The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VIII., xi.-xv.

Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original CoverSo, we left Partridge and Tom seeking shelter in a stranger’s home—The Man on the Hill (I kept mentally substituting “The Fool on the Hill” from Magical Mystery Tour, which made this difficult). We’re told he has an interesting life (the fact that he’s known by a title and not a name is a tip-off).

So, for reasons I’m hoping I’ll understand eventually, Fielding treats us to five chapters of this guy telling his life story. It’s an interesting tale, frequently interrupted by Partridge being amusing (and a little annoying). Tom draws some parallels between TMotH’s life and his own, which may lead to some introspection and maturity.

But, let’s be serious, it probably won’t.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VIII., v.-x.

Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original CoverSo our friendly and fairly educated barber, Benjamin, comes back to chat with Tom—he’s heard some gossip about him and would like to confirm it. Tom tells his side of the events, and sure, he reflexively tells the story in a way to make him look better—as people do—but isn’t really dishonest about any of it (although he instinctively withholds Sophia’s name for a bit). The two get a little more chummy, ad Benjamin offers to loan Tom some books during his convalescence (proving that he’s a gentleman of great value, even of the discussion of books goes nowhere).

Tom calls him back the next day, because he needs a little blood-letting, after the firing of the surgeon. While he comes back, Benjamin reveals to Tom that he’s the man who was suspected to be his father. He swears he wasn’t, but as followed the news about Tom and is quite impressed with him. Tom wants to make things up to him for all the trouble his hack of parentage has caused Benjamin. The barber says that’s not necessary, he’d just like to be a traveling companion for Tom and his adventures.

We’re told by the narrator, that Benjamin has an ulterior motive—he wants to patch things up between Tom and Allworthy, and to do so in a way that Allworthy is so overcome with gratitude that he reintroduces him to society.

The two begin their travels and eventually come across the home of someone they learn is called The Man of the Hill, one night while in need of a warm place to say. Tom saves him from a mugging and the two are given some shelter for the night.

This section is filled with interesting characters, odd conversations, and Tom getting the wool pulled over his eyes (even if it’s sort of for his benefit). It’s not the best this book has given, but it’s an interesting read, so I’m not going to complain. We seem to have more of the same in the wings, so that should be good reading for the foreseeable future.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VIII., i.-iv.

Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original CoverI sat my laptop down after I’d started this post, and Windows decided that when I said I wanted to install updates later, I didn’t mean a half-hour later after I stopped working for a couple of minutes. I lost a couple of paragraphs of this—my reconstruction might be a little rough. We’ll see.

We start Book VIII with the typical digression from the story. This time, we get “A wonderful long Chapter concerning the Marvellous; being much the longest of all our introductory Chapters.” He really believes in truth in advertising, it’s a long chapter. A long discussion about the “marvelous,” or supernatural in fiction. It’s pretty interesting but has as little to do with the novel as any of the other first chapters. I’d love to take the time and work through the allusions and footnotes (added by the editor of my edition), because that’d be a fascinating study.

We return to Tom’s room as he continues to recover—the Landlady shows up and introduces herself to Tom. Thanks to some intelligence from the Lieutenant, she pretends to know Sophia. Which gets Tom to open up to her about his life—she quickly learns that he’s no gentleman at all, but a broke castout. Which pretty much means that she’s done with him. As Fielding notes:

for the lower sort of people are very tenacious of respect; and though they are contented to give this gratis to persons of quality, yet they never confer it on those of their own order without taking care to be well paid for their pains.

(that’s horribly cynical, but…probably holds more than a kernel of truth)

The doctor comes back and argues with Tom about his treatment (getting a little more lampooning). Afterward, he talks to the landlady and discovers that Tom can’t pay him, either. Which (not surprisingly) gets him very angry. He argues with Tom some more and gets shooed off.

Which brings us to the barber—Fielding puts him on the same level as barber from Don Quixote and The Arabian Nights. He’s a jolly sort, given to quoting philosophers. He tells Tom it’s crazy to join the army with head injury he’s sporting. The Table of Contents tells me we’re going to get more of him soon.

Not a lot happens again, but (like last week) it’s all about the way that things are told. It’s fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what the barber’s really about.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VII., xi.-xv.

Fridays with the Foundling

Tom Jones Original Cover

The inn Tom’s staying in is suddenly full of British soldiers and Tom spends some time socializing with them—and buys them a few beers. Making him a well-liked fellow straight-off. The serjeant tells his lieutenant that he has two new prospects—a wonderful gentleman, who’d make a great officer, and Tom, who’d do be okay to serve at the rear rank (as anyone who’s ever marched in a parade behind horses can tell you, this is not a compliment).

