Archive for January 18th, 2016

Fielding and the landlady at Upton who is staring horrified at Mrs Waters’ state of undress (John Sessions and Ruth Sheen, 1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Tom and Mrs Waters aka Jenny Jones eating later that night at Upton (Albert Finney, Joyce Redmond, 1963 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones)

Dear friends and readers,

Herewith a fourth blog on teaching Tom Jones to a group of older and retired people at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning. We have thus far covered the obstacles to reading (an ironic, erudite, allusively classical text with a chameleon ironic narrator) and Fielding’s life (1); 300 Years of reading the novel. Then as these relate to parts of the story: money and property in the 18th century, sex and commerce, how hard it was to escape prostitution in this patronage society (2); poaching and the criminal justice system (class wars); education of children; Culloden or Jacobitism and the 1745 rebellion (3). What is there left? A lot.

In this blog we’ll follow Tom and Partridge out on the road. We have a series of adventures on the road which are not intended as filler (our narrator tells us everything tends to his design, every little detail), so it’s up to us to see what themes they comment upon, or how they relate to the story or main characters.

I’ll treat the allusive quality of Fielding’s text and how this combines with use of the narrator and irony to form a barricade for him to obscure his cynical and iconoclastic attitudes. In these cases we see how ambivalently he treats male sexual violence towards women, how he undermines adherence to the Walpole-Hanoverian gov’t order, and how he views marriage customs in the era as filled with hypocritical feigning. We also see how hard it is to find out where Fielding stands on issues he brings out, and there is something uncanny in this text when you reach near the writer at his core.

Three incidents thematically considered:


The first is one of many places where Fielding titillates his male reader with a sexually knowing woman who is attempting to seduce his hero. We see how lightly he can treat male violence against women, and how women lie. The Orpheus and Eurydice incident in Book 9 (Chapters 2 & 7) has been filmed twice: Tom Jones together with Partridge comes across the brutal soldier Northerton (1963 Julian Glover; 1997 Julian Firth) beating his erstwhile lover, Mrs Waters, seemingly trying to kill her (when he “merely” trying to strip her of every penny she has). Tom, after rescuing her, accompanies her to the inn at Upton. The text says she is just about topless, Tom wraps his jacket around her as best he can, she resisting and they march together, he in front so as not to see her nakedness (especially her breasts)

An 18th century Orpheus and Eurydice: Tom and Mrs Waters (Albert Finney, Joyce Redman, strictly in imitation 1963 Richardson & Osborne’s Tom Jones)


Jones walking ahead of Mrs Walters is Orpheus in the underworld walking ahead of Eurydice and told if he turns back she is dead forever; well in the original misogynistic emblem she won’t shut up, is endlessly curious where she should not be, disobedient, and keeps asking him to turn round, and cries he doesn’t not love her; when he finally turns around, she vanishes forever. Fielding has substituted another kind of slur: Mrs Waters is the older married and hence salacious woman trying to seduce the handsome young man. When she is caught in bed with Jones, she cries rape. In the final chapter of book 9 we discover Northerton did not just attack Mrs Walters, she was deeply involved with him, fond of him, arranged to meet him in the wood; he tied her to a tree not to kill her but to escape from here while merely “naturally” extracting as much money from her as he could in order to flee the country as he believed himself to have killed Jones.

To bring out how male-centered the filmed walk is I read aloud a section from Carol Ann Duffy’s Eurydice where a very different motive is attributed to her trying to make Orpheus look back:

Girls, I was dead and down
in the Underworld, a shade,
a shadow of my former self, nowhen.
It was a place where language stopped,
a black full stop, a black hole
where words had to come to an end.
And end they did there,
last words,
famous or not.
It suited me down to the ground.
So imagine me there,
out of this world,
then picture my face in that place
of Eternal Repose,
in the one place you’d think a girl would be safe
from the kind of a man
who follows her round
writing poems,
hovers about
while she reads them,
calls her His Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns.
Just picture my face
when I heard –
Ye Gods –
a familiar knock-knock-knock at Death’s door.

