At age 29 Tom Jones couldn’t imagine being a man over 50—he said it was all downhill from there. Yet today, a few years past that feared age, he’s just getting his second wind. In recent years Jones has gone from singing in front of sold-out crowds of middle-aged, underwear-tossing matrons to singing in front of sold-out crowds of fist-waving, funkily clad youths. Why the resurgence of this 50-something Welshman who first gained popularity before some of his new fans were even born? Perhaps because he’s never lost his unique vocal power or his charismatic stage presence. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s never fought the changing times.
Born Thomas Jones Woodward in Pontypridd, South Wales, Great Britain, on June 7, 1940, Jones started singing at an early age. His mother had him performing for shillings at the village store at the tender age of three and, later, singing American hits like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “Mule Train” for the local women’s guild. At home he would ask his mother to pull the drapes and announce him as he sang on his “stage” in the sitting room. Determined not to end up a coal miner like his father, Jones left school at 15 and held a host of laborer’s jobs while singing nights in the tough, working-class pubs in town. He married Malinda (“Linda”) Trenchard when they were both 16 and she was pregnant with their only child, Mark.
As a teen Jones fancied himself a “Teddy Boy,” dressing in the aggressive and affected style of that rough British youth subculture (not unlike the 1950s “greaser” phenomenon in the U.S.). This identification and his struggle to escape his environment created the rugged, macho image that typifies Jones to this day. The hip swivel that “Tiger Tom” developed in those early years and the sheer emotion with which he sings set him on the road to sex-symbol status. In the beginning, however, this persona made for a muddled perception by both audiences and record companies.
In 1964, when Welsh songwriter and manager Gordon Mills came across Jones in a local nightclub, he could tell within a few moments that this man had potential. “The first few bars were all I needed to hear, they convinced me that here was a voice that could make him the greatest singer in the world,” Mills was quoted as saying in a 1993 Tom Jones Enterprises press biography. Mills urged Jones to join him in London and promptly shortened Thomas Jones Woodward to Tom Jones in order to capitalize on the then-current film adaptation of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, a hit starring Albert Finney; the name change helped to foster the
For the Record…
Born Thomas Jones Woodward, June 7, 1940, in Pontypridd, South Wales, Great Britain; son of Thomas (a coal miner) and Freda Jones; married Malinda Trenchard, c. 1956; children: Mark.
Worked variously as bricklayer’s helper, builder’s laborer, glove cutter, paper miller, door-to-door vacuum salesman, road construction worker, and hod carrier, among other jobs, c. 1955-64; sang in local pubs as Tommy Scott, the Twisting Vocalist; Tiger Tom, the Twisting Vocalist; and Tommy Scott and the Senators, c. 1955-64; “discovered” by manager Gordon Mills, 1964; signed by Decca label, 1964; released first album, Along Came Jones, 1965. Host of variety show in England and U.S., This Is Tom Jones, ABC, 1969-71; host of Tom Jones: The Right Time, VH-1, 1993. Signed with Interscope Records, 1993.
Addresses: Office —Tom Jones Enterprises, Ste. 205, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
same sexy image that the fictional Jones’s lusty personality suggested. But record company executives did not know what to make of this newly created Tom Jones. He was too old and he sang too well. His sound was raucous and overwhelmingly powerful, and his performance style was deemed too forward and sexual. At that time record companies were looking for groups of long-haired boys—not solo big-voiced men.
Mills and Jones persisted, and, within a year, Jones had recorded Mills’s driving “It’s Not Unusual,” landed a recording contract with Decca, sold three million copies of the song, and watched it rise to Number One in 13 countries. But Jones’s somewhat intimidating, sweating, sexy image again threw him off track. “A lot of the younger girls have said they’re frightened of me,” he confessed to New York Times Magazine contributor Anthony Carthew. Then, in November of 1966, during a post-“Unusual” slump, Mills made the discovery that would relaunch Jones’s career: the kids weren’t the real market—it was the adults. Armed with this insight, Mills stuck Jones in a tux, added slightly more mature songs to the singer’s repertoire, and by Christmas, “Green, Green Grass of Home” was at the top of the charts, signaling the beginning of a panty-waving saga.
Once critics got past the skin-tight pants and romantic, coal-mining background, they tended to agree that Tom Jones had one phenomenal singing voice. “Mr. Jones is both a showman and, all things considered, an unusually good singer,” wrote New York Times contributor John S. Wilson. Mark Shivas, also of the Times, called Jones’s gift “a big, throaty, sexy sound that wallops the studio wall with a satisfying thud.” Time, in fact, reported that “when Jones growls through a song in a black, bluesy style, the emotion seems to come more from the throat than the heart.” And Betty Baer of Look assessed, “Tom’s musical style is the confessional moan, the raw gut feeling associated with the American soul sound.”
It’s not surprising, then, that Jones’s early influences included blues and R & B greats like Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, and Brook Benton. Jerry Lee Lewis’s music planted the seed of rock and roll in Jones’s heart. These musicians so impressed themselves on Jones’s style that many listeners thought he was black. “There was this disk jockey,” Jones told Shivas, “who was amazed because I was white and said I should keep my face off the record sleeves because otherwise I’d lose the colored audience I’d built up and the sales would drop. But of course I didn’t. I was christened ‘our blue-eyed soul brother,’ which I liked. It was a fantastic compliment.” Even Elvis Presley thought Jones was black when he heard “What’s New Pussycat?” The first thing Presley asked on meeting Jones was “How the hell do you sing like that?” The two became close friends and when “Green, Green Grass of Home” became a hit for Jones, Presley frequently called radio stations to request it. Presley also warmed up his voice with Jones’s “Delilah” before his own performances.
By the end of 1970 Jones had sold over 30 million discs worldwide. He continued his success throughout the early 1970s, with hits like “Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat?,” “Help Yourself,” “Never Fall in Love Again,” and “Without Love.” With superstardom came This Is Tom Jones, the hour-long, prime-time British musical variety television show, the American rights to which were acquired by ABC-TV, making Jones the first British entertainer to star in a regularly scheduled American television show. This Is Tom Jones was a colossal hit for two seasons and touted a varied and impressive list of guests ranging from musical stars The Who, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley, to actors Anne Bancroft, Peter Sellers, and Kirk Douglas. Jones’s TV garb—velvet tuxedos, shirts open to the waist—not to mention his undulating hips, catapulted him into the realm of love god.
Unfortunately, as Jones did not write his own material, he was dependent on good music finding him. “That stopped happening in the ‘70s,” he admitted to New York Times contributor John Marchese. Instead, he relied on his hits and began a heavy touring schedule with long engagements on the Las Vegas circuit. It was during this period that “the underwear thing,” as Jones calls it, began. Never before had the voice and gyrations of an entertainer prompted women to remove their underwear and toss it up on stage, often along with their room keys—or themselves. Mortified husbands were constantly retrieving their lust-struck wives. Although it embarrassed him, Jones could not ignore the invariable panty inundation and eventually worked it into his routine, wiping his brow with a lacy morsel and flinging it back to the proud owner. Until 1987 Jones’s professional life continued in this fashion, with newer generations of music fans saying things like “Tom Jones? Oh yeah, he’s that underwear guy in Las Vegas.” Press coverage of his career all but ceased, and his fans got older. Even the singer’s own publicity materials omit nearly 20 years of his life.
But in 1987 Jones recorded “A Boy From Nowhere” for a musical called Matador. When it hit Number Two on the British charts, Tom Jones was suddenly a name that excited the younger generation. With numerous demands by teens that London dance clubs play “It’s Not Unusual,” Jones was back. The clincher was the 1988 release of “Kiss,” a cover version of the Prince song by British avant-garde techno-pop group The Art of Noise; the cut featured Jones on vocals. Heavy rotation of the video incarnation of “Kiss” on U.S. cable stations MTV and VH1 introduced Jones to an entirely new audience. Requests for him to appear began flowing in, including, in 1991, a benefit for Kurdish refugees broadcast by MTV and the 30th anniversary celebration for Amnesty International. Jones was suddenly working with top young performers from both the U.K. and the U.S.
Strong influences at this time were Jones’s son Mark and daughter-in-law Donna. In 1986, after the death of manager Gordon Mills, Mark Woodward became his father’s manager, with Donna acting as publicist; this young couple encouraged Jones to sing newer material. Jones’s longtime wife, Linda, had always been an encouragement as well, although she has kept a decidedly low profile throughout the years. Jones confessed to New York Times contributor Shivas, “She doesn’t like to be in the audience watching my hips move around. She knows the effect it has on her and she doesn’t want to see it having that effect on other girls too.” Jones simply attributes the longevity of his marriage to love. “When you really love one another,” he told Details interviewer Anka Radakovich, “you become part of one another.”
Jones looks at most everything with that easy-going simplicity. Of his current resurgence in the entertainment business, he said nonchalantly to Rick Marin of TV Guide, “If you’ve been around a long time, you get rediscovered.” He never did stop performing, and when everything old became new again, Tom Jones became hip. In 1992, The Right Time —six half-hour television segments produced for the national independent ITV network in the U.K.—had Jones singing and chatting again with pop music’s most current acts, including Erasure, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Wonder, and Al Jarreau. When the show aired in February of 1993 on VH1, Jones flew once more into the American spotlight, reestablishing the mark he’d made with “Kiss.” This success did not surprise his die-hard fans, like plastics manufacturer Burk Zanft. “I remember when Tom filled Madison Square Garden,” Zanft reminisced to New York Times contributor Marchese. “He was as big as Michael Jackson back then.”
Jones still relies on available material, but his ear is perfectly tuned to what’s new. His versatility keeps his singing fresh. “I like all types of music,” he told Marin. “But I’m not copying, I put my own sound on it. It’s all Tom Jones.” He’s made British pop group EMF’s “Unbelievable” his own—indeed, it has become Jones’s ‘90s theme song, replacing “It’s Not Unusual.” And the eternal sex appeal? He explained to Marin, “It’s the sound of [my] voice. It’s a sexy sound. [I] don’t have to leap all over the place. Sinatra has always been a sexy singer and he’s never really done much gyrating.”
Since the U.S. debut of The Right Time, Jones has been all over American television. He’s played himself on prime-time’s The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and was even featured on the Fox network’s animated hit The Simpsons. Popular comedian/performance artist/actress Sandra Bernhard has said that she felt destined to work with Jones after catching his Las Vegas show and realized her destiny when he made an appearance on her HBO special Sandra After Dark. Their “Unbelievable” duet was so risqué that even the crotch-grabbing, hip-rolling Jones was embarrassed. Bernhard didn’t seem to notice, though. “He’s just such a pro,” she recalled to Marin. “And he has never lost his sex appeal.”
Today Jones is making friends everywhere he goes. Pop singer Sting is one; Jones was the surprise hit of Sting’s 1993 Carmgie Hall concert to benefit his rain forest preservation projects. Afterward, actor Dustin Hoffman told Jones that when he opens his mouth to sing it seems like an animal jumped out. Some of the “lads,” as Jones call his new young friends—including Jason Priestly and Luke Perry of Fox’s popular Beverly Hills 90210—have been known to fly to Las Vegas for performances. Jones has also bonded with ribald interviewer Howard Stern, who often rivals Bernhard in his outrageousness.
Meanwhile Tom Jones is loving it all—the late nights, the parties, the performances. For ten months of the year he tours the U.S. and abroad—tackling everything from pop standards to gospel to country—and taking every opportunity to embrace new songs, new genres, and new fans. “I just wanted to make records,” he told Marchese. “New records. I don’t want people to say, ‘He started to make some noise again and then just faded away.’” In mid-1993 Jones signed a recording contract with Interscope Records. Though he has mellowed somewhat onstage, he still breaks into an occasional grind, sending audiences—men and women of every age—into peals of delight. He mused to Marchese, “I just do what I do. If people think it’s hip, well, thank God.”
Along Came Jones, Decca, 1965.
What’s New Pussycat, Parrot, 1965.
Atomic Jones, Parrot, 1965.
It’s Not Unusual, Parrot, 1965.
From the Heart, Decca, 1966.
Green, Green Grass of Home, Decca, 1967.
Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings, Parrot, 1967.
13 Smash Hits, Decca, 1967.
Tom Jones Live at the Talk of the Town, Parrot, 1967.
Delilah, Decca, 1968.
The Tom Jones Fever Zone, Parrot, 1968.
Help Yourself, Decca, 1968.
In Aid of World’s Refugees, London, 1969.
Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas, Parrot, 1969.
Tom, Parrot, 1970.
This Is Tom Jones, Parrot, 1970.
I (Who Have Nothing), Parrot, 1970.
Tom Jones Sings She’s a Lady, Parrot, 1971.
Tom Jones Live at Caesar’s Palace, Parrot, 1971.
Tom Jones Close Up, Parrot, 1972.
Body and Soul of Tom Jones, Parrot, 1973.
Tom Jones’Greatest Hits, Parrot, 1973.
Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like, Parrot, 1974.
Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do, Parrot, 1975.
Tom Jones 10th Anniversary Album, Tee Vee, 1975.
The Classic Tom Jones, Epic, 1977.
Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow, Epic, 1977.
Tom Is Love, Epic, 1977.
What a Night, Epic, 1977.
The Country Side of Tom Jones, Parrot, 1978.
Rescue Me, MCA, 1979.
Do You Take This Man, EMI, 1979.
Darlin’, Polygram, 1981.
Country, Polygram, 1982.
Don’t Let Our Dreams Die Young, Polygram, 1983.
Love Is on the Radio, Polygram, 1984.
Tender Loving Care, Polygram, 1985.
Matador, Epic/CBS, 1987.
Move Closer, Jive/RCA, 1989.
Carrying a Torch, Chrysalis, 1991.
The Complete Tom Jones, London UK, 1993.
