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Tom Jones, Fielding's imperfect and "mortal" hero, is the character through
whom Fielding gives voice to his philosophy of Virtue. In contrast to the moral
philosophizing of many of Fielding's contemporaries, Fielding does not suggest
that Tom's affairs with Molly Seagrim, Mrs. Waters, and Lady
Bellaston should reflect badly on his character. Rather, keeping with the
Romantic genre, Fielding seems to admire Tom's adherence to the principles of
Gallantry, which require that a man return the interest of a woman.
Interestingly, all of Tom's love affairs, including his relationship with
Sophia, his true love, are initiated by the woman in question, which is
Fielding's way of excusing Tom from the charge of lustful depravity.
Moreover, the fact that Tom's lovers include a feisty, unfeminine wench and two
middle-aged women suggest that his motives are various. Tom also treats women
with the utmost respect, obliging their desire to be courted by pretending to be
the seducer even when they are seducing him. Tom refuses to abandon Molly for
Sophia and is plagued by his obligations to Lady Bellaston. Nonetheless, Tom's
refusal of the tempting marriage proposal of Arabella Hunt—whose last
name underscores the fact that Tom is hunted more often than he is the
hunter—indicates that he has mended his wild ways and is ready to become
Sophia's husband. Tom's gallantry reveals itself in his relationships with men
as well as women, however. This spirit is evident in Tom's insistence on paying
the drinking bill for the army men at Bristol, and in his gallant defense of
himself in the duel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Tom Jones!