Big O.
Larger than life.
With his lyre
and a poem to pitch, with me as the prize.

Things were different back then.
For the men, verse-wise,
Big O was the boy. Legendary.
The blurb on the back of his books claimed
that animals,
aardvark to zebra,
flocked to his side when he sang,
fish leapt in their shoals
at the sound of his voice,
even the mute, sullen stones at his feet
wept wee, silver tears.

Bollocks. (I’d done all the typing myself,
I should know.)
And given my time all over again,
rest assured that I’d rather speak for myself
than be Dearest, Beloved, Dark Lady, White Goddess, etc., etc.

In fact, girls, I’d rather be dead.

But the Gods are like publishers, usually male,
and what you doubtless know of my tale
is the deal.

Orpheus strutted his stuff.

The bloodless ghosts were in tears.
Sisyphus sat on his rock for the first time in years.
Tantalus was permitted a couple of beers.

The woman in question could scarcely believe her ears.

Like it or not,
I must follow him back to our life –
Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife –
to be trapped in his images, metaphors, similes,
octaves and sextets, quatrains and couplets,
elegies, limericks, villanelles,
histories, myths . . .

He’d been told that he mustn’t look back
or turn round,
but walk steadily upwards,
myself right behind him,
out of the Underworld
into the upper air that for me was the past.
He’d been warned
that one look would lose me
for ever and ever.

So we walked, we walked.
Nobody talked.

Girls, forget what you’ve read.
It happened like this —
I did everything in my power
to make him look back.
What did I have to do, I said,
to make him see we were through?
I was dead. Deceased.
I was Resting in Peace. Passe. Late.
Past my sell-by date .. .
I stretched out my hand
to touch him once
on the back of his neck.
Please let me stay.
But already the light had saddened from purple to grey.

It was an uphill schlep
from death to life
and with every step
I willed him to turn.
I was thinking of filching the poem
out of his cloak,
when inspiration finally struck.
I stopped, thrilled.
He was a yard in front.
My voice shook when I spoke –
“Orpheus, your poem’s a masterpiece.
I’d love to hear it again .. .”

He was smiling modestly
when he turned,
when he turned and he looked at me.

What else?
I noticed he hadn’t shaved.
I waved once and was gone.

The dead are so talented.
The living walk by the edge of a vast lake
near the wise, drowned silence of the dead.
(from The World’s Wife)

I had assigned Anthony Simpson’s essays:  “Popular Perceptions of Rape in the 18th century.” and “The Blackmail myth and the prosecution of rape: the creation of a legal tradition.” The first is on the press and the trial of Francis Charteris, a notorious serial rapist, and the means he used to get away with brutal behavior. The second is on the perception that women lie, that they pretend to have been raped and that they blackmail men and get into court lying. The reality is that only a tiny percentage of real rapes ever prosecuted because most of the time over history women suffer badly even if they get a conviction, and they have in history rarely gotten convictions. Men just don’t believe women don’t want to be raped and they think they lie. Fielding in his fiction appears to think that women lie, that they don’t take rape seriously, pretend to have been raped and hold men hostage that way.( In his judicial career he was actually much fairer; he decided his cases on the particulars of a case, not on making examples of anyone (which in law you are not supposed to).

Also Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes” is about Fielding’s attitude towards violence towards women. First he discusses Fielding’s plays, especially Rape upon Rape (which Fielding later under pressure retitled to The Justice Caught in His Own Trap – a justice who is corrupt among other things tries to get to one of our female characters to lie and pretend she was raped). Fielding in these plays regards rape as minor problem, women think it’s okay, want it, it’s treated as a good joke, they fake it; they fantasize; the danger is not that you rape a woman (you being a man) but that someone bribes her to lie, to blackmail you. Simpson’s essays make short shrift of this. Some of scenes in Fielding’s worst later voyeuristic treatises put a different and rather deadly spin on Austen’s famous: “run mad as often as you please, but do not faint.” Dickie doesn’t mention these.

