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Tom Jones

Henry Fielding

Book II

Book I

Book III

Summary

Chapter I

This is to be a different kind of History, the narrator informs us, one that chooses carefully where to devote its "Pains" and "Paper." The narrator invokes the simile of a lottery, declaring that he will focus on the prizes drawn, not on the blanks. The narrator dubs himself "the Founder of a new Province of Writing" and states that this entitles him to operate by his own laws, which readers will have to respect. The narrator hopes that the Reader will recognize his authority, but he promises not be a tyrant nor to make the readers his slaves.

Chapter II

Eight months after Miss Bridget and Captain Blifil's wedding, Miss Bridget gives birth to a boy. Even though Mr. Allworthy relishes the fact that his sister has given birth to an heir, it does not diminish his love for the foundling, whom he has named Thomas after himself, and for whom he has taken on the role of godfather. Allworthy visits the baby Tom in his nursery at least once a day. Allworthy tells Bridget that her son will be brought up with Tom, and after some resistance, she finally agrees. The Captain voices more opposition than his wife by quoting scripture about the unworthy status of children born out of wedlock. Allworthy counters with his own set of quotations, arguing that children are born innocent and should not have to bear their parents' guilt. The truth is that the Captain envies Allworthy's attentions to Tom. Miss Bridget, while verbally abusing Allworthy and Tom behind their backs, has a tongue of honey in public. Mrs. Deborah, the narrator concludes, has discovered Tom's rascal of a father.

Chapter III

The narrator explains the history of Tom's mother, Jenny Jones, and the schoolmaster, Mr. Partridge. Although Partridge and his shrew of a wife have been married for nine years, they have no children. The narrator confides that the reason for this is that "Children are rightly called the Pledges of Love; and [Partridge] … had given [his wife] no such Pledges…" Terrified that her husband will be less abstinent with other women, Mrs. Partridge handpicks her maidservants, choosing the least attractive women. Jenny Jones is one such maidservants.

Jenny, however, is allowed to set aside her housework in order to pursue her studies with Mr. Partridge. One day, about four years after Jenny has arrived, Mrs. Partridge strolls past her husband's study and notices Jenny suddenly rise up from her reading. Mrs. Partridge interprets this as evidence that Jenny and her husband are having an affair. She believes that their guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt when, at dinner, she witnesses Jenny smiling when Partridge asks her to "give him some drink" in Latin. Mrs. Partridge glares at Jenny, who blushes. Taking this blush as even further corroboration, Mrs. Partridge grabs a knife and threatens Jenny and her husband. Jenny escapes by running from the room, while Partridge simply sits and trembles. That night Mrs. Partridge orders Jenny to leave her house. Jenny protests her innocence, but Partridge does not defend her. Instead, he wins back his wife's favor by making love to her. Partridge is secretly happy that Jenny has been dismissed, since the girl was beginning to exceed his intellectual heights.

Chapter IV

Mrs. Partridge, once frigid, now lavishes her husband with affection. However, the narrator warns, this is the calm before the storm, for the women in the parish now report that Jenny has given birth to a second bastard. Since it is less than nine months since Mrs. Partridge ousted Jenny, Mrs. Partridge assumes that Mr. Partridge must also be the father of this child. Tearing home, Mrs. Partridge attacks her husband, scratching him into a bloody mess. He attempts to restrain her, but she fights so furiously that her cap falls off, and the "stays" at the front of her dress split open, leaving her breasts exposed. Mad with terror, Mr. Partridge runs into the street imploring his neighbors to help his wife. A gaggle of women attend to him. Mrs. Partridge slanders her husband, accusing him of wrenching off her cap and stays, pulling hair from her head, and beating her. Mr. Partridge, his face scarred from his wife's nails, stands stunned and speechless. The parish women, interpreting this silence as guilt, scream at his insolence.

Chapter V

Rumors begin to fly around the Little Baddington parish that Partridge has beaten his wife. Different reasons are given for Partridge's behavior: some report that he was having an affair, while others believe that Mrs. Partridge is the guilty party. Mrs. Wilkins scavenges for information that might reduce Allworthy's affection for Tom in an effort to please the Captain. When she hears that Partridge is Tom's father, she passes the news on to Captain Blifil. Instead of rewarding Mrs. Wilkins, however, the Captain, who does not want to ally himself with a servant for fear of being blackmailed, dismisses Mrs. Wilkins.

Mrs. Wilkins says nothing to Mr. Allworthy, nor does she mention her secret to Mrs. Blifil, with whom her friendship has faded due to their differing opinions of Tom. Captain Blifil debates the meaning of "Charity" with Allworthy. The Captain believes that "Charity" does not stipulate the actual distribution of money, whereas Mr. Allworthy believes that it does. At the conclusion of the conversation, the Captain subtly drops the news that Partridge is Tom's father. Allworthy summons Mrs. Wilkins to corrobate the story, which she does. The Captain advises Allworthy to treat Partridge with mercy.