Velvet + Steel = Gold: Tom Jones 1964-69, Deram, 1993.
(Contributor) The Christmas Album, Interscope, 1993.
Coronet, December 1969.
Details, My 1993.
Life, September 18, 1970.
Look, November 4, 1969.
National Observer, July 21, 1969.
Newsweek, January 20, 1969.
New York Post, June 7, 1969.
New York Times, February 8, 1969; March 9, 1969; June 14, 1970; June 15, 1971; March 8, 1974; April 7, 1974; May 17, 1993.
New York Times Magazine, November 14, 1965.
Rolling Stone, May 16, 1991.
Time, July 11, 1969.
TV Guide, January 24, 1970; February 20, 1993.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Tom Jones Enterprises press biography, 1993.
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding's third novel, was first published in England in 1749 and was an immediate best-seller. It is a comedy in both senses of the formal definition: it is amusing and all ends well.
Originally entitled The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, the book tells the story of the title character from infancy through his marriage to the beautiful and virtuous Sophia Western, the pursuit of whom takes up much of the tale. Along the way, Fielding relentlessly satirizes the hypocrisy and vanity of most of his supporting cast. He shows that the lusty rascal Tom is, in fact, an infinitely better human being than the vicious pretenders who surround him and scheme against him while camouflaged in a thin veneer of artificial virtue. The hero overcomes not only all external plots and obstacles but, most importantly, his own weaknesses of character, to win both love and fortune.
Henry Fielding was born April 22, 1707, at his grandparents' estate in Somerset, England. He was the first of seven children born to Edmund Fielding, a career military officer, and Sarah Gould Fielding, daughter of a wealthy judge.
Fielding spent his childhood on his parents' large farm in Dorset and was tutored at home. His mother died when he was ten, and his father sent the children to live with their maternal grandmother, Lady Gould. Edmund Fielding soon married a widow and set about squandering his children's inheritance. Lady Gould filed suit for legal custody of the children and won. In the course of these events, Henry became willful and defiant. His father sent him to Eton in 1719, where he studied Greek, Latin, and the classics. He remained there until 1724 and later briefly attended the University of Leyden in Holland.
Fielding began his writing career as a playwright; his first play, Love in Several Masques, was performed in London in 1728. He soon became a successful playwright and also published poems and essays.
In 1734, Fielding married Charlotte Cradock, a beautiful woman who would later be the inspiration for Sophia Western in Tom Jones. They had five children, four of whom would die quite young, before Charlotte died in 1744.
Fielding's play The Historical Register, performed in 1737, satirized Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole so acutely that the government shut down the theater where Fielding was working. It became impossible for him to earn a living writing plays, so he went to law school and was admitted to the bar in 1740. In addition to practicing law, Fielding cofounded a political and cultural journal called Champion.
The year 1740 also saw the publication of Pamela, a novel by Samuel Richardson that soon became the first bestseller of all time. Fielding felt so strongly that the novel was overrated that he wrote a parody of it, Shamela. This launched his fiction career. Another, more ambitious parody of the same novel, Joseph Andrews, appeared in 1742.
In 1747, Fielding married Mary Daniel, who had been his first wife's maid and who was pregnant with Fielding's child. They would have five children together.
Fielding continued a successful law career as he also continued to write popular novels. He was appointed magistrate (a government position similar to that of judge) for Middlesex in 1749, the year Tom Jones was published and became a bestseller. His last novel, Amelia, was published in 1751, but he continued to write for a daily newspaper and nonfiction treatises such as Proposal for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor (1753).
In early 1754, Fielding became very ill, resigned as magistrate, and sailed for Portugal, where he hoped to recover. Although he did seem to be regaining his health and began planning to write a
history of Portugal, he died in Lisbon on October 8, 1754.
The narrator introduces Squire Allworthy, telling readers that he "once lived (and perhaps lives still)" in Somerset and that he was not only one of the richest men in England but also kind and intelligent. His wife had died, and their three children had all died as infants, so the squire lived with his sister, Bridget, who had never married.
The narrator further relates that on one occasion the squire was away from his estate on business for three months and, on the day he returned, found a baby in his bed. Squire Allworthy had a servant, Deborah Wilkins, take care of the baby. The next morning, he told his household that he would rear the foundling as his son. He put Bridget in charge of the baby boy and sent Mrs. Wilkins out to find out the identity of his mother.
A servant named Jenny Jones, who had recently worked both for the local schoolmaster and as a nurse to Bridget, is quickly accused and admits to being the child's mother. Squire Allworthy, who is the local magistrate, lives up to his reputation for kindness. Instead of sending her to jail, as he could do, he arranges for her to move away to a place where no one will know of her past. He even accepts her refusal to name the baby's father. She does tell him that someday he will know the father's identity. Allworthy names the baby Tom Jones.
The local physician, Dr. Blifil, introduces Bridget to his brother, Captain Blifil. Since Bridget is desperate to marry and the captain is eager to be rich, the two marry within a month. The doctor would have married her himself—for both love and money—but is already married. The Blifil brothers begin to antagonize each other, and the doctor goes off to London and dies "of a broken heart."
Bridget gives birth to a son eight months after her marriage. This boy, Master Blifil, is Allworthy's heir. Master Blifil and Tom Jones are to grow up together, in spite of Captain Blifil's objections to his son growing up with a bastard.
Mrs. Wilkins becomes convinced, through local gossip, that the schoolmaster, Mr. Partridge, is Tom's father. When Partridge is tried on the charge, his own wife testifies against him, as she is ever suspicious of him. Found guilty, Partridge loses his job. His wife soon dies of smallpox, and Partridge leaves the area.
Bridget and Captain Blifil begin to argue about everything. As Blifil dislikes Tom, Bridget shows him more and more affection just to irritate her husband. Then Blifil dies suddenly of apoplexy. All-worthy builds a monument to his virtues, which were well hidden in life.
Years have passed; Tom is in his early teens. Tom is something of a rogue and has lost the affection of all in the household. While Tom has been caught stealing three times, two of these crimes involved taking food for the family of the estate's gamekeeper, who is Tom's one ally. When the gamekeeper, Black George, joins Tom in some mischief at Tom's insistence, Master Blifil eventually reports this (although Tom has steadfastly refused to do so), and Black George is fired.
The boys' tutors, Thwackum and Square, are always ready to punish Tom but are fond of Master Blifil, who curries their favor shamelessly. In addition, both tutors have designs on marrying Bridget (for her money) and assume that favoring her son will help their cause. Not only does she have no intention of marrying either of them, Bridget actually hates her son (because she hated his father) and loves Tom.
Tom nearly prevails upon Allworthy to rehire Black George, but Master Blifil ruins things by revealing that George killed a rabbit on the estate of a neighbor, Squire Western. Tom has warm friend-ships with the squire and his daughter Sophia, and he is determined to try to get George a job on their estate in spite of his poaching.
At Tom's request, Sophia persuades her doting father to hire George.
Tom falls in love with George's daughter, Molly, and Molly is soon pregnant. When this is discovered, Allworthy, the magistrate, sentences her to prison. Before she is imprisoned, Tom admits that he is the baby's father and begs Allworthy to commute her sentence, which he does.
Sophia, though distressed by all this, still loves Tom. It happens one day that Tom is on the scene when Sophia's horse bucks, and he saves her, breaking his arm in the process. He convalesces at the Western estate, where he is something of a hero.
During his recovery, Tom and Sophia's love is kindled. Tom, feeling sorry for Molly, decides to offer her money in place of his love, but when he goes to her house, he discovers the tutor Square in her bedroom with her. He later discovers, also, that Molly's baby is most likely not his. He is happy to be free to pursue Sophia.
Allworthy becomes very ill and is expected to die. He tells the assembled household that Master Blifil will inherit most of his estate, but he leaves Tom an annuity. Tom is more than satisfied; all the others complain about what they have been given.
A messenger arrives with the news that Bridget has died in transit from Salisbury. In spite of this sad news, Allworthy makes a sudden recovery. Tom is so happy that he goes out and gets drunk. Blifil is offended at this behavior in the face of his mother's death, and the two fight. Afterward, Tom meets Molly on the road. The two make love in the bushes and are discovered by not only Blifil and Thwackum but also Squire Western and Sophia.
Squire Western's sister realizes that Sophia is in love and, genuinely mistaken, tells her brother that Blifil is the object of Sophia's affections. He is happy, and the two squires, consulting Blifil but not Sophia, agree that their offspring will marry. Blifil agrees only because of Sophia's wealth and because he knows that the marriage will make Tom miserable.
When Sophia protests her match with Blifil, her father asks Tom to persuade her to marry Blifil. Tom agrees, but of course does just the opposite. When Squire Western learns that Sophia loves Tom, he explodes; Tom, a bastard, is no match for his beloved daughter. Western tells Allworthy to keep Tom away from Sophia, and Blifil takes the opportunity to tell Allworthy about Tom's recent meeting with Molly.
Allworthy gives Tom five hundred pounds and tells him to leave the house and never return. Tom loses the money on the road and then meets Black George, who helps him search for it. George, however, has found and pocketed the money.
Tom writes Sophia a love letter, which is delivered by her servant, and Sophia responds by sending Tom all the money she has.
Tom decides to go to sea but longs for Sophia.
The squires decide that their children will wed immediately. When Sophia is told, she and her maid, Honour, conspire to run away to the home of an understanding relative in London.
Tom, meanwhile, meets up with some soldiers fighting in a rebellion against the king and joins them. At dinner, he toasts Sophia, but one of his comrades, Northerton, says that he knows her and that she is a tramp. Tom and the soldier fight, and Tom receives a gash to his head. Northerton is imprisoned but escapes.
The barber who is called to dress Tom's wound is none other than Partridge, the schoolmaster convicted of fathering Tom. Partridge, who has changed his name to Little Benjamin, tells Tom that he is not his father. The two decide to travel together.
At a home where they plan to spend the night, robbers attack the man of the house, and Tom fights them off. This man, known as The Man of the Hill, tells Tom his life story.
Out for a walk, Tom and The Man of the Hill hear a woman screaming. Tom rescues her from the violent advances of a man who turns out to be Northerton. He tries to capture Northerton, who escapes again.
Tom takes the woman, Lady Waters, to an inn to recover. There, she seduces him.
While Tom is with Lady Waters, Sophia and Honour arrive at the inn. Sophia finds out that Tom is, once again, with another woman and swears that she is finished with him. She has the inn's maid leave her muff on Tom's (unoccupied) bed and leaves.
- Three film versions of Tom Jones have been made in Britain. A silent film made in 1917 was directed by Edwin J. Collins and starred Langhorn Burton as Tom. A 1963 version was directed by Tony Richardson and starred Albert Finney as Tom and Susannah York as Sophia; it is available on videotape. A 1976 film entitled The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones was directed by Cliff Owen and starred Nicky Henson as Tom and Madeline Smith as Sophia; it, too, is available on video.
- A television miniseries entitled The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, also made in Britain, appeared in 1997. It was directed by Metin Hüseyin and starred Max Beesley as Tom and Samantha Morton as Sophia. This version is also available on video.
- Penguin Books released an unabridged audio version of the novel in 1997, with Robert Lindsay as reader. Abridged versions are available from Highbridge Classics (1998, John L. Sessions, reader) and Media Books (1999, Edward Fox, reader).
Tom finds the muff and plans to pursue Sophia. Squire Western arrives at the inn, and he, as well as Tom and Partridge, sets off to find Sophia.
On the road, Sophia meets her cousin, Harriet Fitzpatrick, and her maid. The two women once lived together with their aunt and are happy to see each other. They go to an inn and begin to tell each other why they are traveling. A gentleman arrives at the inn and offers Sophia and Harriet his coach to complete their trip to London. This gentleman is the same man who, as Harriet had just been telling Sophia, recently helped her escape from her tyrannical husband.
In London, Sophia stays with a distant relative, Lady Bellaston. Harriet stays in rented quarters paid for by her gentleman benefactor.
Squire Western is diverted from his pursuit of his daughter by the sound of a pack of hunting dogs. He joins the hunt and gives up the idea of finding Sophia.
Tom and Partridge meet a beggar who offers to sell them a book he has found. It turns out to be Sophia's. The book contains her signature, and later a one hundred-pound note falls out of it. In spite of this evidence that he is on Sophia's trail, Tom soon gives up on Sophia and decides to join the army. But he then meets a boy who has seen Sophia and sets out after her again. He and Partridge pursue her from town to town, never quite catching up.
Tom has had reports of Sophia's traveling companions and her destination. In London, he finds Harriet Fitzpatrick, who refuses to tell him where Sophia is. Lady Bellaston has heard so much about Tom that she is eager to meet him, and Harriet introduces her to Tom the next time he calls on her.
While at his rooms, rented from a widow named Mrs. Miller, Tom rescues a gentleman, Mr. Nightingale, who is being attacked by his footman. Tom and Mr. Nightingale become friends.
Tom receives a package containing a mask and an invitation to a masquerade party. Tom thinks this is from Harriet. At the party, he finds a person who he thinks is Harriet and asks her to tell him where Sophia is. Instead, the lady leads him to a private room, where she reveals that she is Lady Bellaston and seduces him. Tom and Lady Bellaston have frequent assignations in the coming days, and the lady provides Tom with generous financial favors.
Upon arriving at Lady Bellaston's home one evening, Tom meets Sophia there. She had returned earlier than expected from a play. Tom and Sophia are both speechless at seeing each other. When Lady Bellaston arrives, she pretends not to know Tom, and Tom pretends that he is there to return Sophia's book and money.
Lady Bellaston goes to Tom's lodgings late that night to let him know that she wants to continue their affair. Sophia, meanwhile, sends Tom a letter saying that he should not come to Lady Bellaston's house again as it might cause suspicion.