Amongst the two companies of soldiers are two lieutenants—the commanding officer an a French lieutenant

who had been long enough out of France to forget his own language, but not long enough in England to learn ours, so that he really spoke no language at all, and could barely make himself understood on the most ordinary occasions.

a childish line, but one that made me grin.

Not everyone gets along with Tom, the other new recruit (Northerton)starts to verbally joust with him a bit. They trade barbs, including this nice little rejoinder from Tom:

“Oh! sir,” answered Jones, “it is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school, as it is to have been at school and to know nothing.”

Things get a little heated when Northerton talks about Sophia sleeping around a lot, and things start to get physical. The “gentleman” smacks Tom with a bottle and drops him. Northerton is confined to quarters and Tom’s bleeding head wound gets him medical care.

We get a little more satirization of the medical profession–Fielding did not have much respect for doctors. I almost hope we see a few more people gravely ill or grievously injured just so we get more of this.

Tom’s been injured pretty bad three times so far–twice because of an assault. For a guy as wild has he supposedly is, he cannot take a punch.

Some shenanigans ensue around a proposed duel between the injured Tom and the assailant Northerton. Things get strange and Northerton books it.

These chapters are a bit more my liking than the last few—Fielding’s wit is easier to find, and there’s plenty of action (the former weighs more than the latter). Really, not much happened—but it was the way in that not much happened that made me enjoy these chapters.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VII., v.-x.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverI assume the problem is with me, I really do. But man, oh, man—Book VII is just not clicking with me. The story’s fine, but I’m not crazy with the pacing. Fielding’s narration isn’t doing much for me, either.

So, there’s some (figurative) kissing and making up between Sophia and her father as well as her father and her aunt. Which starts to give you a dash of hope, but then Blifil and Mr. Western get their heads together and things go downhill. We’ll start with Western talking Sophia into another meeting with Blifil.

Scenes like this, when painted at large, afford, as we have observed, very little Entertainment to the Reader. Here, therefore, we shall strictly adhere to a rule of Horace; by which Writers are directed to pass over all those Matters which they despair of placing in a shining Light;—a Rule, we conceive, of excellent Use as well to the Historian as to the Poet; and which, if followed, must at least have this good Effect, that many a great Evil (for so all great Books are called) would thus be reduced to a small one.

I do appreciate him sparing us that scene.

Blifil is so determined to beat Tom that he cons both Blifil and Allworthy (the former being very predisposed to believe him) into thinking that Sophia’s come around and arrangements are made to get married the next day. Her maid overhears Western making further arrangements and informs Sophia.

Sophia considers suicide at this point, but her maid dissuades her from that. So, she decides to run away from home—she has a friend in London who’ll take her in for a bit.

We get a quick glimpse of Tom—he gets some bad directions and ends up in a different location than he’d intended. He finds himself in an inn with a Quaker gentleman distraught over his daughter’s marriage to a poor man. So, that goes over about as well as you’d think. Details about Tom’s background and circumstance are circulated amongst people at the Inn—suddenly, his Quaker friend makes himself scarce and the landlord decides that he can’t use a room. So, Tom sleeps in the dining room—where it’s easy to keep an eye on this obvious scoundrel.

Hopefully, things get a bit better (in my own mind or the book, whichever is applicable) from here. There’s still a long way to go in this book, there’s plenty of time for that.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VI., xii.-VII., iv.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverWe start off this week seeing what Sophia was up to in around the letter Tom wrote her as he was leaving town (I really should’ve read this chapter a couple of weeks ago)—there’s not much there, but a little bit of humor involving Black George and his conscience. Mr. Western and his sister get into an argument over the way he’s raised Sophia, and he essentially gives his daughter over to her management.

We then move on to the next Book, and as usual, we begin with Fielding treating us to another digression and commentary. This time his focus is on the world as a stage. Unlike most (for example, Shakespeare), Fielding focuses not on those who strut and fret on the sage, but on the audience. Which is an interesting way to do it, you have to admit. He closes with this reminder about judging:

Upon the whole, then, the man of candour and of true understanding is never hasty to condemn. He can censure an imperfection, or even a vice, without rage against the guilty party. In a word, they are the same folly, the same childishness, the same ill-breeding, and the same ill-nature, which raise all the clamours and uproars both in life and on the stage. The worst of men generally have the words rogue and villain most in their mouths, as the lowest of all wretches are the aptest to cry out low in the pit.

