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Grace Elliot (Lucy Russell) from Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke (based on her Ma vie sous la revolution)

‘Real solemn history, I cannot be interested in…The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.’
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of weeks ago I was pleased to be asked to contribute to a series of memories for Diane Reynolds’s blog, Jane Austen and Other Writers where people are asked to describe their first encounters with Jane Austen’s novels and why they read her still. As luck would have it, around the same time I had agreed to give a lecture on Lady Susan to a group of students in a BIS program at University of Virginia. I’d told the story of my coming to Austen in bits and pieces before, but now having brought all but the role of specific critical books together, I thought I’d talk on a blog as an addendum to first encounters about my recent re-encounter with Lady Susan.

I was around 50 the first time I read Lady Susan. I am not alone in this belatedness: the text itself was not published until 1870, 53 years after Austen’s death, and (if I am right in saying the book was written between 1804-5), 65 years after she wrote it and copied it out in a beautiful fair copy which is a kind of imitation of the publication denied her. The first recorded Austen film adaptation was in 1940, since then there have been at least 35, so it’s taken 76 (!) years to film it.

If you look at mainstream fan sites, it’s hardly ever mentioned.

What can be so wrong? well it’s lumped together with late “fragments” (unfinished work, nothing more discouraging except to a devoted reader), and it breaks so many taboos that Jane Austen is thought by so many Janeite fans to have upheld, is written in an amoral tone, with an ironic presence at the center that I know (since reading Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones so carefully) the closest character to Fielding’s Lady Bellaston we have, except ever so much meaner, self-conscious and gayly morbid. Marvin Mudrick in his JA: Irony as Defense and Discovery thought in this one text alone Austen shows herself fully and we should use it as the lens by which we understand say Mansfield Park.

I discovered upon this re-reading (and I’ve read it several times since I was in my fifties, especially when I studied it to bring out its underlying calendar), that I did not (as I had expected) approach the book with so many pre-framings. I simply did what I have probably always done since age 12-13: felt an intensely primal response along my pulse as I came into contact this exhilarating woman. It is a truism (“a truth universally acknowledged”) that reading the same book years, decades later can have a very different effect on us.

So for me I remember when I read Lady Susan the first time I was strongly put off. I especially found her mockery of her daughter, and complete antipathy to Frederica’s kind heart, desire to read books for their content alone, lack of an ability to cope with the abrasive world or perform hateful. I laughed at her sending up of Alicia’s husband and marriage, but saw that the world around her of pious feeling was mawkish and somehow false. But she was the blight.

This time through I still saw that she must not be allowed to “mother” Frederica; that she would corrode the girl’s gifts and heart, Lady Susan was exhilarating. Far more so than Thackeray’s Becky Sharp at the opening of his Vanity Fair. I saw the that Frederica was in the narrative from the outset and underlying the book was an ongoing relationship of a mother and daughter who needed to get away from one another, but there was no doing it as the world is not organized that way, but I reveled in Lady Susan. This was release for Austen. I flaws in the others too or far more continually: Reginald, what a self-satisfied, easily deluded non-thinking fool! He’s a weathercock who believes the last person. Mrs Vernon was all suspicion and leading a boring, stultifying life: what she offered Frederica was calm from repression and never trying anything out of a small round of pious acts. She was working to marry her to Reginald because that would keep them close and thus to her “safe.” I could see that Alicia was not so enamored of her friend, and rightly didn’t trust her but where was she to turn for safety? She seemed to be living a life of lies.

The real problem in the novel is there are no good choices. I wished we had had scenes of Lady Susan with Manwaring so I could see if she had any gratification with him: was the sex good? Was he another clinging person? It seems that to survive one must marry a dense idiot (Sir James perhaps a version of Mr Collins). I saw the dark book Murdock in his Irony as Defense and Self-Discovery had, a book in the tradition of Tom Jones as I recently began to see it. Where was Jane Austen in all this? D. W Harding’s finding a release for anger is not enough. She wasn’t sending up the outrageous behavior of the rest of the world (as he rightly says she does in the four books she published before she died). There is a quiet desperation here, a disjunction between the stereotype she found in her culture and what she wanted to say.

I did not say the above directly in presenting the novella to students. One can’t. It’s not allowed. One must present an impersonal reading; the kind of talk that’s respectable is context and tropes, biography, sources. So much of my introduction came from framing (dating specifically) and is found in my remarks next to my timeline for the novel.

Here is what I told them out of that. Linking the class to the coming movie by Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship, I suggested to them if it’s that Stillman presents the novel as witty juvenilia, a moral send up of say self-indulgence, solipsism, egoistic romance like Love and Freindship, that’s a mistake which will trivialize the book. Lady Susan is a mid-career book; not a so much a product of the regency era reacted against (the thesis of their course), but an inverted protest novel by a woman, and coming out of a tradition heavily influenced by French novels and most often taking the form of epistolary narrative. Here is a little of what I told students for nearly 2 hours.

I suggested we couldn’t elucidate the content that mattered in it, close read its details through the regency period except to say the frank amorality of the heroine can be linked to the era. In a letter she wrote she detested the regent and when he prosecuted his wife for adultery, she was on the wife’s side simply on grounds she was a woman.

I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter,” Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad. — I do not know what to do about it; — but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. —- 16 February 1813

Lady Susan fits just as strongly with what she wrote in her History of England (a juvenilia) about Tudor queens (among them, Ann Bullen, Katherine Parr).

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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in proud procession

She is passionately on the side of several of them. She looks out on the world unashamedly from a woman’s perspective. As Mrs Vernon, Lady de Courcy, Fredericka, Alicia and Lady Susan herself. All of them. She rejects the regency as presented in books as devastatingly, stupidly patriarchal

My suggestion was it’s a radical inverted protest novel. Austen is getting away with protesting her own and other women’s situations through presenting a heroine all will detest. There were ways for women to express themselves “contra mundi”: I saw her as turning to a sub-genre or kind of book that allowed this. Epistolary narrative, and French amoral anti-heroines. She can express herself through such a heroine as a mask. This was an era when spinsters were harshly criticized and mocked in conduct books, sent up cruelly in novels. She was despised for not having sex, but as a woman with little money and no power she’d be worse ostracized and punished for admitting knowing about sex, much less trying to live a pleasurable life of sex on her own without a man controlling her. This is the type of woman we find in these novels, only they are often widows or domineer over husbands and lovers, or simply living independently (if they had wealth somehow).

Think about her life I said. In 1805 Austen was herself 30, in 1809 34. Lady Susan is 35 inflected by her peculiar undercurrent of grave melancholy. She was a poor spinster, dependent on relatives, hamstrung; if hearsay be true, having rejected an offer from a local squire, owner of Manydowne (which would have provided for herself, sister, mother, friend, Martha Lloyd), and, together with her sister, having decided to present herself as a spinster. All her brothers but Henry (who was out on his own, as a fourth son, as yet floating on banking) were provided with careers, niches; her oldest the house she had grown up in, so she and they and her sister had gone to live in Bath (where there was a marriage market, not too kind to women without dowries).

She had begun to write as a young girl, her first texts called juvenilia go back to 1787 when she was 12 or 13. She wrote endlessly and this includes rewriting her texts for years and years, but her first published book sees the light in 1811, 24 years after she started. She did try for publication, once a long version of Pride and Prejudice, probably an epistolary novel, in 1796: the letter by her father to a reputable publisher was returned that day. On her own she tried to publish a version of Northanger Abbey she called Susan in 1803 and had to get the manuscript back in 1815, unpublished to start working on it again. What a release this narrative might have been and like Nabokov she is allowed because the irony protects her from her own self-censor.