The next day, Mrs. Miller tells Tom that he must not have female visitors late at night. Tom agrees not to repeat the offense. Mr. Nightingale tells Tom that his father has arranged a marriage for him and that he is leaving, even though he loves Mrs. Miller's daughter, Nancy.
The following day, Mrs. Miller tells Tom that Nancy is pregnant and has tried to kill herself and that Nightingale has disappeared. Tom, of course, says he will try to help. He finds Nightingale, who says he wants to marry Nancy but cannot displease his father. Tom goes to see Nightingale's father and tells him that his son has already married Nancy. He meets Nightingale's uncle, who returns with him to see Nightingale. The uncle tries to dissuade Nightingale from marrying Nancy.
Lady Bellaston schemes to have her acquaintance Lord Fellamar rape Sophia, whom he loves. She thinks that Sophia will feel obliged to marry Fellamar, leaving Tom for herself. The deed is prevented when Squire Western, directed by Harriet Fitzpatrick, arrives. He demands that Sophia return home and marry Blifil, which suits Lady Bellaston as well as her original plan. Honour goes to Tom's lodgings to tell him these things.
The next day, Nancy Miller and Nightingale are married. Nightingale, having seen Lady Bellaston at Tom's rooms the night before, tells Tom that she is dishonorable in every way. Tom decides to end their affair, and Nightingale says that the best way to do this is to propose marriage. Tom sends the lady a letter proposing marriage and gets the desired result.
Mrs. Miller receives a letter from Squire All-worthy stating that he and Blifil are on their way to London and would like to lodge with her. Tom, Nightingale, and Nancy move to new lodgings to make room for them.
Mrs. Arabella Hunt, a wealthy neighbor of Mrs. Miller's, has gotten to know Tom and now proposes marriage. Tom declines, although he is tempted by her money.
Although Squire Western has locked up Sophia, Tom manages to get a letter to her, vowing his love. It is Black George, whom Squire Western has brought to London, who delivers this letter.
When Sophia's aunt, Mrs. Western, arrives to take charge of her, Sophia is able to respond to Tom's letter.
Allworthy and Blifil arrive in London. They talk with Squire Western about how to bring about the marriage of their children.
Lady Bellaston, meanwhile, tells Mrs. Western of Lord Fellamar's love for Sophia, and Mrs. Western agrees to support this match. Further, Lady Bellaston takes two actions against Tom. First, she asks Lord Fellamar to have Tom conscripted into the navy. Second, she gives Mrs. Western the letter containing Tom's marriage proposal, knowing that Mrs. Western will show it to Sophia.
Tom goes to visit Harriet Fitzpatrick, and, as he is leaving, Mr. Fitzpatrick arrives and assumes the worst. Mr. Fitzpatrick demands a duel. Tom lands a blow that all assume will be the death of Mr. Fitzpatrick, and as a result he is jailed. In jail, he receives a letter from Sophia in which she tells him that she knows about his proposal to Lady Bellaston and never wants to hear his name again.
The next morning, Blifil tells Allworthy that Tom is in jail, and why. Mrs. Miller jumps in to defend Tom, relating all the kindness and good character she has seen in him. Squire Western comes in and says that he will force Sophia to marry Blifil immediately. Allworthy rejects this idea and prefers to call off the entire affair.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Western, now a strong supporter of Lord Fellamar, urges Sophia to see him.
Mrs. Miller visits Tom in jail and takes a letter from Tom to Sophia. Mrs. Miller also sings Tom's praises to Sophia.
Tom learns that Fitzpatrick has not died after all and that he has admitted demanding the duel in which Tom wounded him. He learns this from Mrs. Waters, the woman he first rescued from Northerton and then slept with at the inn en route to London. Mrs. Waters is now Fitzpatrick's mistress.
Partridge visits Tom and tells him in horrified tones that Mrs. Waters is Tom's mother, Jenny Jones. Tom immediately sends for her.
Allworthy discovers, through some information innocently shared with him by a third party, Black George's theft of the bank notes Allworthy gave to Tom on the night he left the estate. All-worthy consults a lawyer, Dowling, about taking action against George. Allworthy knows Dowling because the latter was with Bridget when she died and was in charge of settling her estate.
Mrs. Miller tells Allworthy that Tom committed no wrong in his duel with Fitzpatrick. The same day, Allworthy gets a letter from the tutor Square. Near death, Square repents of all the bad things he said about Tom, admitting that much of it was exaggeration and outright lies.
Allworthy decides to ask Partridge what happened during his travels with Tom. Patridge tells Allworthy that he is not Tom's father but that Tom has slept with his own mother, Jenny Jones, who is now known as Mrs. Waters. Mrs. Waters arrives and tells Allworthy that his sister, Bridget, was actually Tom's mother. Tom's father, she says, was a clergyman's son who died before the baby was born. Mrs. Waters agreed to say she was Tom's mother in return for money that Bridget gave her. Allworthy accepts her word.
Allworthy learns that Blifil is a villain. Dowling tells Allworthy that Blifil has been scheming against Tom in various ways. For one thing, Blifil bribed the police to charge Tom in connection with the duel with Fitzpatrick. Dowling tells Allworthy of other schemes, as well, including Blifil's interception of a letter Bridget wrote to him on her deathbed.
Allworthy visits Sophia and tells her that he is glad she refused to marry Blifil. The squire hopes she will favor Tom, but Sophia refuses to consider it. Western arrives, learns that Allworthy has turned against Blifil, and realizes that Tom will be his heir. Immediately, he wants Sophia to marry Tom.
Tom and Allworthy meet and are reconciled to each other.
Mrs. Miller tells Tom that Nightingale has talked to Sophia, explaining to her that Tom's proposal to Lady Bellaston was only a scheme to get rid of her. Sophia, though, does not soften toward Tom.
Tom, when fully informed of Blifil's villainy and of George's theft of his bank notes, asks Allworthy to show them both mercy, and Allworthy is astounded.
Tom and Allworthy go to visit the Westerns. Sophia is persuaded to marry Tom, and the wedding takes place the next day.
The narrator tells the fates of all. All are happy except the villain, Blifil, and even he, though he was expelled from the family, was granted an annuity to live on. Tom had overcome his vices at last. He and Sophia had children, to whom Squire Western was a devoted grandfather.
Squire Allworthy's sister, Bridget, takes care of the infant Tom at her brother's direction. She is unmarried when the story opens but later marries Captain Blifil and has a son, Master Blifil.
At the end of the story, long after Bridget has died, it is revealed that Bridget was not as virtuous as she appeared. In fact, she was Tom's mother; to hide her shame, she bribed Jenny Jones to say the child was hers.
Squire Allworthy's kindness extends to all, from Tom's supposed mother, Jenny Jones (to whom he, in his role as magistrate, gives the lightest possible sentence) to Sophia, whom he is unwilling to force into a marriage she does not want.
When all is said and done, Allworthy chooses to make Tom his heir over the villainous Master Blifil in spite of Tom's illegitimate birth. In doing so, he gives more weight to individual character than to the strictures of society.
Lady Bellaston is a relative of the Western family to whom Sophia flees when she runs away from home. While Sophia is staying at Lady Bellaston's London home, the lady seduces Tom, and the two have an affair.
Lady Bellaston is self-centered and vindictive, as well as promiscuous. When her affair with Tom ends, she goes to great lengths to bring about his unhappiness, from trying to have him drafted into the navy to trying to make Sophia marry someone else.
See Mr. Partridge
Mrs. Honour Blackmore
Honour is Sophia's servant. When Sophia decides to run away on the eve of her forced wedding to Blifil, Honour is loyal enough to purposely get herself fired so that she can pack Sophia's belongings along with her own. She then accompanies Sophia on her flight and is a dependable servant and messenger to Sophia throughout the tale.
The captain is a self-serving hypocrite who marries Bridget for her money and fathers one son, Master Blifil, before he dies suddenly of apoplexy.
The son of Bridget and Captain Blifil, Master Blifil is hypocrisy personified. He takes great pains to pretend to be virtuous and shamelessly curries favor with anyone who is in a position to do him good. In reality, however, he is completely unprincipled. Most of his villainy is directed at Tom. He lies about Tom to cause him trouble and often bribes others to join him. He will do anything to keep Tom out of Allworthy's favor and to keep him from becoming the squire's heir. He wants to marry Sophia for two reasons: first, because he knows that she and Tom love each other; and second, for her money.
At the end of the story, readers learn that Master Blifil has known for a long time that Tom is his half-brother. When Bridget was dying, she sent a letter to Allworthy telling him the truth about Tom's parentage, but Blifil intercepted this letter and kept it from the squire. The knowledge that Tom actually had some legitimate claim to Allworthy's fortune made Blifil all the more determined to ruin Tom.
All of Blifil's schemes fail in the end, when Allworthy sees the truth about him as well as about Tom. Allworthy makes Tom his heir and exiles Blifil from the manor, giving him a small annuity to live on.
Dowling is a lawyer. He is with Bridget All-worthy when she dies and is responsible for settling her estate. Bridget gives Dowling a letter for Allworthy revealing that Bridget is Tom's mother. Master Blifil intercepts the letter, however, so that Allworthy does not discover Tom's true parentage until the end of the novel.
Master Blifil on several occasions engages Dowling to cause difficulty for Tom, making Dowling believe that the orders to do so are originating with Squire Allworthy.
Lord Fellamar is a friend of Lady Bellaston. He falls in love with Sophia and tries to rape her as a way of forcing her to consent to marry him. At Lady Bellaston's request, he tries to have Tom drafted into the navy to keep him away from Sophia.
Mrs. Harriet Fitzpatrick
Harriet is Sophia's cousin; the two spent some part of their childhood together in the care of Mrs. Western. They meet en route to London when Sophia is running away from her father and Harriet is running from her abusive husband.
Mr. Fitzpatrick is Harriet's husband. He acts the part of a loving suitor but marries her for her money and, as soon as the marriage is made, becomes so harsh toward her that she takes flight.
Fitzpatrick is suspicious and rash, and when he arrives one day at his home (to which his wife has returned) and finds Tom leaving his house, he insists on a duel. Tom wounds him gravely and is sent to jail. Fitzpatrick is not all bad, however, because when he recovers, he admits that he was the one who forced Tom to duel. This information brings about Tom's release from jail.
Mrs. Arabella Hunt
Mrs. Hunt is a wealthy widow who lives next door to Mrs. Miller and comes to know something about Tom as he comes and goes there. She sends Tom a formal letter proposing marriage, and Tom is briefly tempted to accept because the woman's fortune would be a help to him. When he turns down her proposal, Tom is highly pleased with his virtue.
As the novel opens, Jenny works as a servant for the schoolmaster and his wife and also has recently been a nurse to Bridget during an illness. Jenny is very smart, and the schoolmaster has taught her Latin and other subjects. The school-master's wife and others in the village are very jealous of Jenny because of her education.
When Mrs. Wilkins sets out to find out who is Tom's mother, the schoolmaster's wife accuses Jenny, and others are happy to see Jenny brought low. Jenny admits that she is Tom's mother, and Squire Allworthy metes out a light punishment: He arranges for her to go away to a place where she can get a new start.
At the end of the book, it is revealed that Jenny is not, in fact, Tom's mother. She was willing to say she was in return for money paid to her by Bridget, the child's real mother. In her new identity as Mrs. Waters, she has an affair with Tom and, ultimately, reveals to Squire Allworthy Tom's true parentage.
The novel's hero, Tom first appears as an infant left on Squire Allworthy's bed. He begins life with the good fortune to be taken in by the wealthy and kind squire, who develops real affection for Tom. The boy becomes something of a rascal, though. Not only is he imprudent and mischievous, he is, unfortunately, surrounded by people who are eager to magnify his failings and bring about his downfall.
All in all, Tom's vices, while they cause him substantial trouble and nearly cost him his beloved Sophia, are not equal to his virtues. He is several times caught stealing, but more often than not it turns out that he stole food for the family of his friend Black George. He is always ready to help anyone in any kind of trouble; many episodes feature some hapless person screaming and Tom leaping to his or her aid. When his landlady is distraught because her pregnant daughter, Nancy, has attempted suicide and Nancy's lover has absconded, Tom, as always, saves the day.
Tom is also forgiving to a rare degree. After Master Blifil has spent his entire life trying to ruin Tom, Allworthy finally sees Blifil for what he is and sends him away. Tom's response is to urge All-worthy not to be too harsh with Blifil, and he even secretly increases the annuity that Allworthy gives Blifil.
Throughout the novel, Squire Allworthy, usually with great patience and kindness, admonishes Tom that he must be more prudent and wise in his actions. It takes years and many misadventures for Tom to learn the lesson, but he does learn it.
Mrs. Miller is a kind widow who runs the London boardinghouse where Tom stays. Tom goes to her house because Allworthy has stayed there on his own visits to London.
Tom is compassionate toward Mrs. Miller and her daughter, Nancy. When Tom's friend Nightingale is about to abandon the pregnant Nancy for a marriage arranged by Nightingale's father, Tom talks Nightingale into marrying Nancy and even tries to reconcile Nightingale's father to the marriage. In return, Mrs. Miller is a true friend to Tom. At crucial moments she comes to his defense and corrects others' mistaken views of him. She has occasion to intercede for Tom with both Sophia and Allworthy.
Nancy is the daughter of Mrs. Miller. She falls in love with her mother's boarder Mr. Nightingale. Eventually, with Tom's help in overcoming obstacles, the two marry.