In the second half of Dickie’s essay, he shows how these attitudes play out in the nuanced complex texts of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones and Amelia. There is a pattern of women’s accusations which are mocked immediately or dismissed; very often when we are sympathetic to the woman we later find out she was somehow at fault: the old way of finding fault. The way Fielding treats the heroine in Joseph Andrews shows class bias when someone tries to rape her: she is strong armed, thick skinned in mind. So too is Mrs Waters described as sturdy, strong, not fussy over her appetites. A curious detail in all is when the man tries to touch the woman’s breast is when she gets excited and angry. In Tom Jones there’s Lady Bellaston persuading Lord Fellamar to rape Sophia and into her mouth is put all the arguments of how unimportant this is, how women want to be raped (p. 699, Bk 15, ch 4) it makes for marriage (Squire Western would like that), comes sort of sinister.

Fielding was deeply upset by Richardson’s portrayal of the rape of Clarissa by Lovelace: he wrote Richardson a letter; for once someone has pushed him out of this comfort zone of his, but he moves quickly to show he doesn’t take sexual violence seriously and wants Richardson to marry Clarissa off to Lovelace as an okay ending. I should mention Lovelace drugs Clarissa, she is held down by prostitutes, and kept awake in part and there is a good deal of transgressive sex in the scene forced on her. She has a psychically traumatized week afterwards. Tom Jones has a lot of careless violence in it; Tom is upset to think he’s murdered Mr Fitzpatrick but Nightingale seems to think it’s okay if Tom was just defending himself.

A little later in the term we read Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried: Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” ” who qualifies the above considerably. The women at the center of the story (Sophia, Lady Bellaston, Molly, Mrs Walters, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Nancy, Mrs Miller) show how law and custom render women powerless. The women at the edges fare worse. Mrs Bridget Allworthy who disappears, Mrs Western and the various women we are told of in the stories are stronger examples of how society makes invisibility safety; women are turned into servants of law and family and live in a liminal kind of space. They have to be hypocrites to survive, but a woman like Squire Western’s wife was in effect coerced into a rape situation for marriage, bullied into death. We do see fearful and arbitrary control; women as “other.” We see scenes where what they want is simply not paid attention to at all. Willaputt does bring in the Elizabeth Canning case where Fielding defended the woman who had been abducted, raped and complained and was later herself accused and in the end punished for perjury. In Tom Jones we find the narrator objecting to mockery of women when they have been sexually seduced or impregnated – Tom calls “jesting” “pieces of brutality.” Willaputte does not mention that the narrator and sometimes good characters deplore ridicule as very unkind especially of vulnerable or exposed people – like playwrights.


An 18th century print of a gypsy queen

18th century print image of an itinerant gypsy

In Book 12, Chapter 12, just before Tom and Partridge begin to approach London they come upon what seems a happy community of gypsies, are welcomed among them, and Tom talks with a Gypsy King. What happens is meanwhile Partridge thinks he is seducing one of the gypsy wives; she cries out and claims she was forced (does not quite cry rape), and her husband demands payment for this fornication and adultery. Unlike Squire Allworthy, this king carefully interrogates everyone, thinks sceptically and decides this was a blackmail scheme concocted by the husband and shames him. The king (reminding me of Gulliver talking to the Brobingnag king) suggests that absolute monarchy when headed by truly wise man the best form of gov’t – because supposed disinterested (TJ, Penguin ed, Keymer and Whately, pp 590-92). Jones is very impressed. Look how happy these people are. But then narrator interjects strongly and produces a heated series of argument which add up to denying that there can be such a person. How are we to take this?

We read two essays: Martin Battestin identifies the narrator’s rejection of the gypsy king with Fielding. The good Whig, Hanoverian, anti-Jacobitism where people were to adhere to an divine right monarch. J Lee Green is sceptical of Battestin’s neat conclusion: he showed there is a close analogy in Don Quixote (which Fielding has alluded to and imitated in Tom Jones, as for example, the traveling companions). Sancho takes over a gov’t and becomes judicious. Green suggests that the gypsy king is a foil for Allworthy and Western. He says we are not to accept the narrator’s view which is a rejection of any sort of Utopia. He does not repudiate the gypsies at all. They are living a happy life. It’s an attack on pre-conceptions.