Epistolary narrative is a complicated form. Its main attraction is it enables the novelist to delve the human psyche. The 18th century was a revolutionary era, and one of the transformations of values that went on was to look at one values and norms as coming from individual psyches, and understand that truths were relative. Each person’s understanding of what happened would be the result of his outlook. The relativity of norms across cultures and inbetween people was central to the satiric mode of the period.

I quoted the outstanding voice of the first half of the era, Alexander Pope from the first of the four Moral Epistles. Moral Essay I: to Richard Cobham, Of the Characters of Mankind:

Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human Actions reason though you can,
It may be Reason, but it is not Man;
His Principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his Principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
Ye lose it in the moment you detect.
    Yet more; the diff’rence is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All Manners take a tincture from our own;
Or come discolour’d, through our Passions shown …
    Nor will Life’s stream for Observation stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark the way …
    Oft in the Passions’ wild rotation tost,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
Tir’d, not determin’d to the last we yeild,
And what comes then is master of the field,
As the last image of that troubled heap,
When Sense subsides, and Fancy sports in sleep
(Tho’ past the recollection of the thought)
Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought:
Something as dim to our internal view,
Is thus, perhaps the cause of most we do … (1731-35)

Some of the most famous of the epistolary novels were this kind of delving: Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), boy meet, rapes girl, girl dies, boy dies. 2 million words. Samuel Johnson said a reader would hang herself who read it for the plot

But you can do other things with epistolary narratives. You can expose characters satirically; we can see them not meaning to pour their heart out and by seeing the difference between the action of the story and what the characters think of it, witness all sorts of psychological and moral states, from hypocrisy to self-delusion, to someone strategizing to manipulate someone, we can see spite, vanity, performances of all sorts.

Two important features of epistolary narratives: they are free from chronological time because people in their minds can jump back and forth. Therefore you can juxtapose letters very ironically. We watch “innocent characters being duped” because we know the reality of the other characters. We are looking at these minds on a stage; different voices come out interacting. It is also done in the present time so the characters do not know what is going to happen next and are all in the midst of anguish about it. We are dropped down into the midst of a mind in the throes of a present moment worrying what to do, what will be, what will happen, what should I do next. Lady Susan is a slender book and I don’t want to give it more density or value than it has, but Austen uses these techniques if in an epitomizing form.

Which books of the era is it in dialogue with or comes out of memories, an experience of. LaClos’s Dangerous Liaisons (1782) with its central amoral heroine, Madame de Merteuil – if you’ve not read it and want to have a quick acquaintance to start I recommend Stephen Frears’ film with Glenn Close as Madame de Merteuil and John Malkovitz as Valmont, the rake who is done in by the end. There was a full translation immediately and it was read and influential.

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Close playing the innocent

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Alone in thought

Madame de Stael’s Delphine (1804), with its cold mean calculating mercenary mother whose name is Madame Susan Vernon, both epistolary books. We know Austen read and much admired Stael’s Corinne; there’s a passing phrase in one of her letters which can be understood as suggesting she prefers Corinne to Milton’s Paradise Lost. As who wouldn’t? Madame Susan Vernon is especially cruel to her emotional daughter; she hounds her to marry a horror of a man for money. Bad mother type. And Austen’s Lady Susan is not only in herself mean, cold, vicious, cruel, she hates sincere people, wants to stamp out genuine feeling; aspirations for real learning (in her daughter) grate on her; vulnerable people exist to be preyed upon so she despises them. Stael’s anti-heroine’s values are slightly different but the complex of attitudes is analogous.

The frank amorality of Lady Susan can be found in much French literature through out the 18th century – Austen read French and the two countries traded books incessantly. Translations came out immediately, French books were published in London.

But there are English novels where the same pattern may be discerned or is a sub-plot.

There is a strikingly similar central amoral character in Maria Edgeworth’s epistolary Leonora (1809). (For this we must accept Butler’s thesis that the novel we have was written or revised into this text in 1809.) Here the heroine is someone whose husband is deep in debt and the way they mean to pay off the debt is she prostitutes herself. This is a reversal of most novels of the era which use this plot paradigm. In Fielding’s Tom Jones he shows that it was common practice for a high officer to pressure the men beneath them to allow their wives to go to bed with them – if you didn’t you were not promoted. But it’s only Lady Bellaston in Tom Jones and Edgeworth’s heroines who themselves are amusingly pro-active in this way. Lady Bellaston writes letters to Tom too. Or characters imitating her in later books.

Joan Greenwood  Tom Jones (1963)

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Joan Greenwood as the supremely plausible Lady Bellaston (Tony Richardson, John Osborne Tom Jones 1963)

This specific trope is a French pattern too. In Louise d’Epinay’s Montbrillant (a mid-century epistolary book) and the Duchess of Devonshire’s Slyph (1777-78) both epistolary again, the heroine is pressured and driven into going to bed with the husband’s creditor. I suggest the life of Grace Dalrymple Elliot and Rohmer’s film and script offer major insight into the context for Lady Susan and what type she stands for.

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Annette Bening as Madame de Merteuil — she could be Lady Susan persuading Reginald de Courcy to believe her (from Valmont)

If you read Lady Susan as tongue-in-cheek, and someone think that Lady Susan speaks ceaselessly as a conscious hypocrite and never believes a word she says about her emotions, she becomes a wild caricature. It seems improbable to me – you could not find any depth in the novel then. And of the female characters I’ve mentioned, Madame de Merteuil, Madame Susan Vernon are deeply involved emotionally in what she’s doing. If you read Lady Susan’s letters as partly self-righteous, at times fooling herself (as people do), really half-believing herself a misunderstood person trying her best to survive and dealing with a society indifferent to her, and only facing up to her hypocrisy when forced to, Fielding’s Lady Bellaston, the aristocratic amoral mistress of (only she keeps him, not the other way round) is closely similar. (When I taught the book the men in the room really protested against the idea Tom was a male prostitute servicing Lady Bellaston, i.e., the abject characterWe know that Austen read Tom Jones when she was young, and like its opposite number, Clarissa, did not forget it. Her relatives would never mention it, but then they’d never mention any of the others I suggest are where Lady Susan belongs.

To conclude: Austen’s first novels (S&S and P&P) began life as epistolary narratives; MP was in part one in a first draft. Love and Freindship is a crude one (not using all the devices), Lesley Castle an improvement. She wrote an ironic gothic — the gothic was another mode of protest (too long to go into here). She can also write memoirs and, if English, not publish them: we know through Anne Elliot and Austen’s letters to Cassandra Austen read French ones. They were often short as were Austen’s first attempts all. Think of Lady Susan as like Elena Ferrante’s first much briefer deeply frank raw novellas, Days of Abandonment, The Lost Daughter: see my “The Other Side of Silence”.