With some encouragement from Blifil, Tom resolves to take to the Ocean, while the Western household is in turmoil—we get more conversations between Sophia and her aunt; Sophia and her father; her aunt and her father all about how Sophia— has to marry Blifil and her steadfast refusal to do so.

These chapters really feature a lot of talking, but very little actual communication—after the last couple of weeks, full of action, this was really quiet. It was all about setting the stage, I just hope the stage is fully set for a bit. I’m really curious about what Tom has in mind for his expedition.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VI., ix.-xii.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverWe left Sophia and Tom all but declaring their love for one another in the sweetest chapter thus far, and we rejoin the novel with a chapter called “Being of a much more tempestuous Kind than the former.” Which doesn’t bode well.

So Sophia’s aunt spills the beans to her father—it’s not just that she doesn’t care for Blifil, she’s in love with Tom—and, well:

The idea of a marriage between Jones and his daughter, had never once entered into the squire’s head, either in the warmest minutes of his affection towards that young man, or from suspicion, or on any other occasion. He did indeed consider a parity of fortune and circumstances to be physically as necessary an ingredient in marriage, as difference of sexes, or any other essential; and had no more apprehension of his daughter’s falling in love with a poor man, than with any animal of a different species.

He became, therefore, like one thunderstruck at his sister’s relation. He was, at first, incapable of making any answer, having been almost deprived of his breath by the violence of the surprize. This, however, soon returned, and, as is usual in other cases after an intermission, with redoubled force and fury.

He storms off to come give the pair a piece of his mind, but Sophia’s overcome by fear at the ruckus he makes along the way and faints. The first thing her father sees is her unconscious and he focuses on her well being, forgetting everything else. Until she’s carried away to be cared for, and then like a switch he’s back to being enraged and has to be physically restrained from Tom. It’s suggested by the Parson restraining Mr. Western that Tom get going, and he’s quick enough to agree.

The next day, Allworthy gets done listening to Blifil’s account of how well things went—because Allworthy cares about her character, not her (or her father’s) wealth, he’s pleased. When Western bursts in with a very different story. He gets Allworthy up to speed, swears up and down in a dozen ways that his “Sophy” will be cut off and left destitute if she continues to pursue Tom, threatens violence against Tom, and assures Blifil that he won’t let Sophia marry anyone else before he rushes back home to try to instill some order there.

When Allworthy and Blifil were again left together, a long silence ensued between them; all which interval the young gentleman filled up with sighs, which proceeded partly from disappointment, but more from hatred; for the success of Jones was much more grievous to him than the loss of Sophia.

Blifil takes this occasion to slander Tom, accusing him of drunken carousing while Allworthy was ill and then assaulting both Blifil and Thwackum unprovoked. Thwackum is called as a witness, who backs up that no-good, vindictive twerp (why should I pretend to be unbiased toward the creep?)

Allworthy confronts Tom and Tom agrees to the bare facts, without addressing the motivation for the fight, etc. At which point, Allworthy gives Tom a check to help him get established and kicks him out—vowing to never speak to him again. He closes the speech by saying:

there is no part of your conduct which I resent more than your ill-treatment of that good young man (meaning Blifil) who hath behaved with so much tenderness and honour towards you.”

These last words were a dose almost too bitter to be swallowed. A flood of tears now gushed from the eyes of Jones, and every faculty of speech and motion seemed to have deserted him. It was some time before he was able to obey Allworthy’s peremptory commands of departing; which he at length did, having first kissed his hands with a passion difficult to be affected, and as difficult to be described.

The reader must be very weak, if, when he considers the light in which Jones then appeared to Mr Allworthy, he should blame the rigour of his sentence. And yet all the neighbourhood, either from this weakness, or from some worse motive, condemned this justice and severity as the highest cruelty. Nay, the very persons who had before censured the good man for the kindness and tenderness shown to a bastard (his own, according to the general opinion), now cried out as loudly against turning his own child out of doors. The women especially were unanimous in taking the part of Jones, and raised more stories on the occasion than I have room, in this chapter, to set down.

One thing must not be omitted, that, in their censures on this occasion, none ever mentioned the sum contained in the paper which Allworthy gave Jones, which was no less than five hundred pounds; but all agreed that he was sent away penniless, and some said naked, from the house of his inhuman father.

Yeah, that quotation went on a bit, but I couldn’t help myself.