John Allen Stevenson (whose book we read excerpts from) takes a third tack: he sees the incident as Swiftian; the wedding, feasting whole feel of this society is good, Utopian, and emotional. Fortune-telling and therefore superstition are associated with them, and throughout the journey we have people reacting superstitiously to all that occurs around them, as it were naturally. Sometime after Fielding published Tom Jones, a man who called himself Bampfylde-Moore Carew, the king of the gypsies himself, an impartial account correcting that personage Thomas Jones.

BamfyldeCarew (Large)

Said to be a scoundrel rogue. The name is based on a man who was a mole, a spy, a double-dealer, and some critics say Bampfylde-Moore Carew suggests that this Utopian scheme was a radical attack on the part of Fielding on the English way of handling gypsies: which was to hunt them down as thieving vagrants when not ignoring them. The book is really a picaro novel, sympathetic to gypsy types. Did Fielding know Carew?

It’s telling that neither man pays attention to the content of all the cases at hand, including Sancho’s: all rape cases. If you pay attention to the role of women here, Simpson says that blackmail was highly uncommon – neither Battestin nor Green nor any of them interested in that gypsy woman – why did she behave the way she did? A number of novels in the era show women going to bed with men because they are forced to by husbands who have become victims of debt – just like Mr Watson, and our man on the hill. On the road Tom meets a lieutenant who is a good man and helps him against Northerton: we learn he can’t get promoted because he won’t sell his wife to the officer above him. So is Fielding unthinkingly stigmatizing women?

The incident is preceded by Jones’s meeting with Mr Dowling who pumps him for information and is no friend of his though he appears to be, followed by Partridge and Jones discussing what happened Jones becomes incensed once again when Partridge wants to take Sophia’s money to support them, only to be interrupted by a beggar who tries to be a highway man, but is an utter failure at this, turns out to be Mrs Miller’s brother or brother-in-law who has 5 starving children and anther one on the way. Things are not always what they seem.

TheirEverShiftingHome (Large)
Stanford Forbes, Their Ever Shifting Home (a late 19th century depiction of gypsies, Newlyn School, Cornwall)


The third is the incident of the puppet show of Punch and Judy (Book 12, Chapter 5). A puppeteer at the inn after Upton refuses to use his puppets to put on a Punch and Judy show. It is “idle trumpery” and “low.” Instead he has his puppets perform a “fine and serious Part of the Provok’d Husband.”

The Audience were all highly pleased. A grave Matron told the Master that she would bring her two Daughters the next Night, as he did not show any Stuff; and an Attorney’s Clerk, and an Exciseman, both declared, that the Characters of Lord and Lady Townnley were well preserved, and highly in Nature. Partridge likewise concurred with this Opinion.

Everyone is “elated with these encomiums,” until Jones protests that the puppeteer has ruined a godo entertainment, he misses Master Punch and his merry Wife Joan. Everyone attacked Jones as low and the language used by Fielding is one which implies all these people are utterly hypocritical, uttering cant.

Stage (2)

Stage (1)
In the 1997 Tom Jones the puppet show is The Tragedy of Macbeth with however leading characters George III and Prince Charlie; the audience approves but here Partridge is given Jones’s speech of protest.

No one mentions the play is misogynistic farce, but if we looked at the full context, we find the incident is surrounded by stories where violence is explicitly discussed, objected to, carried on freely. If we look at all this, we could understand this incident quite differently and again say that in the book Tom and in the film Partridge has got it wrong.

Much of Book 11 is taken up by Mrs Fitzpatrick’s story of how her husband married her for money, took her to Ireland, had a mistress, abused her; she is likened to a
“trembling hare” fleeing him. Men were allowed to lock up their wives; they could beat them; a woman was supposed to obey, and people did marry for money sheerly (it was the only way to become rich if you were not born to it). Harriet tells Sophie her “companions” were “my own racking Thoughts, which plagued and and in a manner haunted me Night and Day. In this situation I passed through a Scene, the Horrors of which cannot be imagined …” – a childbirth alone, and childbirth in this period was a hard ordeal often ending in death (Book 11, Ch 12, p 320).