Eighteenth century women lacked any agency, and any true private space (so letters could function the way the Net can for some women in traditional cultures). That’s why Outlander has been so popular. Diana Gabaldon injected into the 18th century costume drama so frank about sex a woman who all agency, narrator, dreamer, who seeks her own fulfillment, looks at life that way. One thing we see Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser enjoy is sex; she is given liberty to choose as she pleases by her Scots partner, Jamie Fraser over and over again. Saul Dibbs’ and Jeffrey Hatcher’s The Duchess show the Duchess of Devonshire writhing under the controls of this world, punished into becoming a girl child-mother at the close. The movie opened with her running with girlfriends in play on the lawn; we last see her running after her children in play on the lawn. See my The Duchess: A Strong Protest Film. Stella Tillyard’s book Aristocrats based on memoirs of women with money reveals the ways in which actual women of the era tried to manipulate their position and yet stay within the confines of their world. Among these were reading and writing books like the above:

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Serena Gordon as Caroline Fox, at her desk bought for her by her husband, Henry (Aristocrats, 1999 BBC, scripted by Harriet O’Carroll).

In the class towards the end we were finding characters in other of Austen’s novels which corresponded to those in Lady Susan: Charles Vernon is a kind of Bingley. Reginald’s behavior that of Edmund Bertram. And lines the narrator uses, say congratulating Lucy Steele at the close of Sense and Sensibility, that are echoed or anticipated in Lady Susan.

The whole of Lucy’s behaviour in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience (S&S, Chapter 50, the last, towards the end)

Whether Lady Susan was, or was not happy, in her second choice — I do not see how it ever can be ascertained — for who could take her assurance of it on either side of the question? The world must judge from probability. She had nothing against her, but her husband, and her conscience (Lady Susan, Postscript)

They joined in on finding and reciting their favorite lines from Lady Susan and other of Austen’s novels.

Ellen

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Mapping Tom’s Journey

Friends and readers,

I bring together in one place my essay-blogs on the extraordinary learning journey I took with a group of older retired people at the Oscher Institute of Life-long Learning (attached to American University in DC) when we read and discussed Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. I was asked by a few people here on my two blogs to provide what I could of the lectures and class discussions, what we learned from reading the book that was relevant to us today. I found I could do this coherently by providing summaries of the phases of the books and the essays and topics and inexplicable cruxes we came across as we went through the book.

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Glastonbury Tor, Somerset

We began with a syllabus

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: a fall syllabus

1. We moved onto Fielding’s life and career and some ways in which the novel does not answer the expectations of 20th and 21st century readers:

Fielding’s life and obstacles to enjoyment

2. We covered a history of reading and commentary; how money worked in the era, and the relationship of sex and sheer survival in the era (“commerce”):

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Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood) and Lord Fellamar (David Tomlinson) (1963 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones)

A history of reading the novel, its presentation of money in relationship to sex

3. We then approached specific historical topics still relevant to us today:

Poaching, gamekeepers and injustice; Jacobites, superstition/discontent and Culloden

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Peter Watkin’s 1964 documentary of Culloden

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Sophia Western (Samantha Morton) and Honor, her maid (Kathy Burke) setting forth (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

4. Tom Jones on the road

An allusive text, filled with sex; gypsies, Punch and Judy, & The Provok’d Husband

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Tom (Albert Finney) and Lady Bellaston at the masquerade (1963 Tom Jones)

5. Tom Jones the last 3rd: conclusion out of London

Sexual violence against women, libertinism; Hamlet and a history of the novel

Last, written much earlier: defending the 1997 mini-series

Affectionately dedicated to Mr Fielding

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The film particularly effective when capturing the intersections of plot and narrator

Ellen

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Drinking (Small)
An inn on the road where Tom and the military men at table (Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones, 1963)

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A rare flashback in the two films: Bridget Allworthy when young, waving goodbye to Mr Allworthy as he sets off for three months in Bath: she is pregnant, the man who impregnated her dead, and she will have his baby, our hero while Mr Allworthy is gone — a stealth female character (BBC Tom Jones, 1997)

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve come to the end of my lecture notes: my fourth blog will lead you to the whole set. Here I tell our topics in the last third of the novel, and the essays I assigned and discussed, with a coda on the two movies and adieu from our narrator.

An interesting aspect of the last part of the book is Jones’s depression – both movies try to make something of this in the prison scenes. They both have Tom stay in prison and be almost hung in order to do this. His passivity and then self-defense against the crazed male Fitzpatrick is excuse for framing him by bribed lawyers — until Mr Allworthy at least alerted intervenes. The film-makers work up the press gangs subplot in both movies too.

Important in the book in this last phase is female libertinism as seen in Lady Bellaston and Tom’s willingness to be a kept man for a while: so that brought in the word and needed discussion. We read cogent debates between Sophia and her aunt, Sophia and her father, Mr Allworthy and her father, with the stories of Mrs Fitzpatrick woven in so that there is a dramatization supporting Sophia’s defense of a woman’s right to choose her own husband. There is a break for more interwoven histories where in this last third we hear the pathetic widow’s story of Mrs Miller (an epistolary letter from another widow to Tom showing willingness to buy him in a marriage). Women’s stories.

A long chapter on a trip to the theater to see Hamlet.

And after Tom helps Nightingale to do the right thing by Nancy Miller, marry her and have a loving happy marriage, and he is freed from prison, he becomes the most exemplary of characters, even providing Blifil with an allowance. Sir Charles Grandison could talk no more nobly; Tom is in fact more unreal than Sir Charles Grandison. A protracted ending does not exclude the idea that Fortune has ruled what has happened, but the structural emphasis is a benevolent providential pattern, with Blifil alone ejected from the group.

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John Sessions as Fielding eating and drinking and telling us what is happening, a gleam in his eye (BBC 1997 Tom Jones)

Over the term we also discussed the “peculiarities” of Tom Jones, the introductory chapters, the inset histories, the narrator, epistolary chapters and I offered a kind of potted history of the novel and when the subject came up, we’d go at it again. I’ve put some of this in a orderly postnote in the comments.

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Celia Imrie and Kelly Reilly as Mrs and Nancy Miller (BBC Tom Jones)

Jones at one point marvels at the blindness of Mrs Miller to her daughter’s condition; it’s a repeat of Mr Allworthy’s blindness – in part a convenience for the plot. In her case it’s presented as making her happier – she has this sanguine disposition of mind (p 621). Our narrator says this accounts for happiness more than anything else.

**************************

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The attempted rape scene in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963) is presented oddly gently

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The rape scene in the BBC film (1997) is for real: here Peter Capaldi as Fellamar corners Samantha Morton as Sophia terrifying her

Sexual Violence towards Women in Fielding

Well the essays the class seems to have read was Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.” Review of English Studies, new series 61:251 (2010):572-90. They also read a pdf of Fielding’s defense of Elizabeth Channing that I sent by email. Dickie’s essays is written in lively easy English and the title provoked curiosity. While the first part of Dickie’s essay is about the plays of Fielding, 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.”

It’s when Dickie turns in the second half of his essay and shows how these attitudes play out in the nuanced complex texts of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones and Amelia, it became relevant to Tom Jones and appropriate to talk of how false testimony and sexual violence is treated by Fielding and how his distrust intersects with his misogyny. Alexander Welsh in his book shows in these novels 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: 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 her. 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. Made me wonder how Fielding regarded his second wife, Mary Daniel. He hardly brings her up in any of his work. 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.

Dickie ends on how 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 tramatized 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.

