Talking of the women represented in Tom Jones, we can usefully focus on the institution of marriage. Marriage, as Fielding sees it, is a socio-economic alliance between males and females. Think how and why the two Blifil brothers scheme their marriage with Miss Bridget Allworthy. Think of Tom. His intimacy with Sophia would not get sanction because the marriage between the two would not qualify on socio-economic grounds. On the other hand, the young Blifil, the likely inheritor of Mr. Allworthy’s fortune, would be considered the most suitable boy for Sophia, irrespective of the fact that he does not love her and she is on her side strongly and clearly hates him.
The term “socio-economic alliance” for marriage is a broad one. What actually comes into practice in marriage is the conduct code. Under this code, particularly, the woman loses all identities as a human being – the specific name, the station, the right to decision-making, activist participation in given situations, etc. Fielding has observed that the conduct code of marriage suppresses women’s spontaneity more than that of men – the difference can be seen in the example of Squire Western and his wife. The latter died early in life largely because she as a wife could see no scope of a true relationship with her husband under what came to be a called a marriage.
However, outside marriage women behave freely to the extent of being aggressive. First, they do not merely ‘flirt/ but actually seduce men and lead them straight to bed. If Squire Western is shown as a great hunter in the novel, Molly Seagrim has been shown no less as a fighter and marauder. Secondly, the philosopher spotted in Molly’s bed by Tom arouses in us a sense of ridicule and disgust – his practice goes against his precept as he sheepishly reveals himself in a state of undress. Not Molly. In her case, it is raw sexuality. Though her own mother and sisters as well as the neighbourhood do not approve of her ways, Fielding is far from critical towards her. Another version of female sexuality – pleasure-giving and natural – is presented through Jenny Jones. Tom has also come of age by the time he meets her and we notice greater reciprocity between the two. What we scarcely notice, however, is that under Fielding’s scheme, such reciprocity is not witnessed between partners in marriage. Instead, we see wives running away from husbands and husbands in hot pursuit of them – they have to get back their wives into the marriage-mould. Thus, female sexuality and marriage stand in contrast to each other.