Northerton is one of the soldiers in the group of rebels Tom joins briefly. When Tom gives a toast to Sophia, Northerton, insisting that he knows her, assaults her character. In the ensuing fight, Northerton gashes Tom's head with a wine bottle. He then escapes from the guard assigned to hold him. Later, when Tom hears a woman screaming in the woods and goes to her rescue, he finds Northerton assaulting Mrs. Waters and rescues her. Tom assumes that he has interrupted a rape, but it is later revealed that Mrs. Waters had regular assignations with Northerton and was screaming because on that occasion he was trying to rob her.
Mr. Partridge is the local schoolmaster at the beginning of the novel. Once Jenny is accused of being Tom's mother, Mr. Partridge, who is her employer, is accused of being the father. Mr. Partridge's wife testifies against him, and he is ruined. He leaves the area, changes his name to Little Benjamin, and becomes a barber.
Tom meets Little Benjamin after being ejected from Allworthy's home. The two discover each other's identities and decide to travel together. Partridge remains with Tom throughout the story, and the narrator tells readers in his epilogue that Tom has given Partridge an annuity to allow him to start another school and that Sophia is engineering Partridge's marriage to Molly Seagrim.
Mrs. Partridge is the schoolmaster's suspicious, mean-spirited wife. She testifies against him when he is accused of being Tom's father, although she has no real evidence of his guilt. As a result of this, she and her husband are both reduced to poverty, and she soon dies of smallpox.
Black George Seagrim
Called Black George because he has a black beard, George begins the story as the gamekeeper at Allworthy's estate. When all the other members of Allworthy's household turn against Tom, Black George is his only friend. Tom, in turn, is a friend to George, going so far as to steal food for his family.
George loses his job with Allworthy because of some mischief that Tom had encouraged him in. Tom takes all the blame himself and begs Allworthy to retain George, but fails to help his friend. Later, though, Tom succeeds in getting Squire Western to hire George, and George accompanies Western to London.
George rewards Tom's loyalty by stealing the money Squire Allworthy gives Tom the night he leaves Allworthy's house. When Tom discovers this near the end of the novel, George flees, and Tom allows George's family to keep the money.
Molly is Black George's daughter. Tom sleeps with her and considers abandoning Sophia for her when Molly becomes pregnant and Tom thinks the child is his. He decides, finally, to give Molly money instead of his love. When he goes to her house to tell her this, he finds the tutor Square in her bedroom and then learns from her sister that Molly's pregnancy is most likely the result of her encounter with yet another man. Tom finds all of this amusing and is relieved to be free of obligation to Molly.
At the end of the novel, the narrator relates that Sophia is doing her best to arrange Molly's marriage to Mr. Partridge.
Mr. Thomas Square
Square is one of Tom and Master Blifil's two tutors. Like his counterpart, Thwackum, Square is an adversary of Tom and an ally of Master Blifil in all things. Near the end of the novel, Square, on his deathbed, writes a letter to Allworthy in which he repents of his ill treatment of Tom and even details some occasions on which Tom was falsely blamed.
Square is a deist, while Thwackum is an Anglican, and the two are constantly engaged in philosophical and theological debate. This ongoing debate mirrors that which was occurring throughout England at the time Fielding wrote.
Rev. Roger Thwackum
Thwackum, one of Tom and Master Blifil's tutors, is also an Anglican clergyman and a self-righteous bigot. Like his fellow tutor, Mr. Square, Thwackum looks for any excuse to punish or denigrate Tom (he has a special fondness for corporal punishment), while he favors Master Blifil, who appears to be Allworthy's heir.
See Jenny Jones
Mrs. Western is Squire Western's sister, Lady Bellaston's cousin, and Sophia's aunt. She is not married and acts as a surrogate mother to Sophia and in some ways as a surrogate wife to the squire. She is more concerned with appearances and social status than with Sophia's happiness, and, in the brawl over whom Sophia will marry, Mrs. Western supports the lewd Lord Fellamar.
Sophia is the beautiful daughter of Squire Western and a friend of Tom's from childhood. Tom's pursuit of her is the central thread of the story. Sophia loves him but is understandably put off by his lusty adventures. Although she cuts him off more than once, she is finally convinced of his readiness to love only her. When all other obstacles to their union have been overcome, Sophia finally agrees to marry Tom.
Scholars generally believe that Fielding based Sophia on his own beloved and beautiful wife, who died before he wrote the book.
Western is Allworthy's neighbor and Sophia's father. While he loves his daughter, he shows that he loves other things more, especially money and hunting, and quite possibly liquor. When Sophia runs away from home to avoid marrying Blifil, Western goes after her but gives up his search for her when he runs across a hunting party and decides that it is too nice a day to forgo a hunt. He is determined to marry Sophia off to Master Blifil as long as Blifil is Allworthy's heir, in spite of her understandable dislike for him. As soon as Tom becomes the heir, Western changes his alliance.
In the end, Western gives his estate to Sophia so that she and Tom can live there, and he himself moves to a place where the hunting is better. He is, however, a doting grandfather to Sophia and Tom's children.
Deborah is Bridget's lady-in-waiting. She sees herself as the manager of Allworthy's household.
It is Deborah whom Allworthy sends out into the village to discover the identity of Tom's mother, and Deborah wastes no time in catching up on the local gossip and in using it to reach a conclusion about Tom's parentage.
Virtue and Vice
The overarching theme of Tom Jones is virtue and vice. The highlighted virtue is prudence, and the featured vices are hypocrisy and vanity.
Prudence, one of the time-honored cardinal virtues of Western culture, essentially means thinking ahead, considering the likely consequences of one's actions, and acting accordingly. The failure to do this is Tom's downfall over and over, until the very end of the story. Although Tom has many virtues—he is kind, good-hearted, generous, brave, loyal, and forgiving—his lack of prudence gives his adversaries opportunities to harm him and drives away his beloved Sophia, nearly for good.
Tom's imprudence often manifests in his behavior with women. In spite of his love for Sophia, he falls into one dalliance after another with unsavory women. He continues this pattern of behavior even though he knows that it is hurtful to Sophia and counterproductive to what he really wants, which is to be with her.
The standard-bearers of hypocrisy and vanity are Captain Blifil and his son, Master Blifil, but they lead a large army of followers. Bridget All-worthy, Squire and Mrs. Western, the tutors Thwackum and Square, Black George, Lady Bellaston, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Lord Fellamar, and others portray the twin vices in many different forms. They all engage in misrepresentation, outright lies, disloyalty, slander, and more in attempting to get what they want, which is money and social status. By displaying these vices in so many characters, Fielding makes clear that he imputes them to the entire society he depicts; they are the rule, not the exception.
Fielding also deals with the relative seriousness of various vices. His hero is far from perfect. Tom is blatantly promiscuous and lets his enthusiasm for fun lead him beyond the borders of good behavior and even beyond the law, as when he talks Black George into joining him in poaching on a neighbor's land. At intervals throughout the novel, Squire Allworthy is often distressed by Tom's behavior and talks to him about the need for prudence and morality. Yet, until the end, Tom goes away from these talks and returns to his old ways.
In spite of the fact that Allworthy knows Tom's faults very well, he concludes at the end of the novel that Tom is a good man, whereas Blifil is a hopelessly bad one. The kinds of obvious, public vices Tom has—the very ones that society often judges most harshly—are really less serious than the hidden vices of vanity, hypocrisy, selfishness, and greed that lie at the core of Blifil's character.
Proceeding from Allworthy's judgment that Tom's vices are less damning than Blifil's is the idea that Tom is redeemable, whereas Blifil is not. In fact, Tom is redeemed at the end of the novel. He finally sees the error of his ways and changes them. As a result, his "sins" are forgiven, and Tom is granted Allworthy's fortune and the love of both Allworthy and Sophia. Blifil, on the other hand, is cast out of the family.
The idea that Fielding is making a point about redemption that applies beyond the scope of his story is bolstered by the fact that Allworthy's character is God-like. He is a father figure to both Tom and Blifil. He is also a magistrate and therefore is in a position to pass judgment on people and their failings. Throughout the book, he exercises this authority with compassion and restraint. He shows mercy to the powerless (such as Jenny Jones) and forgiveness to the repentant. It is easy to conclude that through Allworthy, Tom, and Blifil, Fielding is declaring that those who are good at heart will be forgiven normal human weaknesses if they are willing to learn from their mistakes.
Epic, Picaresque, and Epistolary
Fielding melds elements of several traditional literary forms in Tom Jones. First, the novel borrows some elements of epic poems, such as Homer's Odyssey. In fact, in the novel itself, Fielding, as narrator, calls the book a "prosai-comi-epic," meaning a comic epic written in prose.
An epic has a strong protagonist who does heroic deeds and has a broad scope of action; that is, the events take place over a wide range of time and place. Tom Jones fulfills all these requirements of an epic.
Second, Tom Jones incorporates elements of the picaresque novel, which originated in Spain. A picaresque features a roguish hero (picaro in Spanish) and is episodic and more loosely structured than an epic. A picaresque is literally "one thing after another," and the only unifying thread may be that all events befall the central character. Many picaresques center on a journey, and most satirize the society in which the story takes place.Tom is certainly a roguish character, and Tom Jones certainly satirizes the society in which he moves. The section of the novel that relates Tom's trip to London is the most strongly rooted in the picaresque tradition.
Topics for Further Study
- Make a list of Tom's virtues and vices. Do you think that virtue or vice is dominant in his character? Does this change in the course of the story? Explain your answers.
- In what ways is Tom like young people today? In what ways is he different? What similar challenges does he face, and what challenges of his are very different from today's?
- Do some research to learn about country life and life in London in the mid-1700s. Then decide how realistic Tom Jones is in its portrayal of life in England. Write an essay in which you discuss some realistic aspects of the novel and some aspects that are not historically accurate.
- Do you think that Sophia made a good choice in marrying Tom? Why or why not?
- Choose the names of ten characters in Tom Jones and tell why each one is appropriate. Consider such things as the meanings and the sounds of the names and how these relate to the characters' traits.
Finally, Tom Jones, to a lesser extent, borrows the form of the epistolary novel, or novel of letters. Fielding's first novel, Shamela, was written entirely in the epistolary form, as was the novel it parodied, Pamela. The form was popular throughout the eighteenth century. In Tom Jones, Fielding has many opportunities to advance his story through letters written by his characters, who are often separated by geography, intrigue, or both.
An allegory is a story with a double meaning; each character or event represents some other person or occurrence. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a very well-known allegory in which the main character, Christian, represents "everyman," and his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City represents the journey from a worldly existence to heaven.
Some scholars see Tom Jones as an allegory of everyman's quest to attain wisdom. This view is bolstered by the fact that the name Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. Tom's long and difficult quest for Sophia, therefore, can be seen as the quest for wisdom, which he wins at last.
The Age of Enlightenment dawned in the late seventeenth century and strongly colored the entire eighteenth century in Europe and America. The era was so named because the intellectuals who nurtured it believed that the ideas it promoted were bringing humanity out of a period of darkness in which it had been bound by superstition and ignorance. The most prominent of these ideas was that human reason—not blind faith in religious doctrines or authorities—was the path to wisdom in all areas of life.
Compare & Contrast
- Mid-1700s: England is a largely agricultural nation and is making great advances in agricultural productivity. Farmers are discovering the value of crop rotation, and better farming tools, such as ploughs and seed drills, are being developed.
Today: England is largely industrial and commercial and imports most of its food. The economy is based on transportation, communications, and the production of steel, petroleum, coal, and electricity.
- Mid-1700s: England is ruled by King George II and his appointed prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. The king rules a far-flung empire that includes not only colonies in America, India, and elsewhere but also parts of Germany, where he spends much of his time. Walpole, therefore, has great power and authority in England.
Today: England is ruled by Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair, leader of the Labour Party. The role of the monarch has shrunk over the centuries, and England's prime minister is effectively the country's leader.
- Mid-1700s: With the spread of the Enlightenment, many people question religious teachings that had long been considered above question. Increasingly, people believe that reason is a better guide than blindly accepted doctrines. Some reject Roman Catholicism and other forms of organized religion in favor of deism, a doctrine that God exists but that organized religion is not a source of truth. In Tom Jones, the two tutors personify the division between traditional religion and deism: Thwackum is an Anglican, whereas Square is a deist.
Today: In September 2001, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Roman Catholic cardinal for England and Wales, tells the National Conference of Priests that Christianity is nearly a dead religion in Britain, having been replaced by materialism, sensuality, selfishness, and "New Age" beliefs.
The Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, as it was sometimes called, was sparked by new scientific discoveries (Newton's law of gravity, for example) and by new directions in philosophy as set out by John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and others. Human reason was penetrating the mysteries of the physical world and imagining new kinds of societies. It seemed, therefore, that reason, freed from age-old superstitions, could lead humanity to a new golden age.
The shift from faith to reason was a major turning point that affected not just religion and philosophy but science, politics, economics, and other disciplines. The new philosophy was that understanding and knowledge, rather than being inborn or handed down from the past, emerge from observation and experience. This meant that every person had the ability to learn and was a strong argument for universal education. The idea that all could attain knowledge and wisdom led to the idea of equality. If all had the potential to learn and to act wisely, then all should have the opportunity to vote, to improve themselves socially and economically, to govern themselves, and so on. Not surprisingly, the Age of Reason led directly to the Age of Revolution in Europe and America.
By the time Fielding wrote Tom Jones, the Enlightenment was more than half a century old. Its ideas can be clearly seen in Fielding's handling of his story. Tom's maturity and his understanding of how to live are not imposed upon him by religious teachings or by religious or secular authorities; instead, they come through Tom's own experiences and his observations of the law of cause and effect in his life. While Squire Allworthy often urges Tom to be more prudent, Tom does not really understand what this means, or why it is so important, until he has broken the law of prudence many times and has seen the results. He wins wisdom through his own experiments.