So, Tom (in a fit of anguish) loses his belongings (including the money), writes a farewell letter to Sophia (not wanting to drag her down with him) and gets his ol’ pal Black George to get that letter to her (via her maid). We learn that George found the money and everything else, but neglected to tell Tom that. Sophia sends a return letter warning Tom from seeing her father and vowing, “that nothing but the last violence shall ever give my hand or heart where you would be sorry to see them bestowed.”

Wow. That’s a lot of plot in a very few pages. A decent amount of fun and sets us up for the next part—which can’t be nearly as exciting, but I’m eager to see what happens.

N.B.: I went a little quote happy with this one, and wasn’t in the mood to do all the typing. So I went with a text file from Project Gutenberg–which doesn’t follow the atypical (for our eyes) capitalization that the book I use does. Makes it a little easier to read, but a little more drab.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VI., v.-viii.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverWhile the Westerns wait for Blifil to come to call on Sophia, her aunt comes in and the two talk a bit more about Sophia’s affections, each of them (still) talking about a different man. And just when I’m starting to think we’re in for 20+ pages of this misunderstanding, Sophia asks who her aunt is referring to:

…the Aunt cried, “Mr. Blifil—ay, Mr. Blifil, of whom else have we been talking?” “Good Heavens,” answered Sophia, ready to sink, “of Mr Jones, I thought; I am sure I know no other who deserves—” “I protest,” cries the Aunt, “you frighten me in your Turn. Is it Mr. Jones, and not Mr. Blifil, who is the Object of your Affection?” “Mr. Blifil!” repeated Sophia. “Sure it is impossible you can be in earnest; if you are, I am the most miserable Woman alive.”

There’s some nasty back and forth about how horrible the idea of Blifil is to Sophia and how horrible the idea of Jones is to all that is right and just with the world, and Sophia will do what she’s told, etc. In the end, they agree that Sophia will visit with Blifil that afternoon and get be nice about it, and they’ll see what happens.

They go their separate ways, Sophia unburdens her soul to her maid (who is good enough at eavesdropping not to need it, but plays along). Mrs. Honour tells her to speak her mind to her father, who’s a good man and won’t force her to do anything. In the meantime, she saw Jones down by the river not that long ago. Sophia rushes to go meet him, but misses him because she took too long choosing the right ribbons to wear. Fielding amusingly (at least to me) comments,

—a most unfortunate Accident, from which my fair Readers will not fail to draw a very wholesome Lesson. And here I strictly forbid all Male Critics to intermeddle with a Circumstance which I have recounted only for the Sake of the Ladies, and upon which they only are at Liberty to comment.

Blifil calls upon Sophia, and it does not go well. She’s nice enough, but she’s horrified at the thought of spending time with him, so she doesn’t say a lot and leaves early. Blifil is clueless enough (and enamored of himself enough) to interpret this as shyness—she’s so overcome by being alone with a guy as awesome as he is.

He leaves feeling really good about things and makes Mr. Western feel the same way about the way things are progressing. Sophia takes her maid’s advice and tells her father what she thinks of Blifil. He does not follow the script Mrs. Honourable predicts and flies into a rage, commanding Sophia to marry Blifil or he’ll cut her off.

She’s inconsolable, he’s in a fit and the two separate. Western runs into Jones and tells him about it all, and then asks Jones to go convince Sophia to go along. That’s not at all what Jones wants to do, but he agrees, because he’ll gets the green light to go off and talk to Sophia.

Neither of them come out and declare their love for each other, but the ensuing conversation allows them both to state their interest and their mutual despising of Blifil as a mate. It’s a sweet scene, interrupted by Fielding telling us that it may have gone on too long and is about to be interrupted by something of a very different flavor and so it’ll have to be taken up in another chapter.

Obviously, whatever that is (we’ll see next week) isn’t going to go in the couple’s favor—there’s almost another 700 pages to go, they’re not going to get too many sweet moments anytime soon.

I really like the pace of these last 8 chapters, and look forward to what comes next. I just wish people could have a straightforward conversation without flying off the handle so everyone could act in a reasonable manner.

Eh, where’d be the fun in that? Bring on the talking past each other!

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK VI., i.-iv.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverDespite being a politician of some repute, Mr. Western is pretty clueless when it comes to reading people—especially his daughter. But his sister? Oh, man—she’s sharp. She’s knowledgeable, she’s spent a lot of time at court, and she’s good at picking up the subtle feminine quirks. She can tell that Sophie’s in love and fills her brother in.

He’s not exactly pleased. How dare she without asking permission? This is just not going to do at all. But what if she’s fallen for someone he approves of? Well, that’s a different question. “If she marries the man I would ha’ her, she may love whom she pleases.” Which is just a great line. She assures her brother that he’ll be happy because Sophie has fallen in love with Mr. Blifil.