Right afterward the scene of the puppet show we hear the landlady’s maid defend herself from being beaten by her mistress on the grounds that her betters are not better than she; “what was the fine Lady in the puppet-show just now? I suppose she did not lie all night out from her husband for nothing” (p 563). Vanbrugh and Colley Cibber’s The Provok’d Husband is a play which runs on lines similar to Fielding’s own The Modern Husband: it’s about a couple who treat one another as commodities; they live in an adulterous world and imitate to find status and compete with one another. Its subtitle is Journey to London. There’s a scene between Lord and Lady Townley where she says he is so abusive she will leave him and he replies, leave this house madam, and you’ll never come in again and I will give you no money whatsoever. She is subject to him. At its close there is a moving dialogue between husband and wife where she reasons with him – oh she’s had a lover but so has he had a mistress: “what indiscretions have I committed that are not daily practised by hundred other women of quality” (II: 675). Both plays were received hostilely but was reprinted and read and remembered.

As the characters talk, the landlady remembers when good scripture stories were made from the Bible (as opposed to either Punch and Judy or The Provok’d Husband), and she refers to Jepththah’s rash vow? (p 564. Jephthah vowed to sacrifice his daughter on return from battle if God would only give him a win (it’s an Iphigenia story, note p 946). Before he sacrificed her she sat around bewailing her virginity. The idea is she wouldn’t have minded had she had sex, married, had a husband. It’s a ploy of the female character to try to stop the father. He will not.

Partridge is a Jacobite. A barber, a surgeon, a teacher, he’ll do anything. His story of desperate scrabble – it’s superficial or not so to say he’s simply mocked; there are several notable instances where we can take his side: in the book his preference for a serious play based on play in London while Jones prefers Punch and Judy (about as misogynistic a play as one can find; nothing in the book comparable to Hogarth’s attack on cruelty to animals, I’m not sure it’s brought up) fits here. We went over his story of the cruel hanging judge.

During most of these arguments Partridge has fallen asleep in a profound nap; he often falls asleep when Fielding does not want us to hear the true low ironic person’s comment. He is himself an abused husband. Once they get off the road, we find ourselves in the story of Lady Bellaston, a female libertine who hires males for sex, but is herself deeply unwilling to marry for then she will be subject to a master. As the narrator over the gypsy king can be shown to be totally inadequate so is Jones (pp. 562-563). Around the text swirls all this stuff And Fielding knows it.

The chapter ends with Jones going off to mouth his muff — which stands in for Sophia’s vagina. There is a curious wild hilarity behind this incident. And it’s here I sense something I’ll call uncanny, very unfamiliar not our good old home-y comfortable narrator at all. for is not Fielding a puppeteer? Thackeray saw that and called himself not inn-keeper but puppeteer. “Come children let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.”

The conversation of the great minds in the kitchen before we meet Mr Dowling once again (who pumps Jones) includes the question if Jones mad or not? (Is Fielding? does he ask himself if he is mad to write this book?) They go on about people put in madhouses by their relatives: happy is he who learns caution from the mishaps of others. Remarkably dumb talk, but they discuss who has right over others, whether Catholics seek to make all the world Catholic; as for the puppet show man, he cares not who’s in charge as long as it’s not Presbyterians who are against puppet -shows. They were strict in behavior and they were important in the closing the theaters again and again (p. 570): to be sure every man values his livelihood first.

The puppeteer, his assistant and lady all quarreling hard

Tellingly the puppet show in the film ends in a debacle: the puppeteer discovers his assistant behind the curtain having sex with the puppeteer’s mistress; when he objects, they vociferously defend themselves and attack him. As Partridge and Jones leave because they are told Sophia and her maid pass by, we hear some ruffians debate whether to follow and rape them. I take it the film makers were attempting to get into this incident some of the densely allusive texts on the road.