Similarly, the fact that Tom becomes Allworthy's heir is a sign of the times. In former times, the heir would have been chosen according to societal rules, without regard for the individual traits of the persons involved. Blifil, though despicable, would have been Allworthy's heir without question because he was Bridget's only legitimate son. Tom's illegitimate birth would have put him out of contention. The individualism of the Enlightenment meant that social classes gradually became less rigid and that social conventions were more often broken. Of course, the change was not absolute. Fielding shows the ongoing conflict between the old ways and the new through characters such as Squire Western, who only consents to Sophia's marrying Tom after it is known that at least one of Tom's parents was from the upper class and that he will inherit Allworthy's money.
The Jacobite Rebellions
The Jacobites were British citizens who sought to restore the exiled Catholic Stuart dynasty to the British throne. Their name is from the Latin for "James"; their original goal was to make James Stuart, half-brother of Queen Anne (who ruled from 1702 to 1714), the ruler of Britain in place of the Protestant George I. The unsuccessful First Jacobite Rebellion took place in 1715, after Queen Anne died and George I ascended the throne.
In the 1740s, Britain was at war with France on several fronts—in Europe, in America, in India, and at sea. The Jacobites saw the government's distractions as an opportunity to try again to recapture the British throne for the Stuarts. Prince Charles Edward, who was the grandson of Queen Anne's predecessor, James II, and who was known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, led Scottish soldiers in the capture of Edinburgh and marched south toward London. He hoped to gather enough English support to place his father on the throne in place of George I. He did not win widespread support in England, however, and was soon defeated.
It is the Second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 that Tom briefly joins in book VII of Tom Jones, when he has been ejected from Allworthy's home and despairs of finding Sophia.
Tom Jones was an immediate success with readers. Periodicals and, therefore, published critics, were far fewer in number then than they are now, but most who wrote about the novel, for publication or in private letters, received it with some enthusiasm. One exception was Samuel Richardson, author of the recent best-seller Pamela, which Fielding had twice parodied. In a letter to the daughters of a friend, Richardson panned Tom Jones while admitting that he had not read it. Claiming that he had been warned by "judicious friends" not to do so, Richardson continued:
I had reason to think that the author intended … to whiten a vicious character and to make morality bend to his practices. What reason has he to make this Tom illegitimate? Why did he make him … the lowest of all fellows? Why did he draw his heroine so fond, so foolish, and so insipid? But perhaps I think the worse of the piece because I know the writer and dislike his principles, both public and private.
The recipients of the letter, Astraea and Minerva Hill, disagreed with their correspondent. "We
went through the whole six volumes," they wrote, "and found much merit in 'em all: a double merit, both of head and heart." The sisters were impressed at the way Fielding tied up all the loose ends of the plot "in an extremely moving close, where lines that seem'd to wander and run in different ways meet, all in an instructive center." Contradicting Samuelson's presumption that the novel must elevate immorality, the sisters wrote, "Its events reward sincerity and punish and expose hypocrisy; show pity and benevolence in amiable lights, and avarice and brutality in very despicable ones."
Although some critics (notably William Forsyth, writing in 1871) have continued to object to Tom Jones on moral grounds, few have found fault with it on literary ones. Later opinion has been more with the sisters and less with Richardson. In 1836, the author Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:
What a master of composition Fielding was! Upon my word, I think The Oedipus Tyrannus, The Al-chemist, and Tom Jones the three most perfect plots every planned. And how charming, how wholesome, Fielding always is! To take him up after Richardson is like emerging from a sickroom … into an open lawn on a breezy day in May.
In his preface to the Norton Critical Edition of Tom Jones, Sheridan Baker wrote of the novel, "It makes the English novel thoroughly literate for the first time. It marries comedy and romance, by the grace of the classics, to produce a peculiarly fresh and ironic wisdom."
Norvell is an independent educational writer who specializes in English and literature and holds degrees in linguistics and journalism. In this essay, Norvell examines Fielding's portrayal of teachers in Tom Jones.
Among the significant characters in Tom Jones, three are teachers. In a story of multi-layered and intertwined ironies, these characters, individually and collectively, are especially rich. While Fielding makes clear that all of his characters point beyond themselves, he draws the teachers in such a way that they point obviously—and unflatteringly—to certain groups. This is especially true of the tutors Thwackum and Square.
Teachers, of course, are supposed to be wiser than most, since they are entrusted to instruct others. Fielding's teachers, however, are not wise, nor are they ethical. Therein lies one of the book's many ironies.
Mr. Partridge, the wrongly accused schoolmaster, is the first of the three to appear. He is no worse a person than the average man or woman, but he is no better and no smarter. In fact, his lack of mental sharpness is his downfall. Fielding tells readers that Jenny Jones, the servant whom Partridge instructs in Latin, soon has more facility with the language than he does. This is certainly a clue to his limited intellect. On the other hand, the fact that he teaches her is to his credit; not only is she a mere servant, but she is a woman. She is not even an attractive woman, which would have given Partridge a selfish motive to spend time with her. He seems to have taught her purely out of recognition of her abilities.
If teaching Jenny was kind, though, it was not wise. Partridge's mean, suspicious wife objects to it. When the schoolmaster is foolish enough to exchange words with Jenny in Latin while she is serving dinner, Mrs. Partridge jumps to conclusions about what has passed between them and soon uses these conclusions as an excuse to destroy her husband.
Partridge also does not excel in morality. When he takes up with Tom en route to London, he does so because he hopes for an opportunity to clear his name and re-establish his reputation. Therefore, while he, unlike many others, has no desire to harm Tom, if Tom is harmed in Partridge's effort to redeem himself, Partridge will not mind and may not even notice. When Squire Allworthy approaches Partridge near the end of the book to find out what all transpired as Tom and Partridge traveled together to London, Partridge, if he thought for a moment, would realize that what he says may be critical in determining Tom's fate. Partridge thinks only of himself, however; he takes the occasion to tell Allworthy not only that he is not Tom's father but also that Tom has just committed incest with his mother. This added information (which turns out to be wrong) does not help Partridge's cause, but it certainly hurts Tom's until it is corrected. That Partridge speaks out of foolishness rather than hatred does not change the impact of his words.
The schoolmaster, then, is often either foolish or incorrect and is master of nothing—not even of himself. The best that can be said about him is that he is the least reprehensible of the three educators.
Thwackum and Square, the two men who tutor Tom and Master Blifil, seem to have more knowledge than does Partridge—although not enough to get what they want—but they definitely have even less moral fiber. Like Partridge, they are self-serving; unlike him, they are purposely destructive and just plain mean.
The tutors are in many ways twin characters; they share many attributes and goals. Both are pretentious and self-righteous, always eager to punish Tom (on a trumped-up charge, if necessary) while indulging themselves in hypocrisy and lies. Both eagerly absorb Master Blifil's flattery; his kind of artificial virtue is exactly their cup of tea. Both covet Allworthy's fortune, and both scheme to marry his sister, Bridget, to get their hands on it. To that end, they are doubly happy to conspire with her son, Master Blifil, against Tom at every turn. This is where their understanding, if not their villainy, falls short, however. In the first place, Bridget sees through them and has no intention of marrying either of them. In the second place, they have miscalculated in thinking that fawning over her son will endear her to them. They have failed to notice that Bridget despises her son, just as she despised his father.
Fielding writes of Thwackum that it is his practice to "regard all virtue as a matter of theory only." This is a good summation and applies equally to Square. The only difference between the two men is that they fail to practice opposite theories of virtue. Fielding uses this difference to ridicule both of the two leading philosophies of his time.
Thwackum is the traditionalist of the two, an Anglican reverend who starts from the premise that all humans are evil at the core and need to have their badness quite literally beaten out of them. Square takes the newer view, popularized by the Enlightenment, that people are inherently good and that when they do evil, they have merely strayed off their normal course and need to be helped back onto the straight and narrow. While he does not share Thwackum's enthusiasm for corporal punishment, he is not opposed to placing blame and accusation wherever he thinks it will further his own interests, justice be damned.
These two men spend much more time and energy arguing philosophy with each other than they do attending to their students. Both are pompous, verbose, and ridiculous, and both are deeply immoral. Through them, Fielding skewers Christian and deist alike. The message personified in Thwackum and Square is clear: actions, not words, constitute true morality.
If Fielding thinks that one camp is less depraved or less silly than the other, he does not give himself away. He brings both Thwackum and Square back onto the stage at the end of the book, allowing them to demonstrate that, unlike Tom, they have not been improved by time and experience. Each man sends a letter to Allworthy. Square is on his deathbed and, to his credit, does repent of the wrongs he did to Tom. However, he also proves to be a coward, confiding to Allworthy that, in fear of death and subsequent "utter darkness forever," he has abandoned his former philosophy and has become "in earnest a Christian." In short, everything in Square's letter adds up to one final attempt to ensure his own eternal comfort. He is incapable of loyalty, even to the beliefs for which he argued all his life.
Thwackum, in his letter, regrets only that he did not whip Tom enough to whip the devil out of him, calls Square an atheist, chastises Allworthy for being too easy on Tom, and, finally, says that if the local vicar should die ("as we hear he is in a declining way"), he hopes that Allworthy will appoint him as successor. Thwackum is self-righteous and self-serving to the end.
Partridge, too, receives his final dispensation from the author's hand; the reader learns that Sophia is working to arrange a marriage between Partridge and the slatternly Molly Seagram. The match is a fair one, as neither is dastardly, but both are fools.
And so, while the young student Tom has gained wisdom and corrected his course, those who should have been to him a font of wisdom continue in their folly.
Source: Candyce Norvell, Critical Essay on Tom Jones, in Novels for Students, Gale, 2003.
In the following essay, Brooks-Davies discusses the intersections of the character of Tom Jones, the political context of the work, and the development of the novel by Fielding.
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling is generally acclaimed as Henry Fielding's masterpiece in its combination of dazzlingly virtuoso plot (Coleridge described it as one of "the three most perfect ever planned"), comic range, irony, variety of moods, and emotional and psychological intensity. It was Fielding's third major novel, born of mature reconsideration of the formula of the "comic epic poem in prose" which he had pioneered in Joseph Andrews and of deeply disturbing experiences, both public and domestic. The public experience was the threat to the Hanoverian monarchy and the constitution that it represented by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745; the domestic one was the death of his wife, Charlotte, whom he remembers explicitly in the opening chapter of Book 13 and upon whom the character of the novel's heroine, Sophia Western, is loosely based.
Brilliant intricacy of plot is matched in Tom Jones by corresponding intricacy of formal structure, for Fielding still believed, along with such conservative contemporaries as Pope, in the symbolic value of literary structure as a model of providential order (a notion inherited from Renaissance neo-Platonism). Its 18 books—the total alludes to the number of books in the first edition of Archbishop Fénelon's influential prose epic Télémaque (1699), a moralised "continuation" of Homer's Odyssey, and thus marks Fielding's novel, too, as a journey novel in the Odysseyan tradition—are arranged in a system of complex symmetries in accordance with ancient epic practice: three sets of six books deal respectively with Tom's upbringing in the country and expulsion by his Uncle Allworthy; his journey to London; and his experiences in London and return home. Within this broad symmetrical array the reader is led to detect further symmetries: the first and last books both have 13 chapters, and there are explicit cross-references between them; the most complicated (and celebrated) episode in the novel in which all the travellers' paths cross, that at the Upton inn, occupies the centre of the novel (Books 9 and 10); interpolated stories correspond to each other exactly: the Man of the Hill's long tale in Book 8 (the second book of the central section of six books) is answered by Mrs. Fitzpatrick's in Book 11 (second from the end of the central block); this block opens with the Quaker's tale of his daughter (Book 7, chapter 10) and concludes with the thematically relevant puppet show (Book 12, chapter 5).
Such elaborateness marks a refinement on the structural complexities of Joseph Andrews and Jonathan Wild; but whereas in Joseph Andrews especially structure had obviously reinforced the work's comic affirmation of an essentially benevolent universe, in Tom Jones it seems, in its hectic over-determinateness, to be almost as mocking as the symmetries and coincidences of a late Hardy novel. For it is a curiously dark and anxious work. Unlike any other novel of its century which claims to be about lost, foundling, or wandering heroes, it explores loss and displacement in an almost existential way. Tom's foundling status isn't just a plot motif but, rather, the meaning of the novel; and it isn't merely a device for exploring human benevolence (or lack of it) in relation to the underprivileged (something Fielding was deeply committed to): it is, instead, a way into areas of considerable psychological complexity. For one thing, the novel generates a double for Tom in the form of the legitimate child Blifil, whose father soon dies and who is, in fact, Tom's half-brother. He is born in Book 2 and spends the rest of the novel blighting Tom's life. The question the novel raises is, who (or what), exactly, is Blifil? Is he metaphysical evil? Is he a psychological double for Tom? For it is clear that he is no mere rogue, and the prefatory essays to each of the novel's books in which Fielding discusses his theory and practice of writing are designed to implicate us as readers in the varieties of the novel's self-questioning.
Then again, Tom is offered various reputed and symbolic fathers and mothers (Allworthy himself, Partridge, Jenny Jones, Lady Bellaston), so that the question the novel raises seems to be not so much who are (or were) Tom's parents? but, rather, what is the significance of parents for the child's sense of identity? The incest motif—Tom jumps into bed at Upton with Jenny Jones (now known as Jenny Waters) and is later told that he has made love to his own mother—suggests, as do several plot parallels, that we are in the territory of Sophocles's Oedipus: like Sophocles, Fielding suggests that there is some necessary relationship between paternal absence and the discovery of maternal identity through sexual knowledge.
