Literature Study GuidesTom JonesBook 1 Chapters 6 9 Summary

Tom Jones | Study Guide

Henry Fielding

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Tom Jones | Book 1, Chapters 6–9 : Containing as much of the Birth of the Foundling as is necessary or proper to acquaint the Reader with in the Beginning of this History. | Summary

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Summary

Book 1, Chapter 6

Mrs. Deborah (Mrs. Wilkins) takes to canvassing the village to uncover the guilty mother of the orphan child. The narrator archly addresses the "sagacious reader" and notes that, although people did not know the nature of Mrs. Deborah's business, they naturally ran away from the formidable matron because she was known to "insult and tyrannize over little people." Suspicion falls on Jenny Jones, who had been the servant of the schoolmaster and was recently fired by his wife in a jealous rage. Another piece of evidence is that Jenny has recently and often been at Mr. Allworthy's house and nursed Bridget through a long illness. When Mrs. Deborah confronts Jenny, she freely admits to being guilty as charged.

Book 1, Chapter 7

When Jenny is called before Mr. Allworthy, she is given a long and severe scolding, although he declines to confine her to a house of correction. Mr. Allworthy refers to what she has done as a "heinous crime" that drives her out of society. For this reason he plans to send her away from the "scene of [her] shame" and allow her to make a fresh start. He asks the name of her seducer, but she refuses to give it, saying she is under a religious vow to conceal his name. However, she promises to reveal it one day.

Book 1, Chapter 8

While this conversation is going on, Bridget gently scolds Mrs. Deborah for her excessive curiosity and says Jenny acted honorably in admitting to being the child's mother, even while protecting her lover. She speculates that Jenny was misled by her seducer and is at bottom a "good girl."

Book 1, Chapter 9

Once Jenny is removed from the neighborhood, people begin wagging their tongues about Mr. Allworthy's behavior. The narrator explains that the public was denied the chance to be ashamed of Jenny, and for this reason it turns its rage on Mr. Allworthy, who is now suspected as the father of the child. In "tempering justice with mercy" and not sending Jenny to Bridewell, he has robbed "the mob" of "an object for their compassion."

Analysis

Henry Power has pointed out that Fielding addresses the reader as sagacious at least 41 times when speaking as the narrator, putting the reader in the position of "conjectural critic." This is at least partly a mockery of an 18th-century critic who was known to go beyond the boundaries of a text, supposedly to recover the author's meaning. Fielding, however, is acknowledging the relationship between reader and text and interestingly anticipates modern critics' ideas about how the two together make meaning. The narrator acknowledges he cannot control what the reader thinks and will slyly augment the reader's power in some places by deliberately leaving out information and asking the reader to fill in the blanks. This attribute of postmodern literature suggests this story was ahead of its time. At other places he will kindly add important information as he does here—that although Mrs. Wilkins's neighbors do not know why she is stalking about the village in Book 1, Chapter 6 she is well known as a shrew and a bully so they immediately avoid her.

Mr. Allworthy may be a virtuous paragon, but in his conversation with Jenny Jones he shows a lack of moral discrimination by referring to her giving birth to a bastard as a "heinous crime," which is surely an exaggeration, even in Fielding's time. This scene parallels French playwright Moliere's Tartuffe (1664), which delighted audiences with the huge gap between word and action. Mr. Allworthy as a rich landowner acted as a judge (magistrate) and had the power to send Jenny to Bridewell prison for her indiscretion. An unmarried woman and her child would be sent to a house of correction for a time, as both a punishment and a way to make the woman pay for her own upkeep, through work at the prison. Women without husbands otherwise had to rely on the parish to support them. Fielding means the reader to read Mr. Allworthy's speech to Jenny in Book 1, Chapter 7 as containing situational irony, which is when what happens is different from what is expected to happen. On the one hand he is not wrong in pointing out the terrible consequences of a woman's indiscretion; on the other hand Fielding saw society's treatment of an unwed mother as harsh and hypocritical. And Mr. Allworthy clearly holds the view of society. His harshness, however, is mitigated by the fact that he does not send Jenny to prison but sends her away and provides money for a new start because she has confessed to her offense.

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