A comic writer concludes when his characters reach the happiest of states; a tragic writer concludes when his characters descend to the most wretched of states. If this were a tragedy, the narrator's work would be finished. He provides a possible tragic ending: Sophia could be given in marriage to Blifil or Fellamar, and Jones could be hanged at Tyburn. The ancient writers had the benefit of bringing Divine Intervention to their assistance in saving their characters; he has to rely on natural methods. Jones still has worse news to face.
Blifil finds Allworthy and Mrs. Miller at breakfast and tells them that Tom is a villain. Mrs. Miller vehemently stands up for Tom, surprising Allworthy, who tells her not to treat Blifil so rudely. Mrs. Miller says that although she has to acknowledge that Tom has faults, they are merely the "Faults of Wildness and of Youth." She promises to tell Allworthy stories of Tom's humanity and generosity. Blifil now recounts that Tom has killed a man. Mrs. Miller argues that Tom must have been provoked. A visitor arrives for Allworthy.
Squire Western arrives in Mrs. Miller's kitchen and tells the company about Mrs. Western's plan for Sophia to marry Lord Fellamar. Allworthy has to translate Western's dialect. After listening to Western's speech, Allworthy strongly discourages Western from forcing Sophia into any marriage. Western bellows that he begat Sophia and thus has a right to govern her. Blifil begs that he may be allowed to persevere with Sophia. Allworthy is concerned that he is pursuing Sophia out of lust rather than love and encourages Blifil to examine his heart. When Blifil alludes to the fact that Tom has committed a "murder," Western sings and dances about the room in joy. The narrator promises to return to Sophia's story, since he "can no longer bear to be absent" from her.
The narrator compares Sophia, pursued now by Lord Fellamar as well as by Blifil, to a hunted doe. Mrs. Western threatens to take Sophia back to her father if she does not agree to meet with Fellamar.
Sophia tells her aunt that Fellamar attempted to violate her—the proof of which she still has on her left breast. Mrs. Western is horrified—no man has ever treated a woman of the Western family in such a way before. Sophia reminds her aunt that she herself has turned down many suitors. Sophia wants to know why she cannot do the same. This sets Mrs. Western boasting of her love "conquests" and "cruelty" for half an hour. Mrs. Western's mood improves to the point that she agrees that some distance between Sophia and Fellamar is appropriate.
Mrs. Miller, Nightingale, and Partridge—the most faithful of friends—visit Jones in jail. Partridge announces the happy news that Fitzpatrick has not died. Relief washes over Jones—until he begins to think of the helpless situation with Sophia. Mrs. Miller, who has learned about Sophia from Partridge, offers to speak to Sophia on behalf of Jones. Tom thus entrusts a letter for Sophia with Mrs. Miller, who has already been "so warm an Advocate to Mr. Allworthy" on account of Tom. Nightingale promises to investigate Fitzpatrick's state of health, and to discover who else was at the duel.
Sophia and Mrs. Western have been on great terms since Sophia allowed her aunt to brag about her ex-suitors. Sophia may thus admit whomever she pleases to the house. She permits Mrs. Miller to visit her, but when she sees that Mrs. Miller has a letter from Tom, she refuses to accept it. Mrs. Miller falls to her knees and tells Sophia the stories of Tom's goodwill to Mr. Anderson and to her daughter Nancy. She surprises Sophia with her vehemence on Tom's behalf. Sophia says that since she cannot prevail over Mrs. Miller, she will have to accept the letter. She opens it as soon as Mrs. Miller leaves the room. In his letter Tom says that he can account for the marriage proposal to Lady Bellaston and that he did not wish to marry her at all. However, he does not provide any details in his letter that mollify her anger towards him. Sophia is obliged to attend a party with Lady Bellaston and her aunt that evening, at which she struggles to maintain a cheerful countenance.
Mrs. Miller tells Allworthy about her many obligations to Tom. Allworthy accepts that even the worst villains have some goodness in them, but he begs her never to mention Tom's name to him. Moreover, he resents the fact that Mrs. Miller compares Blfil unfavorably to Tom. Mrs. Miller, however, cannot say enough about Tom's beauty, goodness, and generosity. Allworthy is moved by her speech, but changes the topic of conversation to Nancy. He visits Nightingale's father to try to reconcile him to the family. Blifil and the lawyer Dowling arrive. Blifil, greatly pleased with his new friend, has made Dowling his steward.
Mrs. Western's good spirits continue, but she has not abandoned her plan for Sophia to marry Fellamar. She is further encouraged by Lady Bellaston, who argues that most marriages are arranged. Sophia agrees to a visit from Fellamar, who showers her with compliments and professions of love. Sophia asks him how he can reconcile such sentiments with his violent behavior to her in the past. He pleads madness from love. Sophia says that if he truly wishes to attune himself to her happiness, he should leave. He asks whether she has another suitor—she retorts that it is not her responsibility to tell him. A flushed Mrs. Western enters the room and begins to chide Sophia for her "silly Country Notions of Bashfulness."
Mrs. Western's fury stems from more than one reason: her new maid, warned by Mrs. Honour to keep a close eye on Sophia, has told Mrs. Western all about Sophia's conversations with Mrs. Miller. Sophia refuses to hand over the letter that Mrs. Miller brought her from Tom, and Mrs. Western threatens to evict Sophia from her house and take her back to Squire Western's house.
Jones has spent twenty-four hours alone in prison before Partridge and Nightingale return. Nightingale has tracked down two of the men who claim to have witnessed the start of the duel. He bears bad news: both of the men say that they saw Tom provoke the fight. Mrs. Miller arrives with news of Mrs. Western's rebuff. Once his friends have left, Jones receives a surprise visit from Mrs. Waters. The narrator updates the reader on all that has happened since Tom parted with Mrs. Waters at the inn at Upton: Fitzpatrick courted her in the coach on the way to Bath, where they were married. He did not tell her that he was already married. When Mrs. Waters learned that the man who wounded her husband was none other than Jones, she decided to visit him in prison. Mrs. Waters tells Tom that Fitzpatrick is beyond danger of dying and that he has admitted to initiating the duel. This information improves Jones's spirits dramatically. He suffers, however, over the thought that Sophia has abandoned him.
In Chapter I, the narrator forecast that he would raise the novel to its highest pitch by the end of Book XVII. He reminds us of his own artifice and authority by suggesting that, if he were a tragic writer, he could end the novel after Book XVI with Tom's death by hanging and Sophia's marriage to either Blifil or Lord Fellamar. From Chapter II of Book XVII onward, however, the narrator begins to fulfill his promise of bringing resolution to what had previously seemed an irresolvable situation.
This is the beginning of Fielding's version of "Virtue Rewarded" the alternate name for Samuel Richardson's novel, Pamela, which defines virtue as chastity. Tom's generosity to his friends in the past now means that they return his loyalty and friendship—Partridge visits Tom constantly in jail, Nightingale discovers the eyewitnesses to the duel, and Mrs. Miller undertakes to effect a reunion between Tom and Sophia. Characters are distinguished at this point by their loyalty or their lack of loyalty—while Tom's friends support him, Mrs. Honour betrays Sophia.
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