The full title of the text is ‘The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling’, and the choice of a common English name together with the description of the hero as “a foundling” indicate with belligerent clarity that Henry Fielding will deal with English society as it is. It was written between 1746 and 1749.
Mr. Thomas Allworthy the rich and benevolent owner of one of the largest estates in Somersetshire, and his oddly assorted household. In the Squire’s bed was discovered, one May evening, a mysterious infant, whom the good man determined to rear as his own, and who was afterwards named Tom Jones. With Allworthy lived his sister Bridget – a hypocritical prude of between thirty and forty, singularly destitute of personal charms. Her wealth, however, attracted a fortune-hunting captain of dragoons on half-pay named John Blifil, who married her, and quarreled with her incessantly for two years, but at last made amends by dying suddenly of an apoplexy.Meanwhile eight months after the marriage, Bridget gave birth to young Bliful, destined to be the villain of the story. The two boys, Tom and Blifil, grew up together under Allworthy’s protection.
In the village, a mile distant from the Allworthy mansion, dwelt the Seagrim Family, consisting of ‘Black’ George the gamekeeper his wife, and his five children. His second child was a strikingly handsome, but ‘bold and forward’ girl named Moly ; and with her Tom, when he was about nineteen,commenced an intrigue. Upwards of three miles from Mr. Allworthy’s house was the abode of a well-to-do, sporting squire, named Western, whose manor was contiguous to the Allworthy estate. This gentleman, who was a widower, had an only child, Sophia, whom he loved very nearly as much as he loved his dogs and horses.
In the village of Little Baddington (i.e. perhaps, Little Badminton), fifteen miles from Allworthy’s house, lived Benjamin Partridge, the oddly humorous schoolmaster, clerk, and barber, with his jealous and shrewish wife, Anne. They had as servant – a plain but extremely intelligent girl Jenny Jones; but Mrs. Partridge had dismissed her in a fit of jealously, and she had returned to her home in Allworthy’s parish. Soon afterwards, she was summoned to the Hall to nurse Miss Bridget through an illness. When the unknown infant was found in Allworthy’s bed, Jenny was accused of having placed it there, and she confessed to the fact. Partridge, the girl’s former master, was then suspected of being the father.
The narrative is then suspended for a period of twelve years. When the story is resumed,illustrations are afforded of the characters of the two boys – of the reckless good-nature of Tom and the malicious hypocrisy of Bliful – and the manner of their education by Thwackum and Square is described. In due course, as the lads grow to manhood, we hear of Tom’s intrigue with Molly Seagrim,and of the gradual development of lvoe between him and Sophia. Finally, there is a report of a series of incidents which resulted in the following situation – Tom, in love with Sophia, has been cast out of his home by the wickedly deceived Allworthy, with a parting gift of £500 in bank bills ; Sophia, in love with Tom, has been informed of her father’s unalterable resolve to force her into marriage with Blifil,whom she detests; Blifil, in love only with himself, is well satisfied with the success of his artful manoeuvres to effect Tom’s expulsion, and with the prospect of obtaining speedy possession of the beautiful young heiress.
The Second Part relates the separate adventures of Tom and Sophia, from their departure from their respective homes in the country to their arrival in London. The action takes place over a period of ten days. The central point in the narrative is the eventful night at Upton-on-Seven. Before this point,Sophia pursues Tom ; after it, Tom pursues Sophia. In this section many new characters are introduced.
Jones set out on his travels, but before he walked above a mile, he threw himself down by the side of a brook, wrote a letter to Sophia and another to Allworthy, asking Sophia to forget him and promising Allworthy that he had bound himself to quit all thoughts of his love. When he put his hands in his pockets for wax to seal the letter to Sophia, he discovered that he had lost the packet he had received from Allworthy.
Tom did not know where to go, but he at last decided upon going to sea and for that purpose started for Bristol. In the meanwhile the obstinacy of her guardians in compelling her to marry against her will, suggested to Sophia the idea of escaping from her house at night and going to London in the company of Mrs. Honour to Lady Bellaston whom she had known through Mrs. Western and she carried out the idea so far as to leave her father’s house immediately.
Mr. Jones and Partridge now travelled on to Gloucester and here Mr. Dowling, the Salisbury attorney who had taken the news of Mrs. Blifil’s death to Allworthy, had the chance of first meeting him. Proceedings, then, they came across the Man of the Hill whom Jones saved from some robbers and from whom they heard the interesting account of his life, which, however, has no connection with the story. While on the top of the hill, they heard some violent shrieks which brought Jones to the bushes from which the shrieks proceeded, leading to the rescue of one Mrs. Waters from the clutches of Ensign Northerton. Ensign Northerton managed to escape and Jones took, on the advice of the man of the Hill, Mrs. Waters to an inn in Upton.