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Strong-minded as she is (with pistol), Sophia intensely relieved to meet her cousin, Harriet on the road, and Harriet likewise (BBC Tom Jones)

It was at this point I told them about the Elizabeth Channing and Mary Hamilton cases and what Fielding did and wrote about these. Elizabeth Canning, a servant girl marked by small pox, plain, with no father (an orphan), was accosted on a dark road, perhaps fell into an epileptic fit (it’s the story of a disabled girl), finds herself imprisoned and pressured into becoming a prostitute. Happens all over the world today. Movie in theaters just now is about a woman imprisoned by a man who rapes her continually (Emma Donoghue’s book, The Room). Starved, humiliated, finds a way out, escapes; her mother horrified by her appearance when she turns up, had been advertising about her loss of her daughter. They went to court. Elizabeth identified the house and Mary Squires, apparently working as a prostitute and bawd herself (procurer). The abductors (if they were abductors) found discrepancies in her story, said she lied – they would, wouldn’t they? Virtue Hall working for them was terrified to give evidence – I presume they’d have beat her up – but she corroborated Elizabeth’s story. Mother Wells found guilty to, Mary Squires sentenced to death for stealing Elizabeth’s stays and for assault. People began to give evidence for Squires, an alibi produced; Fielding accused of having presided over injustice and he writes in his defense. There was a gypsy woman involved; someone said it was a plot to discredit Fielding. Mystery never resolved; Mary Squires got off; Elizabeth accused of perjury, of trying to hurt the gypsy woman; it was decided if you put Elizabeth in the stocks, she’d have been stoned to death by the populace so she was sentenced to transportation (indentured servitude) and ended up in Connecticut where she died in 1773. In the end Fielding apologized where he couldn’t explain; he ended up not being respected for all he had done. No good deed goes unpunished. His pamphlet is of interest because of how often he appeals to probability, evidence, common sense.

He comes out much less well in the Mary Hamilton case. In this case I sent them Terry Castle’s “Matters not fit to be mentioned: Fielding’s Female Husband,” ELH, 49:3 (1982):602-22, but I doubt they read it because it is so jargon. I told them about it ans we discussed the contrast with Fielding towards Elizabeth Channing. Mary Hamiltone was accused of fraud for having personated a man, found guilty, whipped sentenced to hard labor in Bridewell. She had a history of doing this before (14 times it was said); he seems to have read the transcript (deposition) where Mary tried to excuse herself by saying she was seduced by one Anne Johnson and suffered under the baneful influence of methodism. He wrote this novelistic tract to make money. It’s prurient and voyeuristic; it reads like a cheap soft-core porn novel; the attack on methodism is pure Fielding, he laments how after her first whipping she tried to buy “a young girl to satisfy her most monstrous and unnatural appetites.” It’s a classic in euphemism – like Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Of course it exposes his masculine point of view.

I also summarized myself Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried:” Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” Modern Language Review, 95:2 (2000): 324-35 Willaputte argues the women at the center of the story (Sophia, Lady Bellaston, Molly, Mrs Walters, Mrs Fitzpatrick, Nancy, Mrs Miller) also show how law and custom render women powerless. The women at the edges yes 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.

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Tom tenderly rescuing Molly in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones

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 instances the Elizabeth Canning case. Women protests against being slaves. Sophia is eloquent even if taken advantage of and not listened to. Even if what Mr Allworthy likes best is her obedience to men.

I recited one of the most reprinted poems by a woman in the period in anthologies – appears in major ones: Mary Lady Chudleigh’s “To the Ladies:”

Wife and Servant are the same,
But only differ in the Name:
For when that fatal Knot is ty’d,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said, [5]
And Man by Law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but State and Pride:
Fierce as an Eastern Prince he grows,
And all his innate Rigor shows: [10]
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the Nuptial Contract break.
Like Mutes she Signs alone must make,
And never any Freedom take:
But still be govern’d by a Nod, [15]
And fear her Husband as her God:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty Lord thinks fit,
Who with the Pow’r, has all the Wit. [20]
Then shun, oh! shun that wretched State,
And all the fawning Flatt’rers hate:
Value your selves, and Men despise,
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.

I like how in Tom Jones we find the narrator objects to mockery of women when they have been sexually seduced or impregnated – Tom calls “jesting” “pieces of brutality.” It’s worth noting that the narrator and sometimes good characters deplore ridicule as very unkind especially of vulnerable or exposed people – like mocking playwrights. None of the critics I read or assigned mentioned this aspect of the book. To me it’s a redeeming feature.

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Maquerade
From the masquerade dance in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963)

Illicit transgressive sexuality in Fielding

On libertinism, the best writing I could find (and shortest) were the opening pages of Robert Erickson, “A review of James Turner’s “Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London,” Eighteenth Century Fiction, 17 (2005):269-76. Sophia does call Tom a libertine in his behavior with Mrs Walters and the narrator brings out the idea but he’s such a “good-hearted libertine”. In Erickson’s few pages libetinism is defined as illicit transgressive sexuality which defies orthodox religion and morality – loosen family bonds, respect for maternal authority. Erickson says that Turner uses trash and junk rather than high literary texts (like Tom Jones)and in so doing reveals women’s behavior and attitudes to women in the era. From the second work by Pamela Cheek that Erickson reviews it emerges that women who were educated, or serious intellectuals saw prostitution and especially the female libertinism as something deeply harmful to women’s rights and causes. So Lady Bellaston is someone as destructive of Sophia and Mrs Fitzpatrick as the bully tyrant Squire Western or potentially Blifil or as played by Peter Capaldi Lord Fellamar. A female libertine is a sinister figure. I agree with that — though in the book Lady Bellaston’s words do reveal her to believe she loves Tom Jones, is jealous of Sophia and just wants an ordinary revenge and to get Sophia out of the way by having Fellamar rape and marry her.

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From the sexually-suggestive pantomime put on before Sophia by Lady Bellaston in her London townhouse (BBC Tom Jones)

I suggested a kind of wild debauchery & sublimity can be found in abjection (for those who have the appetite and strength for this); it’s sadomasochistic sex seen from the masochistic point of view reveling in itself. In texts low crude stuff enters upper class culture: the aristocratic libertine aligns himself with shamed abject whore. Now in Tom Jones the gender roles are reversed. There is a sense where both Lovelace and Tom Jones (especially in the 1966) film allows himself to be acted upon, is the passive person. The rest of Erickson’s article is on exploitative sexuality in the colonies: global reach. Female libertine could also be a stance that allowed for philosophical radicalism and I brought in Therese Philosophe, showed the illustrations and the elegance of the volume (I tried to show this) startled them.

We looked at the scene of Sophia and Lady Bellaston where Lady Bellaston needles Sophia successfully about Jones because Sophia will not admit the gentleman who came was Jones nor that she loves him, and Lady Bellaston knows that was Jones, she loves him and Sophia learns that Lady Bellaston knows. As Nightingale’s friend Enderson is another male subject victim so Jones has had to let himself be up for sale; and then inset history of Mrs Miller to come we get another story of money, gender, power. To me the target of the book is the very connections of people are utterly corrupted and they can be victimized because they have connections but if they don’t have them, they are in grave trouble. In the scene of Lady Bellaston and Sophia we see an intimate experience of this: Jones is despised because he’s a bastard, homeless: we see how that corrodes the soul. Libertinim is beside the point.

