08-17-2007 06:11 AM
Thanks Peter - great observations. Yes, I fear there have always been more Bilfils about these days than Toms. Not that I believe there have ever been any paragons of manhood or womanhood - all are flawed. Perhaps l'enfant sauvage as envisaged by Rousseau but once in the real world or adult, corruption begins.
Thwackum and Square represent two18th century religious/philosophical/ideological currents in hilarious ways, don't they? From the beginning isn't one struck by the pervasive doubling of characters? First of all Tom and Master Blifil, Allworthy and Western, Sophia and...Who is Sophia's double? It goes on and on.
And to speak to yin/yang - the gender relationships in Fielding is of course a huge topic - but one small point as pertains to Tom's character. He is, it would seems, a paragon of manhood, but isn't there something uncannily feminine about Tom (yin)? Noticed how often people are astonished by his beauty and dumbstruck by his natural grace and ease. Note the way that Tom already speaks and prefigures the language of romantic sensibility.
Tom is quite literally a child of nature. He is perfectly suited to be in a political parable of someone like Rousseau. Despite their savage efforts and brutality, Tom’s tutors ultimately fail where Tom is concerned. His naturally goodness continues to shine through the imposition of culture. True, that natural goodness contains the seed of certain wantonness, but that can be tamed, and that is Sophia role (Though Fielding is joking with us here too – it is just too perfect, somehow, to be believable.)
Master Blifil, on the other hand, and despite the suggestion of an innate bad character, is entirely molded and directed by the guidance of his tutors – right down the hypocrisy of balancing in himself their divergent conceptions. But there is no real problem with this hypocrisy as it is a potpourri of religious and moral righteousness perfectly suited to be the world view of the ruling class.
And isn’t Allworthy’s system of education that utilizes the double tutors another interesting example of his benevolence?
I think Fielding certainly had great affection for Allworthy as a character, despite the irony, but there is a clear sense that Allworthy moment has past and the Master Blifils are taking over – heartless hypocrites motivation only by the desire for acquisition and property, those who don the mask of benevolence and drop it when it suits them. Fielding feared that the Master Blifils of this world would inherit the earth – so I think he wrote a book that was both a true history of his times, as he understood them, and at the same time a kind of alternative history.
Pardon to the group to jumping ahead a bit but I was lead to these reflections by the last post.
Despite Allworthy’s comparatively benevolent response there is clearly a zero-tolerance posture being adopted. Tom is the result of what was almost universally regarded, if hypocritically, sinful and irregular behavior. The result of sinful behavior could only be more sin – for most of the characters there is no presumption of innocence where the new born child is concerned – there is an entire cartload of notions of inheritable sin dragging after Tom.
Aside from the social problem of masses of unclaimed children there is the implied threat to an entire social order based on the importance of lineage. That is how I understand the rapid and almost hysterical search for the culprits.
Exactly. I was trying not to expand on Tom's supposed parentage because I do not know how far we are supposed to be in the book and did not want to introduce spoilers.
I see a lot of irony in Fieldings's depiction of Allworthy - indeed of all his characters, especially when he exaggerates either their virtues or failings. Can any woman be as wonderful as the 'Sublime' Sophie in Chapter II Book IV, for instance, and aren't we being prepared for her failings to be revealed in later chapters, just as we are being prepared for Allworthy's earlier in the novel? There is a sort of Yin and Yang in Fielding's depiction of his characters - Thwackum and Square for instance. Some how I feel we are meant to look for a balance between them:-
One of the instances I see of the unreliability of Fielding as narrator are his constant references to the theatrical productions, 'the theatre of history', 'setting the stage' etc. His is a performance - 'I ask pardon for this short appearance, by way of a chorus, on the stage' - and we are perhaps being invited to suspend our disbelief as we read on.
That underscores nicely the point of the ambiguity of Tom’s status. Despite Allworthy’s comparatively benevolent response there is clearly a zero-tolerance posture being adopted. Tom is the result of what was almost universally regarded, if hypocritically, sinful and irregular behavior. The result of sinful behavior could only be more sin – for most of the characters there is no presumption of innocence where the new born child is concerned – there is an entire cartload of notions of inheritable sin dragging after Tom.
Aside from the social problem of masses of unclaimed children there is the implied threat to an entire social order based on the importance of lineage. That is how I understand the rapid and almost hysterical search for the culprits. There are many things that Fielding leaves in suspense and suspension but I never thought that he left any doubt that Jenny and Partridge are probably not the guilty parties. Fielding approach to Allworthy's character and his benevolence is an interesting example of his narrative strategy. Is Fielding being unreliable? I do think he regards Allworthy more ironically than it may at first appear.
A foundling is an abandoned child, one who is 'found', whereas the parents of an orphan are generally known. A foundling therefore has less 'status'. Orphanages were built for orphans, Foundling Hospitals for foundlings, because many of them were literally found abandoned at birth or soon after, whereas orphans lost their parents later in life. Foundlings have always been more of a problem to society than have orphans because orphans have known relatives whereas foundlings do not. So I still think Fielding is making a particular point when he sub titles Tom Jones as A Foundling.
While then-current social conditions undoubtedly played a role in Fielding’s treatment of Tom as a foundling, the hero-of-uncertain-parentage has been a recurrent figure in literature and myth from the earliest times. Think of Moses, for example, or Euripides’ Ion. King Arthur’s parentage was unclear, at least in some versions of the tale. So in making his hero a foundling of mysterious birth, Fielding was following a well-etched literary tradition, albeit on a humbler scale.