So much for that whole good at picking up clues thing.

Western loves this idea, nice guy, and marrying into Allworthy’s money? Great idea. (There’s also some fun Battle of the Sexes back and forth with these two.) Western wants to suggest the match to Allworthy that day. His sister talks him into delaying until Allworthy is fully recovered.

Sophie sees that her aunt has discovered her secret (but doesn’t realize she got it wrong), so tries to play things close to her chest. She lavishes attention on Blifil, but ignores Jones, making her aunt all the more convinced that she’s right.

Honestly, the get together in Chapter 3 might as well have been hosted by Drs. Niles and Frasier Crane for all the comedy of errors action going on.

Western pulls Allworthy aside and suggests the match to him. Allworthy’s not as over te moon about it as Western wanted him to be. Still, he thinks if the young people are into it, he’s in favor. Western wants to push them into it, Allworthy won’t go for that. It makes the conversation uncomfortable, but they part on good (if strained) terms.

Allworthy suggests the match to Blifil. Blifil doesn’t find her unattractive, but he doesn’t think of her in those terms. Her money, however? That, Blifil is attracted to. He tells his uncle that while he wasn’t ready to think about marriage, if Allworthy thinks it’s a good idea, he’s for it.

Allworthy writes to Western, saying that the Blifil is open to calling on Sophie. Western immediately writes back, setting something up. What he doesn’t do is consult—or even inform—Sophie about it.

Which means that the next chapter is going to be all sorts of awkward fun.

I really enjoyed this week’s reading—some good chuckles, some social commentary, and the plot moves forward while setting up plenty of fun to come.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK V., ix.-xii.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverAfter Allworthy pronounced his will in the reading from last week, we focused on everyone else in the house—and ignored Tom. Fielding now turns to focus on him. Tom doesn’t deal well with his guardian’s impending death—not that anyone else did, but Tom’s focused on Allworthy himself, not what he’s being left.

In the aftermath both of Blifil’s tragic news and Allworthy’s recovery, Tom and Thwackum bicker a bit and then Blifil and Tom get into a scuffle as well—tempers are short (and alcohol-fueled), but peace eventually prevails. Tom heads outside to cool down and turns his thoughts to Sophie—but he sees Molly doing some fieldwork (I don’t think Fielding specified, but she has a pitch-fork). The two chat a bit, and then head off into the bushes for some privacy.

Thwackum and Blifil have a similar idea—they’re taking a walk to get over the fights. Naturally, they see those two heading for the bushes. Blifil recognizes both of them, but Thwackum only sees a couple of people up to something. He heads off to try to stop the illicit behavior, and Blifil doesn’t do anything to stop him. The two make enough of a racket that the lovers know they’re coming.

Molly has gone into hiding and Tom goes to confront the interlopers and to keep them from discovering who the young woman was (which seems their primary concern). The fists start flying—and it’s kind of an amusing fight scene at the beginning. But the still recovering Tom starts to succumb to the numbers when he’s joined in the fight. A passerby is offended by the idea that two would fight one and jumps in to even the odds without wondering who the one is, much less the two.

It turns out that it’s Squire Western who’d joined the fray and he’s more than enough to turn the tide.

At this Time, the following was the Aspect of the bloody Field. In one Place lay on the Ground, all pale, and almost breathless, the vanquished Blifil. Near him stood the Conqueror Jones, almost covered with Blood, part of which was naturally his own, and part had been lately the Property of the Reverend Mr. Thwackum. In a third Place stood the said Thwackum, like King Porus, sullenly submitting to the Conqueror. The last Figure in the Piece was Western the Great, most gloriously forbearing the vanquished Foe.

Before Western came to Tom’s rescue, he’d been out for a walk with his wife and Sophie—who come upon that scene. Seeing Tom covered in blood is too much for Sophie, who faints dead away—until Tom revives her. Tom and the Westerns go their way and Blifil and Thwackum return to Allworthy’s and Book V comes to an end.

I’m honestly not sure what I think about this section—after the reading last week it looked liked things were starting to happen, but these chapters felt like a whole lot of tire spinning. Sure, it’s nice that things are getting a bit clearer between Blifil and Tom—and Tom and Sophie—it just felt like a little bit of a let-down (it also could’ve been that I had a hard time focusing). Still, the fight scene made it worthwhile.

I cheated a bit and read the first paragraph of Book VI, and I am looking forward to it, so there’s that…