We don’t have a true male libertine in this book: man about town yes, gaming crooks; corrupt gamekeepers, and I suggested Lady Bellaston and Lord Fellamar are the closest we get. I tried to cite examples from works the class would know and could come up only with Les Liaisons Dangereuses Valmont and Madame de Merteuil – you may have seen the film with John Malkovitch and Glenn Close. After class was over I was very glad when someone mentioned Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Yes that’s perfect and many here will have seen it. Brutal, promiscuous, raped women, insouciant, proud of his conquests as conquests and especially he would be taken as an atheistic, irreligious and at the play’s close he is taken down to hell. Libertinism was bound up with radical thought in this era. The first and influential literary text or character is by Thomas Shadwell, the play 1712 called The Libertine. That over the course of the century (as in our own era) the type changed as times changed. Over the course of the century a growth in secularism strong and a rise in sentimentalism with corresponding repression of some of the more frank elements in earlier literature. People parodied the concept too: one night Austen goes to a burlesque play of Don Juan, she finds it funny but says the main character is brutal. Fielding belongs to the first half of the century more or less, Austen to the second half, but we can see sentimentality when Tom weeps over Enderson’s story. Tom is good-natured and wants to be virtuous; is he a moralized libertine? That makes nonsense of the term. We had already talked of seeing him as a low-born scoundrel rogue and Tom Jones an imitation rogue story.

There is a continuum of males in the novel. Fielding explores what happens to masculinity in the world, the norms that people follow, and what these do to people. – he’a a man of wit and pleasure. We are not shown him having much fun. Among the things he enjoys is going to a play and damning it among a mob. Theater at the time was not all silence and passivity – but people went there to meet other people, they booed, hissed, interrupted – again it was at the theater that someone insulted Nancy and Nightingale took this point of view seriously.

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The theate: Our characters go see Garrick act out Hamlet

GarrickasHamlet
Garrick as Hamlet (contemporary print)

In the midst of the book, time out to see Hamlet. People did go to the theater a lot; in all ranks that could. It was a popular art form. So off go Jones, the youngest female Miller, Mrs Miller and Partridge.

What’s really strange or wants explanation here is that Fielding goes through the whole play step by step. He really touches upon each of the phases of Hamlet. If you ‘ve read and remember it, it’s uncanny. Even Hamlet with his mother. Critics have expended much ink on this one. On one level obviously it’s making fun of superstitions, the belief in ghosts we see in Partridge. Partridge is also the naïve audience member who believes the people in front of him are real and gets intensely excited. I suggested we not knock this as if it’s not done anymore: actors have to be careful who they enact, viewers treat repeating characters as real people.

I’m not persuaded the incident has a political Jacobite application – I told them how Stevenson sees this, and that the political application links up with the other politics of the book: that Partridge is a Jacobite, and so worships numinous people; that since Hamlet is a revenge play about a usurpe (Claudius is usurping the throne having killed Hamlet’s father) links because the Hanovers are usurpers or if you like the Stuarts want to usurp a new legitimate king’s throne. Tom says at one proint that the cause of George III is cause of common sense (Protestantism and liberty). But this great play is about common sense.

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Max Beasley and Ron Cook as Tom and Patridge at the Miller wedding (BBC Tom Jones)

I wondered if it’s meant to fill out Partridge. Make us like him. If Fielding not so anti-Jacobite, then maybe he feels affection for this man. Fielding loves how Partridge is totally involved with the characters from moment to moment. The class members inclinded to the idea the book is sympathetic to Partridge; that Patridge is the most loyal father to Tom in the book.

There ‘s a tribute to the actors and Garrick as Hamlet, to the theater itself which is part of the skein of metaphor in the book . We are all actors and audience. Against that Fielding as playwright had to cope with this level of delusion in his customers.

Or is Fielding himself taken with the ambivalent presentation of the loyal son and corrupt father?

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Thomas Gainsborough, A Suffolk Landscape

So what we were to make of this book?

In the last session I invited them to take a post-modern point of view and give up on conventional moralizing as well as ideas about human progress. What I ended was the amount of caustic and multiple pointed ironic satire in the book. What is the nature of the satire in Fielding? What is its target? He shows how all our human ties, the way we have to conduct ourselves in society forces us to behave corruptly and badly – the target is not the corrupt selfish stupid people but the society they create as a whole, the social connection – force of custom; a complaint against the depravity of society which is unlikely to reform. In that sense Fielding’s conservative -– everywhere we look from people going to a play, a masquerade, we see a network of vice with a few good souls here and there who are very vulnerable. In his writing as a magistrate Fielding recommended harsh justice and punishment even if he recognized at core the source of much evil in the society was mass poverty and not giving people enough useful that they could respect to do. I paraphrased from John Richetti’s review of Bertelson’s book on Fielding as magistrate, man and journalist: “Bertelsen finds in Fielding’s last book, a journal of a trip to Lisbon as he knew he was dying; an associational style so the way to draw the meaning is to look at the self-reflexive stories, contradictions, incongruities – that it’s spontaneous and at its best relativistic and free-wheeling.”

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Squire Western in Osborne/Richardson Tom Jones (at the hunt, 1963)

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Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Allworthy towards the end of the story, finally realizing what Blifil is (BBC Tom Jones)

I then showed clips from the 1966 and 1997 movies. We had sent them some short reviews and suggested that the actuating impulse of the two films was different from one another and from Fielding. Richardson and Osborne were showing us the animal savagery of people; their absurdity but also their pathetic ruthlessness. They also presented the book as a sexual romp and zany witty comedy. The BBC film-makers turned Tom Jones insofar as they could into proto-feminism, building up the character of Sophia and bringing her out as strong wherever possible; they tried for sympathy for the defeated Aunt Western (played by Frances de la Tour), a moral romances. John Session was acted the character of Fielding himself as enigmatic, ironic, well-meaning, keeping apart; they dedicated the film to him.

I ended on Fielding’s own good-natured adieu as, which I suggested was the sort of passage that influenced the BBC people’s film:

And now, my Friend, I take this Opportunity (as I shall have no other) of heartily wishing thee well. If I have been an entertaining ompanion to thee, I promise thee it is what I have desired. If in any Thing I have offended, it was really without any Intention. Some Things perhaps here said may have hit thee or thy Friends; but I do most solemnly declare they were not pointed at thee or them. I question not but thou hast been told, among other Stories of me, that thou wast to travel with a very scurrilous Fellow: But whoever told thee so, did me an Injury. No Man detests and despises Scurrility more than myself; nor hath any Man more Reason; for none hath ever been treated with more: And what is a very severe Fate, I have had some of the abusive Writings of those very Men fathered upon me, who in other of their Works have abused me themselves with the utmost Virulence.’

    All these Works, however, I am well convinced, will be dead long before this Page shall offer itself to thy Perusal: For however short the Period may be of my own Performances, they will most probably outlive their own infirm Author, and the weakly Productions of his abusive Contemporaries.

I very much enjoyed reading Tom Jones and the recent criticism of Fielding. It was quite a journey for me to discuss this text with a group of adults my own age. My view of it underwent a sea change. Read aright — deconstructively, historically, autobiographically, from a post-modern standpoint — it still has a lot to teach us. Robert Hume’s idea is that the one way you can bring all Fielding’s stances into one is as a teacher. Yes.

Ellen

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FieldingandtheUptonLandlay
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)

eatingatupton
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:

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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)

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

TomMrsWaters1997

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,
unavailable,
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.

Him.
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.

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An 18th century print of a gypsy queen

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18th century print image of an itinerant gypsy

The second has never been filmed but critics have used much ink trying to explicate it. 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) that see 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.

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

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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)

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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.

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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.

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What kind of help is the narrator?

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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.

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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.