The profundity of the novel's questioning of the foundling's status (its working title had been simply The Foundling) is evident even from names. Blifil is known by his father's surname: he has nominal legitimacy but is morally illegitimate. Tom is always known by his supposed mother's surname, Jones. But in fact his mother was Bridget Allworthy, and his father was a passing visitor called Will Summer. His is a haunting name, but he, described in a couple of sentences only, turns out to be the non-discovery of the book. For it is the psychological journey to the parent (or so this text tells us) that is more important than parental identity itself. And why should Tom retain his mother's name? At the very least, this fact questions the status of inherited patronymics.
And it is here that the psychological plot implicates political discourse. For while Tom quests for his parents, Bonny Prince Charlie has invaded and the constitutional monarchy is threatened. Tom enlists on the side of the Hanoverians; his companion Partridge is a Jacobite, believing firmly in the divine right of the ejected Stuarts. The constitutional monarch is a benevolent father; the Stuarts, accused of tyranny by their opponents, regarded themselves as the fathers of their country. Tom's quest for his father raises questions about our perception and acceptance of kingship in the realm. The Man of the Hill irrupts into the action in Books 8 and 9 to tell of the expulsion of James II in 1688 and to draw the parallel with the invansion of 1745.
Tom's persecution and quest are paralleled by Sophia Western's. She, daughter of Allworthy's Jacobite neighbour Squire Western, is intended for Blifil but loves Tom. Imprisoned by her father (Fielding is influenced here by Richardson's monumental text of female persecution, Clarissa, 1747–48), she escapes, and their journeys shadow each other until, finally, misunderstandings cleared away, they marry. The significance of her name (Sophia = Wisdom in Greek) is relevant but not primary; for as her cousin and travelling companion Harriet Fitzpatrick reveals in her autobiographical tale in Book 11, woman's (and women's) history is to a large extent a story of domestic persecution, oppression, violence, and loneliness. Its message is, do not marry if you wish to remain in control of your destiny. Her tale, too, reveals parallels between domestic and constitutional politics. Sophia's part of Tom Jones conveys clear signals of female freedom: Tom cannot marry her until he recognises the woman's right to freedom from male hegemony; the Stuarts cannot reinherit the realm because they refused to negotiate their absolutist hegemony. It is in its working out of such perceptions that Tom Jones's brilliance lies.
Source: Douglas Brooks-Davies, "Tom Jones: Novel by Henry Fielding, 1749," in Reference Guide to English Literature, 2d ed., edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, Vol. 3, St. James Press, 1991, pp. 1893–94.
Charles A. Knight
In the following essay, Knight looks at the structure of Fielding's Tom Jones.
Mingled admiration and bewilderment at the plot of Tom Jones is a recurrent motif in the history of criticism on that novel, and one returns from reading each critical essay to the novel itself with a sense that the insights one has gathered, however valuable, remain inadequate to the rich texture that the novel possesses. Perhaps one of the criteria of a masterpiece is its refusal to be pinned down by any critical formulation of it, yet that same sense of wonder and joy at the work itself leads critics again to attempt to account for their perception of its richness and coherence. A similar motif in Tom Jones criticism has been complaint at precisely the failure, despite numerous and notable attempts, to explain the role of the plot in unifying the novel. At times the blame for this has been thrown on Fielding himself, at times on his critics. Even those who share Coleridge's famous view of the perfection of plot in Tom Jones have either dismissed it with a mechanical nod to its excellence or have tended to find it, in one way or another, insignificant.
The critique is variously articulated: for some the plot seems contrived and mechanical; the events fall into place too neatly, and a balanced sense of realism is lost. Thus David Goldknopf has recently claimed that the digressive elements of the novel and the author's intervening role as a commentator "as a systematic procedure for upgrading the applicability and stature of his work, … signalize his failure to integrate intelligence and imagination." Similarly, Irvin Ehrenpreis suggests that such repeated appearances as those of Sophia's pocketbook and muff, or the attorney Dowling "imply that the main line of action has insufficient energy of its own to contain the numerous episodes of the story." Because of the symmetrical structure of the book, Ehrenpreis suggests, "one stops expecting development and tries to feel satisfied with a line of action that does not, in a cause and effect sense, lead anywhere." Ehrenpreis attempts to account for the plot by suggesting that it be regarded not in terms of "physical deeds" but in terms of "insight." "As in Clarissa, the dramatic moments in Tom Jones are moments of sudden understanding." The revelation of Tom's ancestry is, of course, the culmination of this process. I find this argument unconvincing, for unlike Clarissa, Tom Jones does not work through internal dramatization or psychological analysis of discovery, and the process of discovery itself merely throws us back to the patterns of coincidence, parallel, and symmetry that result in the discovery. Even Ehrenpreis finally suggests that "one can properly handle the complete design of Tom Jones as a fable illustrating the author's views of hypocrisy and candour, malice and benevolence." Plot, in Tom Jones, is not, then, Goldknopf and Ehrenpreis imply, satisfying in itself, but sustained by the lively mind and healthy morals of the author. Robert Alter, to cite another critic who writes incisively about Fielding, sees "virtually all of the action and dialogue, as well as the authorial comment" as referring to "one or another of a set of interrelated moral themes." Here again, the appreciation of plot, despite Alter's excellent discussion of the novel's structure, seems basically to come through an escape from the plot itself—not, in this case, through projecting the plot upon a person (the narrator) but through abstracting from it its thematic content and explaining it in terms of these abstractions. Though it would be inaccurate to deny the importance of theme in Tom Jones, such an explanation of plot does not seem entirely to answer the charge that it is too circumscribed, too confined to action or manners, too intent, to use Dr. Johnson's analogy, on showing us the brilliance of the dial rather than the true springs and inner workings of the watch itself. "Perfect for what," Ian Watt asks of the plot, and answers, "Not, certainly, for the exploration of character and personal relations, since … the emphasis falls on the author's skillfully contrived revelation of an external and deterministic scheme."
This essay is an attempt to suggest that a way of accounting for the coherence of Tom Jones, particularly in the complex middle or "journey" books of the novel, lies in seeing and responding to multiple structures, distinguishable in their principles of organization, rather than viewing the novel through an Aristotelian concept of action, reading the novel in terms of a single concept of plot, or explaining it in terms of a moral view so large that, however well it may serve an abstract consideration of the novel, it fails to serve our specific sense of the novel itself.
In considering structure in Tom Jones, I shall be concerned primarily with the arrangement of events, rather than with such aspects as the narrator's role, verbal structures, and irony, aspects which can in themselves be considered intrinsic to structure but which have been the subjects of much previous study. In developing the notion of multiple structures in the arrangement of events and their significance for the perception of Tom Jones, it will be necessary to review some aspects of the structure of the first and last sections of the novel and then to concentrate in more detail on the middle section. I recognize that this survey covers some territory that has been explored, but some important elements of structure have been overlooked, others inadequately emphasized, and my conclusions depend upon what can be uncovered.
At the outset Fielding describes the clear structure of the novel in terms of basic locale and its moral implications: the novel, Fielding claims, is based on a Horatian country-city antithesis, with the values of wholesomeness and honesty seated in Somerset, in contrast to the "French and Italian seasoning of affectation and vice which courts and cities afford." But the context for this moral categorization lies in the narrator's concern for human nature as his subject (it is human nature itself which is thus "dressed" by the setting) and in his emphasis on providing a description of the relation of his subject to the interests of his reader. He thus leaves out of his "Bill of Fare" the central third of his novel, the journey from Somerset to London. His description itself implies the more static nature of the beginning and end of the novel, and this is, in fact, the kind of structure we find—a structure which analyzes a specific environment, like a microcosm, in terms of its salient moral characteristics.
Yet one of the major jokes of Fielding's initial description is that its antithesis is really not true. Affectation and vice are no more a characteristic of the town than of the country, and natural goodness is no more easily discovered by a country justice than a city magistrate. Fielding thus compares two life-styles in order to reveal their basic unity, and it is ironically in the city rather than the country that the ultimate discoveries of the novel take place.
Fielding's basic technique of structure is also similar in the first and last thirds of the novel. Fielding develops his characters, as most critics have empasized, through contrast—Jones against Nightingale, Jones against Blifil; Sophia and Lady Bellaston, Sophia and Molly Seagrim; Western and Nightingale's father, Western and Allworthy. The list can be prodigiously extended, but Fielding's method of comparison is more complicated than this. His primary comparisons are not directly between characters so much as between ideas of or attitudes towards a pair of characters in the mind of a third who must work out his relation to them both. Thus Tom's great choice in the first third of the novel, a choice that perhaps does more to determine his identity and station than any further choice, is between Molly and Sophia, while Allworthy's choice is between Jones and Blifil. And in the last section, Sophia, who loves and fears she cannot have Tom, is rescued from Lord Fellamar only to be subjected to Blifil (and her father, who rescues her from Fellamar, continues to reject him for reasons of political prejudice rather than parental solicitude). Such comparisons and their implicit value thus become dramatized in terms of choice, though there are other specific kinds of comparison, such as that between Old Nightingale and Western, which do not derive meaning primarily from dramatic choice so much as from large parallel movements of action. One of the major characteristics of this device of structure is that it is self-extending: the reader becomes aware of its importance as a dominant organizing device of the novel and thus begins to read character and incident in terms of comparison. As he does so, the reader becomes himself an organizer of the plot of the novel. The importance of Fielding's "bill of fare" approach becomes evident, for the relationship between the reader and the material becomes woven into the structure of the novel as a unifying device.
In the first and last sections of the novel, Fielding develops his larger contrasts and his causal plot through the judicious introduction of character. Thus in the first book he introduces Allworthy's household, moving towards the marriage of Bridget and Captain Blifil, which he develops further in the second. In book III he develops the contrast between Tom and Blifil, as well as the secondary contrast between Thwackum and Square. Book IV begins with the introduction of Sophia and continues with the contrasting introduction of Molly Seagrim. Tom's choice between the two is resolved in book V, but book VI begins with the introduction of Mrs. Western, whose presence complicates the relationship between Sophia and Jones. The introduction of these characters is an element of the author's manipulation of the action, but the plot of the novel develops naurally in relation to their appearance.
The last third of the novel follows a similar pattern, in which the arrival of characters in London is a central organizing element. Tom arrives at the beginning of book XIII, and his attempts to deal with Mrs. Fitzpatrick and, through her, to find Sophia, put him in touch with Lady Bellaston, while at the same time his friendship with Nightingale and the Millers develops. The movement of this plot, through Tom's chance meeting with Sophia and Lady Bellaston's jealousy of her, is natural until Chapter 5 of Book XV, when Lord Fellamar's attempts upon Sophia are interrupted by the sudden introduction of Western, whose presence is explained, in terms of the plot which has developed in London, in the following chapter. Western's arrival reshapes the plot (as, to a lesser degree, does the arrival of his sister in Book XVI), but the action intensifies towards the apparent ruin of Jones as, in book XVI, Blifil and Allworthy arrive. By Book XVII, all the characters who know something of Tom's history are in London, and the plot moves to unravel his past. Thus the last books of the novel are based on the comic entanglement of a plot whose essential features are changed in their basic relation to one another by the arrival of further important characters. To a far greater degree than in the first section, the natural development of the plot through entrances is complicated by Fielding's use of coincidence in resolving the novel. But in this context, coincidence is itself appropriate and revealing, for each of the characters brings to his role at a given time in the course of the novel everything we know (and much we do not know) about him and his relation to Jones. Thus the activity of the reader in making connections, observing points of comparison, and drawing conclusions, is paralleled by the activity of the narrator in bringing his plot to a conclusion, and both stand as moral observers of the comic scene.
If the beginning and end of the novel are thus tightly organized in clear and natural ways, the same cannot be so immediately said for the middle. Instead of analyzing the moral implications of a static environment which connotes, however deceptively, a definite meaning, the scene shifts, both in time and place. While in the rest of the novel, the major events move clearly from the previous events, from the introduction of characters, and from the relationships between them, the middle third of the novel seems anecdotal and digressive. Events are not so clearly related to each other. It seems to make no difference that Tom meets the soldiers after his meeting with the Quaker rather than before. Moreover, comparisons of the sort that, earlier or later in the novel, are resplendent with potential meaning seem on the surface to be specious. Thus the reader can do little with much of the material, for its derivation from causal relations in plot or from the thematic development of character is unclear—and anyway, who really cares about the Quaker, or Northerton, or the much discussed Man of the Hill? They appear and disappear without doing much more than revealing Jones as a reactor to external events and advancing him appropriately further towards London. The problem of explaining coherence in Tom Jones becomes largely, then, the problem of explaining structure in books VII through XII.
In terms of Fielding's initial explanation of the novel, the middle third clearly acts, as most critics have noted, as a bridge between the Somerset and London scenes. The road section is loaded with comic incidents involving mistaken identity—scenes which, though not clearly related to one another, develop the novel's early concern for the perception of virtue and the relation between virtue and prudence. Indeed, they provide an expansion of this thematic material, for instead of the limited world of Somersetshire, Tom is perceived by and in turn perceives a number of quite different characters. As the scope of his perception and judgment widens, Tom's experience broadens and his character develops. Thus, in fact, the development of comparable events tends to move from Tom's Somersetshire experience towards anticipation of London. This arch-like structure itself focuses, as Digeon first noted, on the Inn at Upton as its keystone, the central event of the middle books which provides the "turn" given to the plot of the novel.
The analogy of an arch is both important and exact as a description of the middle books, for it implies several dimensions of movement that proceed simultaneously to arrive at a point that is different in distance but similar in height. In order to perceive more clearly the function of different structures in the middle third of Tom Jones, it is necessary to examine them separately within the general notion of this archlike structure.