Chapter VI

The news of Partridge's guilt comes as a shock to Allworthy, who is the only person in the county who has not already heard the rumors. Mrs. Wilkins, having been sent to unearth more evidence of the scandal, returns to Allworthy with "confirmation," which is actually the word of a neighbor. The Partridge couple appears before Allworthy to make their "Defence." Allworthy, in the Chair of Justice, first listens to Mrs. Partridge's story. Mr. Partridge then proclaims his innocence, at which point Mrs. Partridge bursts into tears and launches into further accusations, now attesting that Mr. Partridge has had affairs with numerous women. The narrator takes this opportunity to refer to the common law, which states that a wife cannot provide evidence either for or against her husband. Mr. Partridge pleads that Jenny be allowed to testify to his innocence, but a messenger who is sent to find her brings the news that Jenny has run away with a recruiting officer. Allworthy decides that the testimony of "such a Slut" could not be trusted, and that Mrs. Partridge has won the case. Mr. Partridge loses his annuity and falls into slothful poverty. Mrs. Partridge dies of smallpox shortly after. Mr. Partridge leaves the county.

Chapter VII

In spite of what Captain Blifil hopes, Allworthy's affections for Tom are steadily increasing, and the narrator observes that it is as though Allworthy feels a need to atone for his severity to Partridge through extra affection for Tom. This disgruntles the Captain, who fears that Tom's existence will lessen his own inheritance. Captain Blifil and Bridget's marriage has rapidly descended from infatuation to hatred. Their religious views are diametrically opposed, and the narrator reveals that during their courtship, the Captain made a point of conceding to Bridget even when he did not agree. Now that the Captain has no reason to comply with Bridget, he belittles her arguments. They remain together, however, because, the narrator philosophizes, married couples sometimes find more enjoyment in tormenting one another than in being separated. Although Allworthy notices the tenstion, he does not realize the magnitude of the discord, and the Captain and Bridget try to conceal it before him. In spite of his noble character, Allworthy "might" notice some flaws in the Captain, but the narrator condones this, since he believes that a good friend will recognize the faults of others and not try to cure them.

Chapter VIII

Captain Blifil meditates on how much he will inherit, and what improvements he will make to Allworthy's house and gardens once Allworthy has died. Captain Blifil's greed prompts him to lay his hands on every book available about life expectancy, from which he calculates how long he will have to wait for Allworthy's death. One night, as he takes his solitary evening walk to ponder such questions, Captain Blifil dies of Apoplexy.

Chapter IX

Mr. Allworthy, concerned about the Captain's absence from the dinner table, orders the outside bell to be rung. Allworthy himself heads for the gardens while a friend who has joined them for dinner attempts to calm Bridget down with words and wine. When Allworthy returns, silent and upset, Bridget wails and laments that someone must have murdered her husband. Suddenly a servant bursts in, crying that the Captain has been found. Two servants carry in his dead body, and Allworthy weeps at the sight, while Bridget screams and faints. Two doctors Dr. Y. and Dr. Z., arrive and debate the cause of death. Each doctor has a favorite disease that he invokes for every autopsy. Although Captain Blifil is now confirmed to be dead, Dr. Y and Dr. Z need to invent an excuse to stay longer so they will receive more money. Bridget remains bed-ridden for a month and Allworthy generously commissions an epitaph for the Captain's grave.

Analysis

At first sight the narrator seems to treat all of his characters with deference, but on closer inspection, we notice Fielding's irony toward his characters. For example, Fielding slyly undercuts Partridge's authority by describing Partridge as a "Pedagogue" rather than as a "teacher." The names Fielding chooses for characters are also parodies, following the eighteenth-century custom of using names that magnify the essential qualities of each character. Allworthy, for instance, is a genuinely worthy man, a moral yardstick against which the other characters should be evaluated.

However, Book II introduces us to Allworthy's greatest flaw, which is that he is unable to perceive the cunning and conniving of others. While this may be a minor flaw, one that stems from virtue rather than vice, Allworthy's inability to sport the machinations of others drives much of the plot of Tom Jones. It may seem contradictory that Fielding has constructed this character with a flaw, but Allworthy's characterization is consistent with the narrator's stated refusal to believe that anyone can be perfect. This attitude was a precocious one in the eighteenth century, and distinguishes Fielding from authors such as Samuel Richardson, who intended for his novels to be read as instruction manuals for morality. Fielding desires to record life more accurately, and this desire demands the creation of imperfect characters.

The lack of perfect characters in Tom Jones does not mean that the novel is devoid of morality. Indeed, Book II centers on Allworthy's kindness to the foundling child, Tom. Many of the characters, particularly Captain Blifil and Mrs. Wilkins, condemn Allworthy's decision to keep the boy, arguing that he is thereby supporting "Vice." Yet the narrator subtly reveals how the characters most critical of Allworthy's decision to raise Tom are driven by questionable motives in their own right. In such a way, Fielding allows questions of morality to take the form of debates among his characters, rather than writing dogmatic authoritative lectures. The lengthy debate between the Captain and Allworthy on the topic of "Charity" indicates Fielding's interest in solving moral dilemmas through philosophy rather than religion. Philosophy, Fielding implies, presents a variety of questions but no definitive answers.

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