Ellen

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Glastonbury Tor, Sometsetshire

Dear friends and readers,

This is another blog of lecture notes for a course I’m teaching at the Oscher Institute of Lifelong Learning at American University. As happened last spring, the second week I was supposed to teach, the first class was cancelled (not the course itself, we will begin meeting next week for 10 weeks), this time because the church the organization rents the space from scheduled a massive funeral for today. Thus once again, I’m putting my lecture notes for the first session on-line in a place where they will be readily available so the course might start this week without a meeting. The aim of the course is to read and to discuss Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together from points of view that bring out its meanings and larger significance accurately so readers might enjoy it, see its relevancy, appreciate it. Nearly three weeks ago I put the syllabus online here at Austen Reveries; anyone not in this class wanting to read this blog can read that as an explanation for this first set of lecture notes.

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Fountain Court, Middle Temple — Fielding a law student here in late 1730s

How to get past some of the obstacles of reading Tom Jones:

As we set out together on our journey through the single massive volume that is Tom Jones, I feel I have to preface where I usually start a reading together and class on a book, the author’s life story insofar as we know it, and especially those aspects of that life which fueled the particular book, by talking of the difficulties or barriers this text presents.

A book is after all made up of words and Fielding’s idiolect may be very foreign to today’s readers. It is larded with his reading and memories of not only the Latin classics and contemporary (by which I mean 18th century) writing. Looking things up is tedious, and once you have had to explain a joke, it loses its humor; often an allusion to be deeply understood requires that we’ve read and remember the original text. As either Keymer or Wakeley tells us in the few paragraphs preceding the glossary of Latin tags, Partridge often misapplies or has misunderstood the texts he quotes from; at one point Tom (who we are asked to believe has become well read despite his appalling pair of tutors) grows very irritated over one such misapplication. What’s more Fielding assumes the importance of the classical tradition; in his introductory chapters he will go on about places in Aristotle where he Fielding disagrees with Aristotle. But who today cares about Aristotle? Aristotle’s treatise on tragedy which is really an explication of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex applied to all tragedy was hopelessly inapplicable in Shakespeare’s time.

Determination, diligence, and if you have a respect for intelligence, what has been considered beautiful and thoughtful ideals, can overcome some of this. What cannot be overcome but must be (as it were) eaten (like one of the dishes he opens up with talking about) or read intensely through is his abstract style, his use of general words and formal syntax to convey real psychological experience that is particular to a scene or character. People today might have a tendency when they see an abstract style not to visualize what the author wants us to see; we are so used to “a talking style” where sentences are short, and concrete particular words are used, and especially an emphasis on the pictorial, communicating through images where we are shown emotionalisms, we are in danger of not bonding with characters’ emotions and their situations which despite the slippery ironies within ironies of the text that Fielding does want us to take seriously. It may sound mad but my advice to someone reading this book is to try to treat it each paragraph as a 10 line poem, pay alert attention to what the words signify.

When we are told in general words that Sophia feels anguish, we are endow her with the anguish a 21st century heroine might know although the words would be particular. Wholly at random, I turned to p 320 in my edition, Book 11, Chapter 5, where Harriet Fitzpatrick is telling of a devastating experience she had as a married woman. 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.

We are not only to laugh hard, and the laughter in this book is not benevolent, it’s Swiftian – very like Jonathan Swift – but feel hard. Lethal hatred is what swirls everywhere either there already or easily erupted in Paradise Hall. By Book 7 Tom is homeless, without any money (he has been given a considerable sum by Mr Allworthy but in his anguish he did not realize he dropped the pocketbook and the money was taken by Black George), a bastard, despised by all, a vagrant. This is a book about a vagrant. The narrator’s perspective is, philosophical distanced and ethical, I had almost said judicious except that the narrator is often satirized too. So at this crux of poor Tom’s career we get an essay on how people in life are like performers on a stage, p 289, Book 7, chapter 1 – but for all that we are given a situation meant to be taken fully which we are to care about. Feel the rage, the bitterness, and puzzled bewilderment, the hurt, the fear. This is an era where torture (especially of animals) is a form of entertainment.

The narrator is not Fielding. The book as a whole intensely mirrors the particulars of Fielding’s experience of life and like most great novels is a disguised autobiography, but it’s displaced. My sense is from other recent readers is the more you see real history of the era here and Fielding’s real life here the stronger the book becomes for you. The narrator is a cover-up for this, a device that enables Fielding to hide himself. He is continually half-wrong; he’ll give us five views of something and say View 5th is the right one, but I suggest not so, for if we were to dismiss views 1-4 why give them? We need both to believe things he says and dismiss him. In one of his chapters Fielding says something may seem to be irrelevant to have nothing to do with his text but everything in it pertains, it’s designed. It’s nowadays thought the book was long in the making and writing, at least a few years.

First chapter he tells us the content of the book is human nature, pp 35-37, Book 1, Chapter 1. He is not here to present any particular animal but animalness as such. His story is prism. But then he says true nature is very hard to find in authors or books – and for good reason and the difference between authors is how the dish is set out. The second idea contradicts the first. Fielding is never plain though he does loathe “affectation” – in our terms phony self-presentations, a subdivision of hypocrisy (knowing lies people understand they can get away with). By these means he will induce us to read on forever – this is a joke, though in the latter part of the book it’s clear Fielding does want his book to live beyond his time.

So what have I said, what does this amount to? Get past the language, read it as you have other deep feeling dark books written in a modern idiom. The narrator is an ironic device: in Jonathan Swift’s famous treatise, “A Modest Proposal,” his narrator says the way to stop the Irish from starving is for them to kill their babies and eat them. This not only solves the problem of producing food, but will reduce the population. He’s deadly serious; he says it’s what the English want. So much that this narrator says is deadly serious and it’s also a deep expose of outrage and preposterousness.

The narrator and his discourses and introductory chapters are also intended as Fielding’s way of making respectable long prose narratives so that they – his especially – can form another genre than those hitherto respected (tragedy, comedy, satire, romance): the novel. We can’t talk of everything this novel requires to understand it even in one term, much less the first day so I put off describing what passed for novels and romances from the 1st-3rd century AD to the middle 18th century for next week. Another thing this book is doing is inventing a form of novel which was taken up by other great writers of the era (mostly male, this is a very male book, a male’s book and outlook) and then transformed in the 19th century, first by Scott into historical fiction.

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Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Brian Blessed as Tom Jones and Sophia and Squire Western (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

A word about the movies: the concentration or emphasis will be on the books. For a start the films distort the books; they present a false common misunderstanding which was prevalent in the mid-20th century and has not gone from us today: that this book is a pastoral erotic romp – Tony Richardson and John Osborne’s movie. That’s certainly on the surface of the book. Or that it upholds common normative values – the BBC movie which comes closer in attempting to bring out the moral devastation now and again, a real rape. Lots of people want their books to validate their worlds and movies which are popular do this. This one does not.

When I think of some 21st century version of the large world it presents I think of the insanity of the way highways are nowadays configured – after all a lot of this book occurs on the road – two lanes for E-Z passes, two for those who won’t pay ahead and don’t want to pay to exit, when if you are going to divide up to make inequality visual you should have 6 lanes for “everyone else.” The result is a hideous traffic jam for one side of the highway and cars speeding through the other. Why does no one protest? There are surveillance cameras everywhere so if you don’t have an E-Z pass you had better not get on E-Z pass lanes. You don’t want to go before a judge and complain. As in Fielding’s book the characters we see justify what is happening and take petty advantages where they can: the dream here is a small percentage of the take.

