Hilary Teynor


The title page of Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749) immediately alerts the reader to the protagonist’s dubious lineage: who are the foundling’s father and mother? Consider, for example, Tom’s immediate familial and pseudo-familial connections: he has a biological father in the clergyman’s son Summer and a mother in Bridget Allworthy, an adoptive father in Squire Allworthy, an initially resistant father-in-law in Squire Western, and in loco parentis schoolmasters in Thwackum and Square. Benjamin Partridge and Jenny Jones count as putative parents of Tom Jones, with Blifil as both his half-brother and foster brother. Sophia Western, on the other hand, has substitute mothers in her aunt Mrs Western and Lady Bellaston because of her own mother’s absence. Later in the novel, thematically important issues of paternity arise with Nightingale, who is a son and a father-to-be, and his uncle, who acts as a quasi-father. The narrative also includes Tom and Partridge’s response to a Hamlet performance, a play that turns on father-son and fraternal relationships. Such tangled relationships that expose the conflicts of heredity and contractual obligations are not merely curiosities of novelistic design, but rather are key to understanding how the novel offers a critique of existing social structures.