In the meanwhile, Sophia and Mrs. Honour had also come there. Mrs. Honour learned from Partridge, who was by no means reserved about any of Tom’s affairs, that Tom Jones was there, and on intimate terms with Mrs. Waters. She left the inn without delay, yet not without arranging to have the muff, which Tom had kissed, placed in Tom’s bed. Noticing the muff and hearing from Partridge the broken bits of information which he gave to Jones, Jones ordered Partridge to run down and hire him horses. Jones could not bring himself even to take leave of Mrs. Waters : he set forward that very moment in quest of Sophia, and Mrs. Waters found in Mr. Fitzpatrick a good companion to Bath.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick changed her original plans of going to Bath and she went the same way as Sophia. On the way they met and recognised each other. Sophia and Mrs. Fitzpatrick now proceeded to London. Or arriving in London, Sophia went to Lady Bellaston’s and Mrs. Fitzpatrick lived in a house frequently visited by the Irish Peer.
Jones happened to follow Sophia by the same path as that by which she had gone to the inn where the Irish Peer had met Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Hence, he succeeded in recovering a pocket-book of Sophia’s which contained a bank-bill of £100, and which Sophia had lost on the way.The Third Part relates the adventures of Tom and Sophia in London. The scene, for the most part, is laid in that ‘very good part of the town, which included Bond Street, Hanover Square,Piccadilly, the Haymarket, and Pall Mall. Several new characters are introduced. The period covered is rather less than a month – from 4trh December, the day after the arrival of Tom and Sophia in town,to 29th December, the day of their marriage. Arriving in London, after some difficulties, he could meet Mrs. Fitzpatrick who would give him no information of Sophia but who, on the contrary, tried to put Lady Bellaston on her guard and thus prevent him from meeting her. Lady Bellaston thought it necessary to see him so that she could recognise him and thus make arrangements to prevent his entrance into her house. This could be easily arranged because Jones paid, as he had promised to do, a second visit to Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
One night she contrived to send Sophia and Mrs. Honour to the theatre and asked Jones to meet her during the period they were expected to be at the theatre. Accident turned everything topsy-turvy. Sophia did not like the play and therefore returned after the first act. Lady Bellaston was detained longer at dinner than she expected and hence Tom Jones could meet Sophia all alone. After some explanations and Tom’s returning the pocket-book with the bank bills to Sophia, when they had begun to be tender, Lady Bellaston entered. Sophia indicated that she did not know Jones who had only come to return the pocket-book.
Throughout this course Jones had been staying with one Mrs. Miller who had two daughters,Nancy and Betty by name. Mrs. Miller ahd one other lodger, viz., Mr. Nightingale. He had contracted undue intimacy with Miss Nancy and had promised marriage to her. Lady Bellaston’s coming to Tomat Mrs. Miller’s one night and staying about four hours, scandalised Mrs. Miller and yet she felt great obligation to Jones.
Mrs. Miller had come to know through Partridge about the relationship between Tom and Allworthy, and Mrs. Miller owed her all to Allworthy. She, therefore, put her ideas before Tom as mild lyas possible, but there was no mistake about her desire; if Tom did not stop having disreputable company at her house, he must seek other lodgings. Nightingale had sincere love for the girl, but was afraid of his father. Tom undertook to bring round the father. He did not succeed, but the lie that Nightingale and Nancy were already married, brought Nightingale’s uncle in favour of the marriage and he came to Mrs. Miller’s where Nightingale had preceded him.
In the meanwhile, Lady Bellaston had laid a very black design against Sophia. She contrived to get the willing consent of one Lord Fellamar to attempt to win Sophia by force and Sophia was saved only by the appearance of Squire Western in the nick of the time.
Here, however, Partridge came to his help. He had met Black George, and through Black George, in an ingenious manner, some correspondence was carried on between Tom and Sophia. Elsewhere a scheme for the ruin of Jones had been set on foot. At the instance of Lady Bellaston, Lord Fellamar had engaged a gang to kidnap Jones to some far-off country. Lord Fellamar’s gang, which had dogged Jones into the house of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, now rushed in and seized Jones and wisely concluded that its business now was to delivery him into the hands of a civil magistrate. While Mrs.Western and Lady Bellaston were contriving in several ways, to procure the consent of Sophia to the match with Lord Fellamar, Mrs. Miller was softening the heart of Allworthy towards Jones. She and Nightingale tried to relieve Jones from his present distress.
When Partridge saw Mrs. Waters going out from Tom’s chambers, he recognized her to be Jenny Jones who had admitted to being the mother of Tom. Naturally, Tom’s shock was a great as Partridge’s. Mrs. Waters, however, cleared the matter and disclosed for the first time that Miss Bridget Allworthy was the mother of Tom, and one Mr. Summer, who had been a very good man and who had been kept at the University by Allworthy, was his father. Mrs. Blifil had indeed communicated the whole in a letter to Allworthy, which, however, Mr. Blifil never allowed him the chance to read. All the hypocrisy of Blifil having been discovered and the innate goodness of Tom’s heart having appeared, Allworthy was reconciled to Jones.
No sooner did Squire Western learn that Tom was the nephew of Allworthy and that Allworthy was completely reconciled to him, he was a strongly in favour of Sophia’s marrying Tom as he was before in favour of her marriage with Blifil. It was more difficult to win over Sophia, but the difficulties were not insuperable and Tom and Squire Western, between themselves, successfully managed the business and Tom and Sophia were duly married. Fielding concludes the story with some account of each of the characters of the novel, who have made any considerable figure in it.