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Hogarth’s depiction of a “laughing audience” in the 18th century theater

The 18th century reader knew this was a book which presented amorality as central to life, that whatever the narrator may profess it’s deeply secular (sex in it is far more often like Sade than National Lampoon). I didn’t want to ignore them as that’s to be an ostrich and I’m nowadays a person who writes on and studies film adaptations. If you are having trouble reading the book, they can function like an explication.

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The house at East Stour in Dorsetshire where Fielding grew up

So for the second half of this blog-lecture I’ll present something of Fielding’s life as it relates to Tom Jones. This is mostly taken from Thomas’s and Paulson’s biographies.

A simple pair of metaphors: a book may be regarded as a lamp and a mirror. As a lamp, it is filled with the spirit of the author, his or her feelings, thoughts, memories, imagination as filtered through a genre’s conventions. As a mirror, it cannot but reflect the realities of its era, the issues, laws, customs, mores, furniture, technology, economics, politics of its age and place. This book is a product of southwest England where Fielding was born and spent formative years, and of 18th century London and its environs. Fielding never was a soldier; he lived at the University of Leiden (17828-29), near death (he died at age 47) he traveled to Portugal thinking the climate would be easier on him in his wretchedly sick state, warmer anyway. Maybe he did want to escape at last, he’s buried there.

Fielding was the first child and son of Sarah Gouge, a woman who in position if not great wealth (still part of the 1% of the era) is very like Sophia Western: the daughter of a squire, Sir Henry Gould and Lady Sarah. He was a justice of the peace and magistrate as were at some point many of these landowners in counties. Fielding may not have had Sharpham Park (near Glastonbury), the Gould seat in mind. It’s more likely to have been Ralph Allen’s house near Bath, Prior Park which you can now visit as a tourist, but it was certainly an Allworthy type mansion. Sarah had one brother, David Gouge who inherited the house and rents and legacy of money.

At age 24 she married an army officer, Edmund Fielding, in 1706, they said afterward against their wishes. Within a year Henry was born and back living with her parents. Edmund was a spendthrift, gamester, duellist, and libertine but a man of position and rank: he was related to Fieldings who claimed descent from the house of Hapsburg, and certainly a William Fielding was Earl of Denbigh in 1620, with a son who was an ambassador; there were canons, an Archdeacon and a royal Chaplain to Wm and Mary in the family. So there was this prestigious but distant heritage.

If Edmund imagined he’d get money with Sarah, he didn’t. Sir Henry had made a will which left considerable money to his daughter, £3000 but held in trust by her brother, and tied up in leases so that Edmund Fielding should not get his hands on any of it. Edmund Fielding’s first years of manhood were spent as a fighting soldier, in France, Holland (Liege), on the continent, rewarded for being courageous (£30), proud of his time in Marlborough’s armies. While there were a couple of later periods where he fought again (as late as 1740), basically he spent decades on half-pay. He died trying to escape debtors’ prison, within the jurisdiction of Fleet Prison, leaving considerable debts and assets of £5.

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Woodspring Priory, Somerset (built before the Reformation in honor of St Thomas of Canterbury)

Henry was not a foundling, but he was not an heir and much of his life was spent working for enough money to live in genteel style, with periods of poverty – not like that of say a Black George, more like a character out of Thackeray. Glastonbury in Somerset is a place associated with Arthurian myths, celtic mythology which was known at the time; people believed in ghosts. A remote country place which Fielding knew very well – it’s what Tom travels through in the first part of his walk (in effect), Monmouth had landed not far from there, in Devonshire, a rebellion which ended in savage reprisals at assizes. James II on the throne at the time was Catholic, so in Fielding’s background is a world of understandable anti-Catholicism. When he was three and his mother pregnant for a fourth time, the father-in-law purchased East Stour, a large stone farmhouse in Dorset, with several hundred areas, brew and malt house, coach, and tenants – providing income. Think of this place as Thomas Hardy country. One of his known sisters, Sarah, later a novelist, was born in 1710. Henry grows up there for another 10 years while his father sinks into debt in London; his mother died in 1718. A year later Edmund married a Roman Catholic widow, Anne Rapha, and brings her to East Stour.

And around that time enrolls Henry at Eton. He was early on recognized as gifted, already studying Latin and Greek at a school in Taunton; much later at Exeter College, Oxford. A brother Edmund preferred dogs, guns, hunting. There was a harsh tutor (beat the boy) named John Oliver whom Parson Trulliber is said to be modeled on – from Joseph Andrews. Meanwhile at East Stour stories of the stepmother’s treatment of her husband’s children by his first wife suggest intense conflict too. Henry saw the idle lives of these military officers up-close; one of Henry’s plays has as subplot how a man cannot get a promotion because he will not allow his wife to go to bed with someone who could advance him. There are stories of swindlers of these officers, of Edmund Fielding’s life in London, of how he went to court: fraud and violence abounded.

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Thomas Rowlandson, The Hazard Room

In 1721 the grandmother initiates litigation in the court of chancery to gain control of her grandchildren and their legacy she said her son-in-law was dissipating away. There’s a story of Edmund sending a servant to wrest Henry back from his grandmother and the two barricading themselves in and Henry shouting, but he was also close to his father in his middle or young teen years. For example between 1724 when Henry left Eton for good and 1728 Henry shuttled between London and a house in Upton Grey rented for him by his father; his father had a way of suddenly going up in the world (1727 Edmund promoted to Brigadier general and he gives his son a small allowance). Henry himself resorts to violence to get his way. He was ambivalent about his father, and he really loved the grandmother: when she died in 1733 Fielding the grandson paid to have her body moved to East Stour and buried next to his mother.

One last story of these early years: he fell in love with an heiress, Sarah Andrew, around 1725, said to be attractive but the money mattered too; the match was forbidden: her guardian and brothers did not want Fielding He was assaulted by hired ‘bruisers.” He couldn’t get to her, tried to abduct her, but was thwarted. A repeating theme in his writing is the coerced marriage, and its results.

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Frontage of the Little Theater in Haymarket, where Fielding had his greatest triumphs

Fielding as a man of the theater (cont’d in comments).

Fielding’s reading and other works before Tom Jones, more briefly his life up to and beyond the writing of Tom Jones: hack writer, journalist, barrister, magistrate (cont’d in comments)

Ellen

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Wm Hogarth, The March to Finley, a scene from the ’45’ Rebellion (1749) (click to enlarge)

A Syllabus

For a Study Group at the Oscher LifeLong Learning Institute at American University
Day: Ten Monday afternoons, 1:00 to 2:50 pm
St Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 2815 36th Street, Northwest, Washington DC
Dates: Classes start Sept 28th; last class Nov 30th, 2015.
Dr Ellen Moody

Description of Course

For ten weeks the class will read and study Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones together.  We will read a few essays on Fielding in the context of his age and several careers (dramatist, attorney-magistrate, journalist, novelist). Why was the book was called “immoral” then and how does it emerge from and today belong to strong satiric and erotic schools of art (from Swift and Hogarth to Richardson and Sade). Why in the 20th century it was adapted into oddly innocent films first filled with wild hilarity and sexual salaciousness, when it’s a deeply subversive and disquieting book. We’ll focus on the slippery narrator, the evasive nature of the text, and discuss themes like where power, sex and commerce; and the masks of social and psychological life. Can you imagine a world without novels? This is one of the books that established the genre

Required Text: Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, ed., introd., notes Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. London: Penguin, 2005 (975 pages). An alternative recommended edition: The History of Tom Jones, ed. R. P. C. Mutter. NY: Penguin, 1983 (911 pages)

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Tom’s Journey Across England (click for clear comprehension)

Format: Study group meetings will be a mix of informal lecture and group discussion.

