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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
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
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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Tom Jones!