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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
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.
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;
had given [his wife] no such Pledges
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Tom Jones!