Sept 21: No class but it’s asked that everyone start the book, and read for the first week: TJ, Bk 1, Ch 1 though Bk 3, Ch 4 (pp. 35-119). If possible, please also watch on your own one of the films and have come to the ending of either by Oct 5th.
Sept 28: First class: An introduction: Fielding’s life, learning & plays. Read for next time: Bk 3, Ch 5 through Bk 5, Ch 4 (pp. 119-201).
Oct 5: In class: the narrator, obstacles to enjoyment.  Read for next time: Bk 4, Ch 5 through Bk 7, Ch 2 (pp. 201-294) & Stevenson’s “Black George and the Gaming Laws” (chapter from his book or an essay).
Oct 12: In class: as a novel; crime (poaching, game laws), punishment, injustice, class in Tom Jones. Read for next time: Bk 7, Ch 3 through Bk 8, Ch 8 (pp. 295-383) & Simpson’s Popular Perceptions of Rape in 18th Century England: The Press and the trial of Francis Charteris in the Old Bailey, 1730,” and his “The Blackmail Myth and the Prosecution of Rape and Its Attempt in 18th Century London: the creation of a tradition.”
Oct 19: In class: Ethics & sex in 18th century life and art & TJ. For next time read Bk 8, Ch 9 through Bk 10, Ch 2 (pp. 383-466); Stevenson’s “Stuart Ghosts” (chapter from his book or an essay; Gene Koppel’s “Sexual Education and Sexual Values in Tom Jones,” Confusion at the Core,” Studies in the Novel, 12:1 (1980):1-11.
Oct 26: In class: the journey, sentimentality, gyspy kings in TJ. Read for next time Bk 10, Ch 3 through Bk 12, Ch 2 (pp. 466-550). Martin Battestin, Tom Jones and “His Eygptian Majesty, on the Gypsy King. PMLA, 82:1 (1967):68-77; J.Lee Green, “Fielding’s Gypsy Episode and Sancho Panza’s governorship,” Atlantic Bulletin, 39:2 (1974):117-21.
Nov 2: In class: history, politics, war in TJ; read for next time Bk 12, Ch 3 through Bk 13, Ch 8 (pp. 551-634). Thompson on Personal Property and Money in Tom Jones, Eighteenth Century Fiction, 3:1 (1990):21-42; Amanda Vickery’s “‘Mutton Dress’d as Lamb’: Fashioning Age in Georgian England,” Journal of British Studies, 52:4 (2013):858-886.
Nov 9: In class: Money, personal property, the London sections:  funny or nihilistic? Read for next time: Bk 13, Ch 9 through Bk 15, Ch 8 (pp. 634-719); a chapter from Laura Rosenthal’s Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in 18th century Literature and Culture (on Tom as prostitute). Also sent Terry Castle’s “Matters not fit to be mentioned: Fielding’s Female Husband,” ELH, 49:3 (1982):602-22; Fielding’s The Female Husband (first published 1746), and A Clear Statement of the Case of Elizabeth Canning (first published 1753).
Nov 16: In class: The masquerade, the theater in TJ: Read for next time: Bk 15, Ch 9 through Bk 17, Ch 8 (pp. 720-801). Earla Willaputte, “Women Buried:” Henry Fielding and Feminine Absence,” Modern Language Review, 95:2 (2000)324-35; & Simon Dickie’s “Fielding’s Rape Jokes.” Review of English Studies, new series 61:251 (2010):572-90.
Nov 23: In class: Tom Jones discussion continued: London and Tom Jones. Read for next time Bk 17, Ch 9 through Bk 18, Chapter the Last (pp. 801-875). John Richetti, “A review of Lance Bertelsen’s Henry Fielding At Work,Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 101:4 (2002):578-80; and Robert Erickson, “A review of James Turner’s “Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London,” Eighteenth Century Fiction, 17 (2005):269-76.
Nov 30: Tom Jones and pornography; libertinism, sex and power, Partridge and Hamlet; as a conduct book too. How does the book speak to us today? Late Fielding, magistrate and journalist. Read Ira Konisberg, “Review of 1966 Richardson/Osborne Tom Jones,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 4:4 (1992):353-355; Martin Battestin, “Tom Jones: Fielding, the BBC, and Sister Arts,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 10:4 (1998):501-5.
Dec 7: Final class. Last two books of TJ. Class watches clips from MGM Tom Jones (Osborne/Richardson); from BBC/A&E Tom Jones (Burke/Harrison).

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A contemporary print of Ralph Allen’s Prior Park just outside Bath (click to enlarge)

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Photograph of the grounds open to tourists (2002)

The films, a website & selection of books (the articles all sent by attachment):

Bertelsen, Lance. Henry Fielding At Work: Magistrate, Business and Writer. NY: Palgave Macmillan, 2000. Full of real interest: he connects the real life legal cases Fielding worked on and how his career in the employment cases and reveals fresh and persuasive ethical ways of reading Fielding’s fiction in context.
Campbell, Jill. Natural Masques: Gender and Identity in Fielding’s Plays and Novels. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. Heavy-going but persuasive on Fielding’s sympathetic attitudes towards women across his work and life.
Hume, Robert D., “Fielding at 300: Elusive, Confusing, Misappropriated, or (Perhaps) Obvious?”, Modern Philology, 108:2 (2010):224-262
Mayer, Robert, ed. Eighteenth-Century Fiction on Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Dated but good for the era and films covered.
Thomas, Donald. Henry Fielding. NY: St Martin’s Press, 1990. Much better on the life and Fielding’s basic attitudes than the reviews have been willing to concede. Very readable.
Paulson, Ronald. The Life of Henry Fielding. NY: Wiley/Blackwell, 2000.
Smallwood, Angela. Fielding and the Woman Question: the Novels of Henry Fielding and the Feminist Debate. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. Makes Fielding into an advanced feminist (!).
Stevenson, John Allen. The Real History of Tom Jones. London: Macmillan Palgrave, 2008 All the articles by him are chapters in this book; there is too much academic jargon but he’s rich in insight and information.
Tom Jones. Dr. Tony Richardson. Writer John Osborne. Perf. Albert Finney, Susannah York, Edith Evans. MGM/1963.
Tom Jones. Dr. Meteyin Husein. Writer Simon Burke. Perf. John Sessions, Max Besley, Samantha Morton, Ron Cook, Brian Blessed, Frances de la Tour, Benjamin Whitgrow, BBC/A&E/1997.
Wikipedia: life and works of Fielding, with links

fieldingbustcarvedafterdeath
A bust of Fielding carved after his death (click to see beauty of the piece)

Relevant blogs on movies:

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon & Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones: compared
Affectionately Dedicated to Mr Fielding: the 1997 BBC/A&E Tom Jones
Poldark books and films: Handy list (some on subjects found in TJ)
La Nuit de Varennes: serendipitous life, 18th century style

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Partridge kisses and hugs Tom upon learning who the stranger is (one of my favorite moments from the 1997 TJ)

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