Most obviously, perhaps, the structure of the middle books is geographically organized. We are aware at all times that the characters are "on the road," and both their actual and intended geographical positions are an index to their status as characters. But looked at more immediately, the geographical movement of the central books is not as orderly as the "arch" image implies. Tom's initial intention on leaving Allworthy's is to go to sea but his intention is thwarted by the ignorance of his guide, who takes him away from, rather than towards Bristol. Tom then meets the company of soldiers and changes his plans, thus setting his course more clearly on land but not towards London. He thus arrives at Gloucester and then at Upton. From Upton on, his purpose becomes clear: he sets forth "in quest of his lovely Sophia, whom he now resolved never to abandon the pursuit of." Sophia's arrival at Upton is, of course, the result of her determination to follow Jones. The geographical progression of the middle books thus depends on a basic definition of purpose in the travelers, and as the motives of each in approaching London become clearer, the resultant adventures in London begin to take shape. Thus the path to London represents, both internally and externally, a linear movement in the novel, from one point to another. The geographical movement of the novel is, then, a close analogue to the causal development of the plot (though distinguishable from it) and tends to focus, from among the complex of long-range and hidden relations, on the linear element of causality, in which the immediate cause leads to certain actions which themselves cause still further effects.
But once this linear emphasis is recognized, it becomes apparent that it cannot account for many of the events of the middle books. Certainly one can trace various links leading from the novel's central chain of events and essential to it, but there are also events, particularly in Book XII, that do not fit into a causal pattern, even the long-range pattern that is resolved at the end of the novel, but which gather meaning from other kinds of pattern governing the novel.
The linear progression—both geographical and causal—is nonetheless so dominant a feature of the middle books that it tends to veil the fact that the temporal progression of the novel and the focus of its point of view are not linear, not moving in a continuous way towards a specific point. Thus the first two chapters of Book VII (after the introductory chapter) focus on Tom's predicament after leaving Allworthy's, while the next seven chapters turn to Sophia and bring her to the point of leaving her
What Do I Read Next?
- Pamela (1740), by Samuel Richardson, is said to have been the first best-selling novel in history. It is the story of a virtuous servant girl and her valiant efforts to escape the relentless advances of her employer. The story is told through the girl's letters. Fielding thought the novel was highly overrated, and his first two novels were parodies of it.
- Shamela (1741) is the first of Fielding's parodies of Pamela. Fielding, too, structured his story as a series of letters, but his heroine, far from being an innocent, is lusty and manipulative.
- Joseph Andrews (1742) is another, more ambitious, parody of Pamela. This time, Fielding has changed the protagonist to a male servant—the brother of Pamela—and the predatory employer is Lady Booby. This novel is considered the forerunner of Tom Jones.
- Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, was first published in Spanish in two parts in 1605 and 1615 and in English in 1612 and 1620. The hilarious tale is one of the most loved novels of all time. Tom Jones shares some of its picaresque elements, and its plot centered on a symbolic journey.
- Moll Flanders (1722), another picaresque novel, was written by Daniel Defoe, who, along with Fielding, is considered one of the important originators of the English novel. Defoe's novel, too, is the story of a character who grows up without parents. Defoe's Moll Flanders, though, is handed very different circumstances than is Tom Jones and takes a very different route in life.
- Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray, was published almost exactly one hundred years after Tom Jones, in 1848. Thackeray's classic novel deals with some of the same issues and human vices as Fielding's—vanity and hypocrisy, especially as they are encouraged by society—but his characters are more reprehensible and his novel is darker, though far from humorless.
- Twentieth-Century Interpretations of "Tom Jones" (1968), edited by Martin Battestin, is a collection of essays by modern critics who have differing views of the novel.
father's. The story then takes up Jones's journey and stays with him. Yet there are frequent interpolations: the story of the Lieutenant in VII, xii; the mutual self-revelations of Jones and Partridge in VIII, v and vi; the story of the Man of the Hill in VIII, xi–xv; and the account of how Mrs. Waters came to be attacked by Northerton in XI, vii. After the scene at the Upton Inn (during which Jones is seldom the center of revelation), the narrative moves backward in time for a summary of the events bringing Sophia to Upton (X, viii–ix), and the narrative then stays with Sophia through Book XI and the interpolated story of Mrs. Fitzpatrick. After XII, ii, where Western goes hunting, the story again turns to Jones and brings him to London. The general narrative movement of the central books is not, then, progressive and linear but follows instead a balanced pattern, alternating from Sophia to Tom and set around the Upton scene. This pattern is itself mingled not only with the progressive pattern of causation and geography but also with the reversal of roles that takes place at Upton. Before Upton, Sophia was the pursuer of Tom, but after she leaves the inn, he becomes her pursuer, and the nature of the switch is ironically reinforced by Western's insistence on hunting (an example, in the Upton section, of imagistic patterns emerging onto the level of plot—further examples include the dinner of Tom and Mrs. Waters, as well as Sophia's leaving of her muff on Tom's bed). The overwhelming patterns of what I would call external symmetry (that is, symmetry of events) organized around the Upton scenes has been well summarized by other critics. It is important, in an analysis of multiple structures, to emphasize that mathematically there are two such patterns of symmetry. The book is divided into halves by the Upton section and into thirds according to geographical locale, and symmetrical repetition gains complexity by its appearance within these two systems. But the relation of such external symmetry to patterns in the handling of time and in the use of both Sophia and Tom as centers of revelation has not, I think, been sufficiently noted.
Such critics as Dorothy Van Ghent and V. S. Pritchett have made much of Fielding's use of summary and his ability to achieve dramatic immediacy of scene. In that respect the narrative of the middle books provides brilliant focus on the Upton scene. In Book VII, for example, the reader is sufficiently informed of Sophia's intentions to understand her sudden appearance at Upton, and at the end of Book X Fielding adds information from the past, in two summary chapters, which puts in perspective her behavior at Upton and focuses on her progress, the subject of Book XI.
The relation of the past to the present is perhaps the major comic feature of the scene at Upton. Jones is involved in an affair of the present when his real love emerges from the past (a past recent in time but remote in terms of events). The situation is complicated by the comic mistakes of Mr. Fitzpatrick and Squire Western, and these lead coincidentally to the revelation to Sophia of still another figure from her own past, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. But these interrelationships of past and present are themselves ironic in terms of later revelation—Partridge's misapprehension that Mrs. Waters, or Jenny Jones, is Tom's mother, and the final unravelling of Tom's birth. The past forms an almost inexhaustible pattern, enveloping the characters and their actions, and at the inside of this Chinese box arrangement of discovery rests Tom's true heritage. Thus one general element of the symmetry of the novel is its progressive movement both forward and backward in time. But this balancing of past and present rests upon a rather different sense of movement than a causal sequence of events, for behind these events rest their analogues in the past, as well as their hidden causes, and these reveal, once they are known, the true significance of the present. But these analogues are not the only kind of comparison focused by Fielding's use of symmetry in the middle section of the novel.
One element of this symmetry is the parallel development of Tom and Sophia. Indeed, the accidents of chance that throw their paths together—such as Sophia's encounter with Jones's guide and Jones's discovery of Sophia's wallet (two happenstances which themselves balance symmetrically at either end of the middle section)—ultimately work in the structure of the novel as they reflect on one level comparisons that are valid at deeper levels. Similar balances on either side of the Upton fulcrum are clear in focusing attention on similar aspects of Tom and Sophia: the comparable stories of the Man of the Hill and Mrs. Fitzpatrick have been frequently noted and analyzed, but in addition Sophia's incomplete revelation to Mrs. Fitzpatrick recalls Jones's similar revelation to Partridge; the landlord's supposition that Sophia is Jenny Cameron echoes Partridge's false impression of Jones's politics; and Sophia's loss of 100 pounds corresponds to Jones's loss of Allworthy's gift (and Jones's supposed honesty contrasts with Black George's supposed dishonesty, just as his purposelessness at finding himself virtually penniless contrasts to the purpose he finds along with Sophia's pocketbook). In themselves these and other such parallels have different values: some merely suggest interesting similarities, others can be analyzed in detail. Taken together, they reveal the richness of texture in the central books, and a single chapter, looked at in some detail, can indicate the pervasiveness of these parallels and their functions in relating the stories of Tom and Sophia to each other.
Chapter viii of Book XI, for example, deals with two major events—Mrs. Honour's violent reaction to the discovery that her landlord has mistaken Sophia for Jenny Cameron ("that nasty stinking wh—re that runs around the country with the Pretender") and the arrival of a "noble peer," a friend of Mrs. Fitzpatrick who offers room in his coach to take the ladies to London. Both of these episodes have slight significance in the causal sequence of the novel, but both strongly recall Sophia's relation to Jones. Honour's language to the landlord ("'My lady!' says I," … is meat for no Pretenders. She is a young lady of as good fashion, and family, and fortune as any in Somersetshire," …) is reminiscent of her anger at the landlady who had earlier carried on about Tom's proclaimed love for Sophia ("'What saucy fellow,' cries Honour, 'told you anything of my lady?' 'No saucy fellow,' answered the landlady, 'but the young gentleman you enquired after, and a very pretty young gentleman he is, and he loves Madam Sophia Western to the bottom of his soul.' 'He love my lady! I'd have you know, woman, she is meat for his master.'" …). Fielding extends this comparison by explaining Honour's motives in terms of a footman who fought for the honor of Nell Gwynn, but the analogy has reference to Sophia as well as Honour because the comparison to Jenny Cameron is symbolically appropriate to Sophia. Like Jenny Cameron, she is beautiful and ladylike, but furtive and fearful of discovery; and Jones is a metaphoric equivalent to the Pretender, at least insofar as he is a pretender to the love of Sophia and all that means in terms of social position and moral rectitude. But the reader learns, from the arrival of the "noble peer," that the landlord's suspicion of the ladies' romantic situation, though inaccurate in specific detail, is accurate in other respects which Sophia is unaware of. Harriet's description of her relationship to this gentleman echoes Sophia's incomplete account of her escape from her father, as well as the similar Jones-Partridge exchange in VIII, v and vi, while the peer's conclusion that Sophia, like Mrs. Fitzpatrick, is also escaping the tyranny of a husband recalls both the landlord's mistake and the several mistakes at Upton. The culmination of the chapter comes in Harriet's comment that the peer, a married man, is
entirely constant to the marriage bed. "Indeed," added she, "my dear Sophy, that is a very rare virtue amongst men of condition. Never expect it when you marry; for, believe me, if you do, you will certainly be deceived."
A gentle sigh stole from Sophia at these words, which perhaps contributed to form a dream of no very pleasant kind; but as she never revealed this dream to anyone, so the reader cannot expect to see it here.
The chapter ends, then, by reinforcing Tom's relevance to the incidents of the chapter, themselves parallel in nature, by the strongest parallel in Sophia's mind.
Such a specific analysis reveals two essential kinds of comparison. Fielding's approach to character, here as elsewhere, is indirect in revealing the inner life of his characters. Thus he playfully does not "tell" us what Sophia's dream is, though the context makes its nature fairly clear. Some of the comparisons focus indirectly on the inner life of character, revealing what the narrator conceals or the characters do not wish to articulate. Other comparisons fill the more conventional function of providing frames of reference in terms of which we can perceive the moral situations of the characters at given points in the novel. Thus the Jenny Cameron-Sophia comparison broadens to include Nell Gwynn and Mrs. Fitzpatrick until Mrs. Fitzpatrick's mendacious remarks on male chastity bring both Tom's and Sophia's intentions into clearer focus, both in Sophia's mind and the reader's.
But beyond this specific sense of the richness of texture in the comparisons of the novel, the larger symmetrical comparisons that arch across the Upton scenes suggest the significance of Sophia's development as a secondary narrative line, parallel to Tom's development. The external parallels of Jones and Sophia in the central books are fairly straightforward elements of the novel's plot, and both characters move, in parallel fashions shaped by Fielding's handling of his centers of revelation, from country to city—both books XI and XII pointing towards the London episodes. But both Jones and Sophia journey as well towards their own marriage and ultimate return to Somersetshire. For both characters the journey embodies the problem of learning to express their inner feelings in a world of convention dominated by quite different values than those associated with these feelings. The journeys of both involve encounters with this world of convention, both personally and vicariously. Moreover, Sophia is accompanied by Honour, Jones by Partridge, and both companions distort the nature and motives of their masters.
Thus both face a double problem of perception and action—of how to behave in a corrupt society and how to perceive and reveal their own goodness within the conventions of that society. Their eventual accommodation to these conventions, particularly in terms of sexual and family life, makes possible their marriage and the conclusion of the novel. (Sophia's final acceptance of Jones is a satisfying example of her ability to use convention in order to express her own feeling. In the fashion of a prudent heroine of romance, guarded by "Daunger," she tentatively accepts Jones, but only after insisting on a year's period of probation and good conduct. When her father insists on her marrying immediately, however, she happily gives way to the convention of filial duty.) Fielding's symmetrical handling of point of view in the middle books of the novel and his use of comparable incidents on either side of the Upton scene thus widen the significance of Tom's moral progress to include that of Sophia and thereby to achieve a clearer picture of both.
The preceding discussion of structures in the middle section of Tom Jones reveals, then, four distinguishable patterns: 1) the linear pattern of causal sequence, analogous to the geographical movement of characters in the central books; 2) a non-linear pattern of causation, concerning the hidden causes of events, implicit in the enveloping pattern of time, and resolved, finally, as the various characters emerge in London to reveal Tom's story; 3) a symmetrical pattern of narration, based on the alteration of Tom and Sophia as central characters and on the reversal of hunter-hunted roles after the inn at Upton; 4) a symmetrical pattern of corresponding events, arranged around the Upton scenes and pointing backwards and forwards towards the Somerset and London scenes. These methods are in themselves controlled and ordered within the general structure of the novel. But an accurate view of the complexities of the middle books must recognize further kinds of structure as well. Among these are a number of ad-hoc parallels which focus on specific aspects of character without functioning structurally in the large movements of the novel. Some of the comparisons I noted in XI, viii work this way, and in this way we can regard the Northerton-Jones parallel. (Tom replaces Northerton as Mrs. Waters' lover, and, although Northerton's jesting about Sophia is the initial cause of their fight, Tom's own indiscreet use of her name is also improper and injurious to her reputation. Thus Tom, the novel's sympathetic hero, is briefly seen to share qualities with one of its least sympathetic characters.)
