Lady Bellaston: Character Analysis in Tom Jones

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      For the figure of Lady Bellaston, Fielding is supposed to have taken hints from the character of the notorious Etheldreda or Audrey, wife of Charles, third Viscount Townshend, and mistress of Thomas Winnington. This lady was the subject of a vast amount of spicy gossip; and a little later furnished the model for 'Lady Tempest' in Francis Coventry's satirical romance, Pompey the Little (1751), Though there is no evidence that Fielding was acquainted with her personally, he must have known her by reputation, and doubtiess recollected some of the anecdotes current about her, when he undertook to paint his picture of a dissolute society woman. But the portrait is very far from being an exact likeness. Indeed, apart from a propensity for intrigue, there is little enough resemblance between the great lady, famous for her beauty and her bon mots, and the repulsive elderly 'demirep', who, while retaining the erotic appetites of youth, was destitute alike of physical attractiveness and of intellectual charm. Lady Bellaston is intended to illustrate a particular type—namely, that of 'intrepid' sensuality, of which some examples were found among contemporary women of fashion, though in Fielding's opinion, at any rate, this particular species was comparatively uncommon.

      Lady Bellaston, related to the Western family, is another 'high' character; she is a character of town. It is in her house that Sophia seeks and finds shelter in London. Our Lady, however, is too volatile emotionally, or rather, sexually. Impressed by Tom’s handsome appearance, she begins to cast her amorous wiles on him. Though now in the autumn of life, "she wore all the gaiety of youth, both in her dress and manner". She is an intriguer too. When she finds Tom not very amenable to her approaches, she plans his ruin. She does not succeed, however.

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