What kind of help is the narrator?

John Sessions as the narrator walking along the road (1997 Tom Jones) — in the film he directs traffic and utters ironic quips

Fielding’s introductory disquisitions frame, comment on, justify, undermine the themes of the book at hand (and novel as a whole). Well Book 8 opens with Fielding advising the reader that his novel will not overindulge in the marvelous. As if writing a recipe for authors, the narrator says as a novelist the marvelous must be used with discretion. We talked in class about how the “new” novel differed from romance and (using Fielding’s book and introductory chapters) came up with: probability; real characters; historical time; accounting for space and a real map; accounting for how someone knows something; slow moving structure; death is not something that you get up from; social themes (love, sex, marriage, real courts, politics), psychological depths and above all no supernatural. But shortly after this Tom meets Partridge, the man reputed to be his father; he is himself taken for a ghost; and then in the next book (9), he meets Mrs Waters who we soon discovers is Jenny Jones, the woman reputed to be Tom’s mother. Marvelous coincidences, no? What the narrator seems to suggest is he offers what happens just on this edge of believability and not too often.

It is just the sort of thing that would happen in the world of Greek romance: a vast watery world (here it’s roads) where characters lost and find their closest relations. I did offer a brief history of the novel. We like such fantasy. It’s piquant, alluring, reassuring.

Book 9 tells us who may lawfully write novels or what talents, knowledge and moral qualities an author must have — to invent good stories is not easy hence the envy of the ever carping critics; genius, invention, judgement, learning, conversation, knowledge of manners – and an author must have a good heart and make us weep. The opening of Book 10 launches into classical examples and allusions, from fops of the 18th century stage to “Dido” whom he says critics would claim was a model for “every amorous Widow” but that “very few of our Play-house Critics understand enough of Latin to read Virgil.” In this book Jones and Mrs Waters enact Orpheus and Eurydice.

In Chapter 11 the narrator attacks and/or exposes (depends on your view) critics: slanderers, people who injure the author by making him miserable over “the offspring of his brain.” Fielding knows he can be castigated for the open sex, the presentation of the soldiers, just about everything; so he defends himself: has he not preserved the characteristics of his characters or people; has he not distinguished his characters from their type carefully. In another part of the book he boasts of having carefully distinguished his landladies. He mentions Dido (like Aeneas a character everyone was familiar with), as the widow who fell in love with Aeneas and he her and he deserted her for his duty; it’s here he insists that everything in the book is part of a great design. If you don’t see how it all fits, it’s your lack not his. Fielding is exposing his hurt here too, trying to make readers think of the book as carrying the author’s spirit about; they are malicious says he, wantonly destroying what they don’t understand and (worse yet) have not read! They invent absurd rules that no author can live with. It’s quite a bleak and black diatribe. This book includes the long story of Mrs Fitzpatrick.

Finally 12 justifies plagiarism, or rather explains borrowing. It’s a book crowded with incident, very long justifies Fielding’s allusive use of other texts (which are heavily used throughout the center third of the book) and distinguishes justified plagiarism. It’s not thievery. Here Fielding shows how repeatedly he harks back to older ideas: in the 18th century a new definition of creativity, originality, of property was gradually emerging. Previous to this stories were seen as common property; no one owned a story or a character until the Renaissance when in-depth psychology emerges and a character is recognizably the product of a single sensibility, some could be recognized as the writer of “works.” Shakespeare’s folio among the first of this type. He did not gather them himself but his friends and colleagues. Fielding stakes himself on the idea that “the Antients provide a rich common ground” and as long as he makes it clear he’s borrowing, does not abuse the previous text, this is part of the poetical trade. Throughout the novel there are continual borrowings, but 12 contains the puppet, kitchen and gypsy sequences.

Jack MacGowan as Partridge upon meeting Tom on the road (1963 Tom Jones)

For my part I like to think of Tom and Partridge as an 18th century Estragon and Vladmir who meet all sorts of Luckys and Pogos on the road.


Read Full Post »