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…

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding: BOOK IV., xiv-BOOK V., viii.

Fridays with the Foundling
Tom Jones Original CoverA couple of bonus chapters to catch up, which was supposed to be up last week. Then this week’s…basically, this one going to go on for a bit.

Tom’s laid up (at Mr. Western’s, you may recall) recuperating and Allworthy comes by regularly to check on him and encourage moral reform. Thwackum does, too, naturally, he’s “more severe” than Allworthy. Squire Western is another regular visitor (it is his house) and gets drunk talking to him while Tom lies in bed—which seems to be a pretty good time. Fielding throwing in a drunken dialect to his already archaic British spelling made me have to read things out lout to get what was going on.

And eventually, Jones realizes—slowly, realistically—that he has actual feelings of love for Sophie. Mature love, not something selfish and adolescent, it’s one of the best descriptions of that kind of feeling I remember reading. Tom’s growing affection is stunted by Western’s frequent drunk discussions of getting Sophie married to a rich man. He wants to treat Western better than to frustrate his aims and he doesn’t want to lessen Allworthy’s esteem for him. Also…Molly. Molly’s in a precarious social position and he doesn’t want to abandon her.

It’s hard not to like the guy when he thinks like that (even if you can tell that it’s a narrative disaster waiting to happen).

And then like Sophie a few chapters back, he’d resolve to set aside his feelings for her to focus on Molly. And that would last until he spent time with her in the evenings listening to her play the pianoforte for her father. In addition to Fielding telling us this, there’s a great incident that showed this wonderfully. It took a couple of pages to set it up and a few paragraphs to execute, and was just great storytelling. It’s like allysonyj commented, a slow-building romance, the kind we don’t get to see anymore (and maybe not as much as we should have had before).

Though this Incident will probably appear of little Consequence to many of our readers; yet, trifling as it was, it had so violent an Effect on poor Jones, that we thought it our Duty to relate it. In reality, there are many little Circumstances too often omitted by injudicious Historians, from which Events of the utmost Importance arise. The World may indeed be considered as a vast Machine, in which the great Wheels are originally set in Motion by those which are very minute, and almost imperceptible to any but the strongest Eyes…

The Citadel of Jones was now taken by Surprize. All those Considerations of Honour and Prudence which our Heroe had lately with so much military Wisdom placed as Guards over the Avenues of his Heart, ran away from their Posts, and the God of Love marched in in Triumph.

But…Molly. What to do about her? He’s made some promises, and feels a good deal of compassion for her—he can’t just abandon her. Maybe, just maybe, he could buy her off—she’s really poor (and not a little bit vain), maybe a large sum of money that would leave her comfortable would do the trick. So he goes to visit her, he ended up waking her from a nap and proposes this to her. She bewails and laments the suggestion—how could he? She’ll never recover from this—oh, the heartbreak. I’ll admit, my eyes rolled a bit.

And then a nice bit of elaborate physical comedy ensues—as a result of her overly-dramatic response, she knocks a curtain aside, exposing Thwackum’s debate partner, Square in a state of undress. Apparently, a few weeks back, he’d been struck by her beauty (about the time that everyone in town realized she was with child) and pursued her. Honestly, “he liked the Girl the better for the Want of that Chastity.” Which is a pretty good reason to like him less.

The Reader will be mistaken, if he thinks Molly gave Square the Preference to her younger Lover: on the Contrary, had she been confined to the Choice of one only, Tom Jones would undoubtedly have been, of the two, the victorious Person. Nor was it solely the Consideration that two are better than one (tho’ this had its proper Weight) to which Mr. Square owed his Success: the Absence of Jones during his Confinement was an unlucky Circumstance; and in that Interval some well-chosen Presents from the Philosopher so softened and unguarded the Girl’s Heart, that a favourable Opportunity became irresistible, and Square triumphed over the poor Remains of Virtue which subsisted in the Bosom of Molly.

And in the fortnight between that time and Tom’s visit, things had apparently continued in that fashion. Square and Tom exchange some words about this, both pledging to keep their mouths shut about this incident and Tom leaves. The two lovers squabble a bit and then makeup and Sophie insists that everything she’d said to Tom mere moments before was a joke and that Square was the true master of her heart all along.

Not long after that Tom discovers (okay, fine, Molly’s jealous older sister tells him) that he wasn’t “the first Seducer of Molly” and that there’s a good chance that someone else could be the child’s father. And in a pre-Maury Povich world, it was impossible to say who was the daddy. The other potential father is named WIll Barnes and is quite the cad—he’s got a list of conquests, and either drove one broken-hearted girl to suicide or killed her himself.

Tom’s solely focused on Sophie and believes she feels the same, but he still had the same concerns about Western and Allworthy. Western is oblivious to Tom’s feelings (which he does a lousy job of hiding), but Sophie’s not—in fact, she sees them and encourages them. There’s a very sweet encounter between the two not long afterward, and you start to wonder how these two could possibly get together so early in the book.

Which is exactly when Allworthy falls ill. So dangerously ill that he summons his family—including Blifil, Thwackum, Square, some of the servants—and gives a few last words, just in case this disease kills him, which includes his Will. Thwackum and some of the servants are less than pleased with what he’s leaving them (at least compared to others) and are lamenting this when they’re interrupted with more news—Mrs. Blifil had died on her way to attend her brother. The chapter ends with them relating this news to Allworthy as he seems to be on the verge of recovery.

There’s just so much to take in here—I really didn’t do myself any favors by being too tired to write up the first part of this last week. But in short—this was just great. There’s great comedy, a little drama, and a lot of sweetness. Fielding’s voice is just great (as I’ve noted before) and the narration just carries you away. I’m really enjoying this book. That’s pretty much all there is to say.