, Sophia is accompanied by Honour, Jones by Partridge, and both companions distort the nature and motives of their masters.

Thus both face a double problem of perception and action—of how to behave in a corrupt society and how to perceive and reveal their own goodness within the conventions of that society. Their eventual accommodation to these conventions, particularly in terms of sexual and family life, makes possible their marriage and the conclusion of the novel. (Sophia’s final acceptance of Jones is a satisfying example of her ability to use convention in order to express her own feeling. In the fashion of a prudent heroine of romance, guarded by “Daunger,” she tentatively accepts Jones, but only after insisting on a year’s period of probation and good conduct. When her father insists on her marrying immediately, however, she happily gives way to the convention of filial duty.) Fielding’s symmetrical handling of point of view in the middle books of the novel and his use of comparable incidents on either side of the Upton scene thus widen the significance of Tom’s moral progress to include that of Sophia and thereby to achieve a clearer picture of both.

The preceding discussion of structures in the middle section of Tom Jones reveals, then, four distinguishable patterns: 1) the linear pattern of causal sequence, analogous to the geographical movement of characters in the central books; 2) a non-linear pattern of causation, concerning the hidden causes of events, implicit in the enveloping pattern of time, and resolved, finally, as the various characters emerge in London to reveal Tom’s story; 3) a symmetrical pattern of narration, based on the alteration of Tom and Sophia as central characters and on the reversal of hunter-hunted roles after the inn at Upton; 4) a symmetrical pattern of corresponding events, arranged around the Upton scenes and pointing backwards and forwards towards the Somerset and London scenes. These methods are in themselves controlled and ordered within the general structure of the novel. But an accurate view of the complexities of the middle books must recognize further kinds of structure as well. Among these are a number of ad-hoc parallels which focus on specific aspects of character without functioning structurally in the large movements of the novel. Some of the comparisons I noted in XI, viii work this way, and in this way we can regard the Northerton-Jones parallel. (Tom replaces Northerton as Mrs. Waters’ lover, and, although Northerton’s jesting about Sophia is the initial cause of their fight, Tom’s own indiscreet use of her name is also improper and injurious to her reputation. Thus Tom, the novel’s sympathetic hero, is briefly seen to share qualities with one of its least sympathetic characters.)

In addition to ad-hoc parallels are such devices of “rhythm” (in E. M. Forster’s sense) as Sophia’s muff, which are important single patterns but do not otherwise fit into an ordered arrangement of parts (playing, therefore, an intermittent rather than regular role in the structure of the novel); important also are the similar recurrent patterns of imagery—such as those of eating, clothing, and hunting—and recurrent literary allusions, particularly to epic and chivalric works. The importance of the developing relation of the narrator to the reader as an element of structure in the novel has frequently been commented upon.

Thus, in addition to the four major structuring patterns I have noted, there are a variety of different subsidiary devices of structure to which the reader must respond. Taken together, as I have suggested in my analysis of XI, viii, they constitute a rich texture of allusions—forward and backward in time, back and forth in the linear structure of the novel, towards the inner state of characters, towards external judgments by the author and reader, and towards the novel itself as a literary type analogous in structure and purpose to other literary types. Though these allusions may point, as Alter, Sacks, and others have suggested, towards theme, the complexity of structure is not echoed in an analogous complexity of theme.

III One attempt to explain the complexity of these structures has been to speak of Tom Jones as a battleground for conflicting forces of literary mode or literary history. David Goldknopf claims that “Fielding was trying to bring both the picaresque exuberance which was his natural bent and the new, aggressive empiricism of his age under a discipline fundamentally unsympathetic to both, the neoclassical canon.” But if we see the picaresque and empiricist elements of the novel as reflected in its dynamic, linear movement and the neo-classical elements as functioning in its symmetry—admittedly a somewhat simplified account of the middle books—the primary conclusion to be drawn is not that this conflict is a failure on the author’s part but that it is a tension that is itself structured into the novel, an aspect of conscious design rather than unconscious impropriety. Nor is it, I think, valuable to consider “the neo-classical canon” as implying a sterile and rigid order. Seen as an aspect of structural technique, it is a method of putting certain elements of experience into particular kinds of relationship to one another. But rather than providing merely a static form, such juxtaposition of events insists, as I have suggested in the case of Fielding’s comparisons, on the active participation of the reader in discovering and puzzling over the connections. The “narrator” is not, then, in total control of the novel as perceived by the reader, for he remains silent about, and ostensibly unaware of, a variety of these connections.

If the novel is regarded as a thing to be read, the common architectural, Palladian image of Tom Jones becomes insignificant: the reader of a novel, unlike the viewer of a building, must make his connections in the medium of time, depending not only upon observation but upon memory and his ability to generalize and hence to perceive the basis of comparison. The reader is thus left with a variety of structural devices which he must perceive and classify, and to which he must respond, always revising his perceptions and responses as new evidence in the novel comes into play. In this respect the process of reading Tom Jones never ends, for new possibilities become apparent on each rereading. One of the delights, then, of the diverse multiple structures of Tom Jones lies in the reader’s sense of his own paradoxical position: he is engulfed in the formal structures of the novel, yet these formal structures are so diverse that they are beyond his ability to control at any one point in time; he repeatedly encounters balanced configurations, yet the stasis of these balances continually works against elements of surprise and the progressive movement of causality in the plot itself. The reader is thus perpetually in the process of discovering a form that extends beyond him, and his progress in achieving that discovery parallels the discoveries of the characters and the ordering of the author. Thus, though the novel ends, one’s reading of the novel does not, and unity, in this context, becomes not something the novel “has” in the sense that a picture “has” composition, but a quality that is always in the process of creation.

The concept of unity thus seems less important than the experience of totality. Fielding’s use of multiple structures enabled him to create a kind of novel unusually broad in scope; and in terms of the history of the novel, Tom Jones was a remarkable achievement. Fielding’s concerns for the nature of social morality, for the experience of maturation, for the relation of sex to love, for the way people think and draw conclusions or make judgments, for the relation of motive to act, of appearance to reality, of art to human nature—all these are encompassed in the novel and viewed complexly, often in relation to one another, through an encompassing multiplicity of structures. As Sheridan Baker has pointed out, the effect of the contrived aspects of plot in Tom Jones is to distance us from the material, thereby achieving a comic, even ironic detachment. But the comic view plays against our involvement in the novel as process and mingles with the richness of the fictive world revealed in the novel and embodied in the brilliant, multi-faceted movement of its form.

Source: Charles A. Knight, “Multiple Structures and the Unity of Tom Jones,” in Criticism, Vol. XIV, No. 3, Summer 1972, pp. 227–42.


Critical Overview