Jack’s Naughty Bits: Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

Pin it

Jack's Naughty Bits

week’s selection is occasioned not only by my rarified and riggish predilections, but also
by the recent Nerve publication,
“I Love You, Sophie Western.” Given that this
newest entry in our Threads section is by Thom Jones and involves, rather curiously, the movie
Tom Jones, I thought I damn well better get this week’s excerpt from the original novel
of the same name. When the film Tom Jones starring Albert Finney came out in 1963, it caused a considerable stir with its marked sexual content and became an instant
success. The fate of the book, more than two hundred years prior, was not dissimilar. Following
Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson’s achievements in the development of the English novel,
Fielding had set out to create a quixotic yet realistic epic comedy that would trace in its sizable
compass the bawdy adventures of a brash and endearing protagonist. The result, The
History of Tom Jones, a Foundling,
has been a hit ever since.

In his story “I Love You, Sophie Western,” the living Thom Jones describes a wayward
teenager working at a movie theater who looks up during a showing of the film, sees Susannah
York in the role of Sophie Western and promptly falls in life-changing love. In the book, the
scene viewed by the discerning youth isn’t quite racy enough for you, my ravenous readers, so I’ve
chosen a more appropriate one in which young Tom is seduced by Mrs. Waters, an aging demi-
rep whom he had just saved from certain misadventure. It’s still a bit tame by our standards,
but glows with the winning charm of Fielding’s narrative voice. It’s also interesting from a
historical perspective, for as Fielding indicates, he knew he was charting new ground in English literature, infusing a healthy dose of Ovid to the emergent genre of the
novel. Enjoy, then, this delicate description of the “royal battery” of a woman’s cleavage
storming the garrison of a young man’s would-be fidelity. Resistance is futile.

* * *

From Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (adapted slightly)

Mr. Jones was in reality one of the handsomest young fellows in the world. His face, besides
being the picture of health, had in it the most apparent marks of sweetness and good-nature.
These qualities were indeed so characteristical in his countenance, that while the spirit and
sensibility in his eyes, though they must have been perceived by an accurate observer, might
have escaped the notice of the less discerning, so strongly was this good-nature painted in his
look, that it was remarked by almost every one who saw him.

It was perhaps as much owing to this, as to a very fine complexion that his face had a
delicacy in it almost inexpressible, and which might have given him an air rather too
effeminate, had it not been joined to a most masculine person and mien; which latter had as
much in him of the Hercules as the former had of the Adonis . . .

Now Mrs. Waters and our hero had no sooner sat down together, than the former began
to play the Artillery of Love upon the latter. But here, as we are about to attempt a description
hitherto unessayed either in prose or verse, we think proper to invoke the assistance of certain
aerial beings, who will, we doubt not, come kindly to our aid on this occasion.

“Say then, ye graces, for you are truly divine and well know all the arts of charming,
say, what were the weapons now used to captivate the heart of Mr. Jones.”

First, from two lovely blue eyes, whose bright orbs flashed lightning at their
discharge, flew forth two pointed ogles. Immediately [following], the fair warrior drew forth
a deadly sigh. A sigh, which one could not have heard unmoved, so soft, so sweet, so tender . . .
Then the fair one hastily withdrew her eyes and leveled them downwards as if she was
concerned for what she had done: though by this means she designed only to draw him from his
guard, and indeed to open his eyes, through which she intended to surprise his heart. And now,
gently lifting up those two bright orbs which had already begun to make an impression on poor
Jones, she discharged a volley of small charms at once from her whole countenance in a smile.
Not a smile of mirth or joy, but a smile of affection, which most ladies have always ready at
their command, and which serves them to show at once their good-humor, their pretty dimples,
and their white teeth.

This smile our hero received full in his eyes, and was immediately staggered with its
force. He then began to see the designs of the enemy, and indeed to feel their success. To confess
the truth, Mr. Jones delivered up the garrison without duly weighing his allegiance to fair
Sophia. In short, no sooner had the amorous parley ended, and the lady had unmasked the
royal battery, by carelessly letting her handkerchief drip from her neck, than the heart of Mr.
Jones was entirely taken, and the fair conqueror enjoyed the usual fruits of her victory.