In addition to ad-hoc parallels are such devices of "rhythm" (in E. M. Forster's sense) as Sophia's muff, which are important single patterns but do not otherwise fit into an ordered arrangement of parts (playing, therefore, an intermittent rather than regular role in the structure of the novel); important also are the similar recurrent patterns of imagery—such as those of eating, clothing, and hunting—and recurrent literary allusions, particularly to epic and chivalric works. The importance of the developing relation of the narrator to the reader as an element of structure in the novel has frequently been commented upon.
Thus, in addition to the four major structuring patterns I have noted, there are a variety of different subsidiary devices of structure to which the reader must respond. Taken together, as I have suggested in my analysis of XI, viii, they constitute a rich texture of allusions—forward and backward in time, back and forth in the linear structure of the novel, towards the inner state of characters, towards external judgments by the author and reader, and towards the novel itself as a literary type analogous in structure and purpose to other literary types. Though these allusions may point, as Alter, Sacks, and others have suggested, towards theme, the complexity of structure is not echoed in an analogous complexity of theme.
One attempt to explain the complexity of these structures has been to speak of Tom Jones as a battleground for conflicting forces of literary mode or literary history. David Goldknopf claims that "Fielding was trying to bring both the picaresque exuberance which was his natural bent and the new, aggressive empiricism of his age under a discipline fundamentally unsympathetic to both, the neoclassical canon." But if we see the picaresque and empiricist elements of the novel as reflected in its dynamic, linear movement and the neo-classical elements as functioning in its symmetry—admittedly a somewhat simplified account of the middle books—the primary conclusion to be drawn is not that this conflict is a failure on the author's part but that it is a tension that is itself structured into the novel, an aspect of conscious design rather than unconscious impropriety. Nor is it, I think, valuable to consider "the neo-classical canon" as implying a sterile and rigid order. Seen as an aspect of structural technique, it is a method of putting certain elements of experience into particular kinds of relationship to one another. But rather than providing merely a static form, such juxtaposition of events insists, as I have suggested in the case of Fielding's comparisons, on the active participation of the reader in discovering and puzzling over the connections. The "narrator" is not, then, in total control of the novel as perceived by the reader, for he remains silent about, and ostensibly unaware of, a variety of these connections.
If the novel is regarded as a thing to be read, the common architectural, Palladian image of Tom Jones becomes insignificant: the reader of a novel, unlike the viewer of a building, must make his connections in the medium of time, depending not only upon observation but upon memory and his ability to generalize and hence to perceive the basis of comparison. The reader is thus left with a variety of structural devices which he must perceive and classify, and to which he must respond, always revising his perceptions and responses as new evidence in the novel comes into play. In this respect the process of reading Tom Jones never ends, for new possibilities become apparent on each rereading. One of the delights, then, of the diverse multiple structures of Tom Jones lies in the reader's sense of his own paradoxical position: he is engulfed in the formal structures of the novel, yet these formal structures are so diverse that they are beyond his ability to control at any one point in time; he repeatedly encounters balanced configurations, yet the stasis of these balances continually works against elements of surprise and the progressive movement of causality in the plot itself. The reader is thus perpetually in the process of discovering a form that extends beyond him, and his progress in achieving that discovery parallels the discoveries of the characters and the ordering of the author. Thus, though the novel ends, one's reading of the novel does not, and unity, in this context, becomes not something the novel "has" in the sense that a picture "has" composition, but a quality that is always in the process of creation.
The concept of unity thus seems less important than the experience of totality. Fielding's use of multiple structures enabled him to create a kind of novel unusually broad in scope; and in terms of the history of the novel, Tom Jones was a remarkable achievement. Fielding's concerns for the nature of social morality, for the experience of maturation, for the relation of sex to love, for the way people think and draw conclusions or make judgments, for the relation of motive to act, of appearance to reality, of art to human nature—all these are encompassed in the novel and viewed complexly, often in relation to one another, through an encompassing multiplicity of structures. As Sheridan Baker has pointed out, the effect of the contrived aspects of plot in Tom Jones is to distance us from the material, thereby achieving a comic, even ironic detachment. But the comic view plays against our involvement in the novel as process and mingles with the richness of the fictive world revealed in the novel and embodied in the brilliant, multi-faceted movement of its form.
Source: Charles A. Knight, "Multiple Structures and the Unity of Tom Jones," in Criticism, Vol. XIV, No. 3, Summer 1972, pp. 227–42.
Baker, Sheridan, ed., Tom Jones: A Norton Critical Edition, 2d ed., W. W. Norton, 1995, p. vii.
Paulson, Ronald, and Thomas Lockwood, Henry Fielding: The Critical Heritage, Barnes and Noble, 1969, pp. 172–75.
Shedd, W. G. T., Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Complete Works, Vol. VI, London, 1856, p. 521.
Battestin, Martin C., and Ruth E. Battestin, Henry Fielding: A Life, Routledge, 1990.
This book is considered the definitive biography of Fielding.
Dudden, Homes, Henry Fielding: His Life, Work, and Times, Oxford University Press, 1952.
A comprehensive two-volume work, this book examines Fielding's writing in the contexts of his society and his personal life.
Waller, Maureen, 1700: Scenes from London Life, Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2000.
This book presents a huge amount of detail about daily life (and death) in eighteenth-century London, focusing on where people lived and worked, how they behaved, what they wore and ate, and how they suffered from illness and injury. The book is made up of vignettes drawn from the author's research and by excerpts from contemporary diarists, novelists, and commentators.
Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, University of California Press, 1957.
This volume looks at the early development of the novel and the roles played by Fielding and his contemporaries Defoe and Richardson.
Director: Tony Richardson
Production: Woodfall; Eastmancolor; running time: 128 minutes; length: 11,565 feet. Released 1963.
Producer: Tony Richardson; screenplay: John Osborne, from the novel by Henry Fielding; screenplay editor: Sewell Stokes; photography: Walter Lassally; 2nd unit photography: Manny Wynn; editor: Antony Gibbs; sound: Don Challis; production designer: Ralph Brinton; art director: Ted Marshall; music: John Addison; narrator: Michael MacLiammoir.
Cast: Albert Finney (Tom Jones); Susannah York (Sophie Western); Hugh Griffith (Squire Western); Edith Evans (Miss Western); Joan Greenwood (Lady Bellaston); Diane Cilento (Molly Seagrim); George Devine (Squire Allworthy); Joyce Redman (Jenny Jones); David Warner (Blifil); David Tomlinson (Lord Fellamar); Rosalind Knight (Mrs. Fitzpatrick); Peter Bull (Thwackum); John Moffatt (Square); Patsy Rowlands (Honour); Wilfrid Lawson (Black George); Jack MacGowran (Partridge); Freda Jackson (Mrs. Seagrim); Julian Glover (Lt. Northerton); Rachel Kempson (Bridget Allworthy); George A. Cooper (Fitzpatrick); Angela Baddeley (Mrs. Wilkins); Avis Bunnage (Landlady at George Inn); Rosalind Atkinson (Mrs. Miller); James Cairncross (Parson Supple); Redmond Phillips (Lawyer Dowling); Mark Dignam (Lieutenant); Lynn Redgrave (Susan); Jack Stewart (MacLachlan); Michael Brennan (Jailer).
Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score, and Best Screenplay. British Film Academy Awards for Best British Film, Best Film from any source, and Best Screenplay.
Osborne, John, Tom Jones: A Film Script, London, 1964.
Bull, Peter, I Say, Look Here, London, 1965.
Manvell, Roger, New Cinema in Britain, London, 1969.
Walker, Alexander, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industryin the 60s, London, 1975.
Klein, Michael, and Gillian Parker, editors, The English Novel and theMovies, New York, 1981.
Barr, Charles, editor, All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema, London, 1986.
Hill, John, Sex, Class, and Realism: British Cinema 1956–63, London, 1986.
Richardson, Tony, Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography, New York, 1993.
Radovich, Don, Tony Richardson: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, 1995.
Welsh, James M., and John C. Tibbetts, The Cinema of TonyRichardson: Essays and Interviews, Albany, 2000.
Cowie, Peter, "The Face of '63—Britain," in Films and Filming (London), February 1963.
Richardson, Tony, in Kine Weekly (London), 27 June 1963.
Variety (New York), 31 July 1963.
Baker, Peter, in Films and Filming (London), August 1963.
Milne, Tom, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1963.
New Yorker, 12 October 1963.
Cine Française (Paris), 21 December 1963.
Moller, David, "Britain's Busiest Angry Young Man," in FilmComment (New York), Winter 1964.
Battestin, Martin C., "Osborne's Tom Jones: Adapting a Classic," in Man and the Movies, edited by W.R. Robinson, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1967.
Villelaur, Anne, "Tony Richardson," in Dossiers du cinéma 1, Paris, 1971.
City Limits (London), 11 February 1983.
"Albert Finney," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 30 August 1984.
Van Gelder, L., "At the Movies," in New York Times, vol. 138, C6, 15 September 1989.
Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 475, October 1991.
Walker, A., "Letters: Tom Jones at Home," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 3, December 1993.
Holden, Stephen, "An Angry Man Found Himself in Tom Jones," in The New York Times, 21 August 1994.
* * *
Tom Jones is one of those films of ambiguous national status, registered as British, and made by a British cast and crew, but funded entirely by the London office of United Artists. As such, it is one of the films on which is negotiated the shift from the "committed social realism" of the early 1960s British cinema to the mainly American-funded "swinging sixties" films of the middle years of the decade. At first sight, being a costume melodrama (and an adaptation of a classic novel) set in the eighteenth century, Tom Jones would seem to be aberrant in relation to both the earlier films, and the different contemporaneity of time, place and energy of the glamorous and eccentric pop culture fantasies of the mid 1960s. But the film was a huge success, accruing four Oscars, garnering much critical acclaim, and doing record business at the box-office. To some extent, the success of this film paved the way for subsequent films to work in the same free-wheeling, light-hearted and sexually "permissive" mode.
Richardson was quoted at the time as saying "This is our holiday film. We thought it was time we made a really uncommitted film. No social significance for once. No contemporary problems to lay bare, just a lot of colourful, sexy fun" (Daily Mail, 2.7.62). Even so, realism was still a key term in the publicity and critical reviews surrounding the film. As the Daily Mail's reviewer put it, "a holiday film it may be, but the master of screen realism is not letting glamour run amok on that account." Authenticity was assumed to be guaranteed by shooting entirely on location, and by seeking out "correct" period details in setting, props and costumes. Thus much of the power of the film depends upon the elaboration of such narratively redundant detail, fleshing out a richly detailed space within which the drama can unfold.
The reputation of the production team was important too. Richardson himself was a founder of and a prolific producer and director for Woodfall, one of the key companies in the film style and independent mode of production that characterised Britain's new wave. Osborne, who adapted Fielding's novel for the screen, was another of Woodfall's founders, and author of two of the plays that the company had adapted earlier, Look Back In Anger and The Entertainer. Finney, who played the lead role, had done the same in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. And Lassally, the cameraman who had produced the gritty look of A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, now used similar techniques for this period recreation: having attempted to achieve a realistic effect at one level through the authenticity of period detail, Lassally and Richardson pushed for a different kind of realism at another level by using contemporary documentary camera techniques wherever possible, including shooting on location, using light-weight hand-held cameras, comparatively fast film-stock, and natural light.
Without this veneer of surface realism and the cultural status of Fielding's novel, it seems unlikely that this spectacular and excessive period costume piece, with few of the moral or social commitments of earlier Woodfall films, could have been so easily accommodated by the British critics of the period. And, in fact, some of the reviewers of the film suggested that Tom Jones was far more socially relevant (because of its satire and its plea for tolerance) than the "superficially contemporary" films that had preceded it.
It is perhaps the question of style which enables the critic in retrospect to establish as strong a degree of repetition as of differentiation between the pre- and post-Tom Jones films. As with Richardson's previous two films, both canonised as realist films, Tom Jones displays an eclectic use of non-classical devices, many of them derived from the French nouvelle vague. Alongside relatively classical camera set-ups and scene construction, we find heavily stylised devices for shot- or scene-transitions; an obtrusive foregrounding of non-diegetic music; occasional use of under-cranked camera to speed up action; a particularly self-conscious use of montage sequences; and so on. But perhaps the most famous of Tom Jones's stylistic touches is the frequent use of direct address to camera and other means of establishing a subjective rapport between spectator and film (justified as a means of reproducing the narrative voice of the novel). There is much debate amongst critics as to whether this style is "organic" to the film, or whether the film has been invaded by merely disconcerting camera trickery (which was the view of the more "serious" British critics). Either way, it was this type of pop-art modernism that characterised many of the subsequent British films of the mid 1960s.
1. Comic opera in 3 acts by German, lib. by A. M. Thompson and R. Courtneidge based on Fielding. Prod. Manchester and London 1907.
2. Opera in 3 acts by Stephen Oliver to his own lib. based on Fielding's novel (1749). Comp. 1974–5. Prod. Snape 1976 (EMT), Nottingham and London 1976.
3. Comic opera in 3 acts by Philidor, to lib. by A. A. H. Poinsinet and B. Davesne based on Fielding. Prod. Paris 1765, rev. with lib. altered by M. J. Sedaine, Paris 1766. Modern revivals: Cambridge 1971, London (Fr. Inst.) 1978, Los Angeles 1980.