Blifil: The Villain Character in Tom Jones

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      Blifil, the villain of this story. He is the one unreal character in Tom Jones, and he becomes more and more unreal as the history develops.

      His Roguery. Blifil has the appearance of religion, virtue and every other good quality under the sun, but his heart is rotten to the core and he is a thoroughbred hypocrite. If Allworthy is the type of the adorable in human nature, Blifil is the example of the most detestable. Some critics wonder how his pinchbeck professions and vamped-up virtues could deceive so many persons, but we know he could not deceive either Sophia or Mrs. Miller. Square and Thwackum knew him very well, though they concealed that knowledge. Squire Western was not ignorant of his unsound heart. The only person whom, so far as we can make out, he could impose upon was Squire Allworthy, and what hypocrite would have been unable to impose upon that august personality? We shall, however, admit that there is a certain lack of verisimilitude in this character — extreme, unrelieved wickedness being as unnatural as unrelieved goodness.

      His Traits of Villainy. At the outset, he is presented as an unnatural, but not perhaps quite impossible, little prig—'sober, discreet, and pious beyond his age', 'extremely careful of his money', skilled in the art of ingratiating himself with his preceptors by a respectful demeanor and adroit flattery; and 'strongly attached to the interest only of one single person' i.e. himself. He is, moreover, both malicious and hypocritical, inflicting injuries on others simply for the pleasure of hurting them, and always professing the purest motives for the dirtiest of actions. Even as a lad, he is exceptionally vicious. But when he becomes a man, we cease altogether to believe in him. The utter vileness of his nature is not mitigated or relieved by a single redeeming quality. He seeks to hasten the end of his sick uncle by giving him bad news, in defiance of the protest of the family physician; he is bent on marrying Sophia, not merely because he covets her fortune and person, but also with the object of wreaking a horrid vengeance on her for her partiality to Tom; he does not scruple to employ a lawyer to get Tom himself convicted of murder. He is, in short, fust the unreal villain of melodrama, transferred from the stage into the novel. Fielding's purpose, of course, was to emphasize the contrast between Tom and Blifil—between the good-hearted scape-grace who, though sound at the core, indulges in shocking escapades, and the falsehearted blackguard whose inner nature is wholly corrupt, though his talk is always pious and has outward deportment exemplary. But he would have achieved his aim more artistically and more convincingly if he had not made Blifil so incredibly wicked.

      Blifil's Comparison with other Rogues. When Blifil is making his awkward advances to Sophia, there is a resemblance to the repulsive Solmes, in Richardson's Clarissa, though Blifil is a cleverer, more formidable character than Solmes. There are two interesting things about him. One is that we never discover his Christian name, and the other is that he is wholly evil. With regard to the absence of Christian name, this is surely carrying the 'external' technique to an extreme unless we think of him as a return to the older kind of one name type, like Bunyan's 'Badman'. His entire lack of redeeming qualities, violates Fielding's general practice and his expressed belief:

.....for in this instance life most exactly resembles stage, since it is often the same person who represents the villain and the hero; and he who engages your admiration today will probably attract your contempt tomorrow.

      In one way he is like Allworthy; he is a shadowy figure, an abstraction, all hypocrisy and egoism. He illustrates Fielding's view of the peculiar strength of hypocrisy, in as much as bad men expect badness in others and are cautious. His strength is his wary prudence, in contrast to the wildness of Jones. His weakness, the corollary to this, is that he assumes all men to be as bad as he is.

      Blifil might have been warned by the fate of his uncle, Doctor Blifil, who schemed so carefully to get his brother married to Bridget Allworthy, only then to be superseded by him and driven out of the estate. Like Allworthy, he uses 'reason', and like Allworthy, he is an indictment of it. The casual behavior of Providence is, in the end, too much for him. He gets as far as he does because he makes such careful use of the time factor, and small details—like adding the 's' on to the 'hare' that Black George has caught in Book III, Chapter 10. He is adept at these slight alterations. "He is in fact as subtle as Iagor from Shakespeare's 'Othello' and as with Iago we can only guess at his motivation, other than jealousy, insecurity and a sense of inferiority" - you might say this was quite a lot, but it does not totally explain the unrelenting viciousness, though it may make it credible. Blifil knows too much. He fancied that he knew Jones to the bottom, and had, in reality, a great contempt for his understanding for not being attached to his own interest.
Allworthy's readiness to be taken in by Blifil, is the one thing in the novel, like the disguise motif in a Shakespearean comedy, that we have to 'take'; it is really difficult to believe. Mrs. Western says to Lady Bellaston, "I must do Sophy the justice to confess, this Blifil is but a hideous kind of fellow.." (XVI, 8), and with his immediate, 'instinctive' judgment, Fielding not only sums up Blifil but unwittingly exposes Allworthy's extraordinary blindness. Though clever, Blifil is not basically, we think, a subtle character if we except one moment, when he hints at his reasons for wanting to marry Sophia 'he had some further views, from obtaining the absolute possession of her person, which we detest too much even to mention' (VII, 6).—In this way, Fielding, a straightforward Englishman if ever there was one, shies away from providing one kind, at least, of the sort of 'seasoning' he promised in Book I, Chapter 1.

      Blifil, generally, is an unreal character, an abstraction like his uncle. I think we really see Blifil alive, as we really see Allworthy alive, only at the end:

Jones went up to Bilfil's room, whom he found in a situation which moved his pity, though it would have raised a less amiable passion in many beholders. He had cast himself on his bed, where he lay abandoning himself to despair, and drowned in tears.

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