Sophia Western: Character Analysis in Tom Jones

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      Sophia Western, the only daughter of Squire Western was a superbly beautiful girl, and her mind was in every way equal to her person. She could instinctively prefer Tom to Blifil. Blifil's fortune or Lord Fellamar's title had no attraction for her. Tom's being a recognized bastard did not repel her. She loved her father and could tactfully manage her aunt. In spite of his various slips in the sensual mire, Tom had secured a firm place in her heart, and yet she would not marry him without her father's consent. Pure and womanly though she was, she had no sentimental nonsense in her. "She is a charming example—the first of her race—of an unsentimentalised flesh and blood heroine; and Time has abated no jot of her frank vitality or her healthy beauty. Her descendants in the modern novel are far more numerous than the family which she bore to the fortunate—too fortunate—Mr. Jones."

      Book IV, Chapter 2, opens with one of the best examples in Fielding of "burlesque admitted to the diction". Like so much in Tom Jones, you may feel that it goes on too long. The effect is like a change in symphony from the minor to the major key; or to use a different image, it is as if the sun has come out. It heralds:

Hushed be every ruder breath. May the heathen ruler of the winds confine in iron chains the boisterous limbs of noisy Boreas, and the sharp-pointed nose of bitter biting Eurus. Do thou, sweet Zephyrus, rising from thy fragrant bed, mount the western sky, and lead on those delicious gales the charms of which call forth the lovely Flora from the Chamber, perfumed with pearly dews, when on the first of June, her birthday, the blooming maid, in loose attire, gently trips it over the verdant mead.

     The second paragraph concludes:

......bedecked with beauty, youth, sprightliness, innocence, modesty, and tenderness, breathing sweetness from her rosy lips, and darting brightness from her sparkling eyes, the lovely Sophia comes (Book IV, Chap. 2)

      This is the language of mockery; Fielding is laughing, reminding us of model from the classics and from later romances, keeping emotion firmly at a distance. But Sophia, like Fanny, Mrs. Heart-free (from Jonathan Wild) and the later Amelia, is to be a portrait of an ideal. Of these ideal women, Sophia, we think, is the most subtle portrait. Fanny was seen entirely in sexual terms, but when Sophia journeys from the inn in the central section of the novel, she inspired innkeepers and such, not with sexual longing, but with respect and awe:

When that good woman returned, the conversation in the kitchen was all upon the charms of the young lady. There is, indeed, in perfect beauty a power which none almost can withstand; for my landlady, though she was not pleased at the negative given to the supper, declared she had never seen so lovely a creature.

      She is thought to be Jenny Cameron, the mistress of Bonny Prince Charles, because of extraordinary gentleness and nobility of manner. As Fielding said in his encomium of Sophia (IV, 2), nor was this "beautiful frame disgraced by an inhabitant unworthy of it. Her mind was, in every way, equal to her person." One remembers Viola's complaint in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night:

And though that nature with a beauteous wall
Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee
I will believe that thou hast a mind that suits
With this thy fair and outward character.

      Sainsbury classed Fielding with Shakespeare as a writer and we think that in Sophia, we are reminded often of Shakespearean heroines. Fielding had the gift, which the 19th century novelists did not have, of being able to describe, without sentimentality, women as seen by man, with those female qualities men dream of rather than see in real life. Though this type of romantically conceived woman became a trap to Dickens and Thackeray, Sophia is real; and this may be because of - Fielding's 'external' technique, and the ironically flippant, burlesque' diction, which prevents both Fielding and us from becoming too emotionally involved with her.

      Father's Little Darling. Sophia was her father's 'little darling', and 'she returned all his affection in the most ample manner.

      She ministered unselfishly to all his whims and wants—playing again and again his favorite jigs upon her harpsichord, though she herself cared only for the, music of Handel. To her, in almost everything, 'her father's word was a law'. On one point, however, she stood out against him inflexibly. Nothing could induce her to wed a man whom she loathed. While she was willing to promise not to marry anyone during her father's lifetime without his full consent, she refused to admit that the authority of any parent could oblige a girl to marry 'in direct opposition' to her inclinations. To this principle of the right of children, to resist in a matter where their whole life's happiness was concerned, the tyrannical compulsion of a parent—a tyranny very generally, and indeed, according to Fielding, almost universally, exercised at this time—she steadfastly adhered; and, at any cost, she was resolved to vindicate it. She was even prepared to leave her home in the dead of night, to face the perils of the country roads, to endure extreme fatigues, and to hide herself in London, a city entirely unknown to her, sooner than consent to a union from which her sound instincts revolted. When we reflect on the feebleness and flabbiness of the average young woman of the period, we cannot but admire the forceful character of this girl, who, without any hysterical fuss, but with undaunted spirit and determination, insisted on her right to choose her own mate, make her own life, and realize her own happiness.

      Sophia is not so perfect as to be inhuman. She has the sort of human qualities that some of Shakespeare's heroines possess. She can flatter. 'Well, madam,' she says to her aunt, Mrs. Western, who wants her to marry Lord Fellamar, 'and why may not I expect to have a second, perhaps better than this? You are now but a young woman and I am convinced would not promise to yield to the first lover of fortune, nay, or of title too.' (Book XVII, Chapter 4). Mrs. Western has been boasting that she 'had lovers formerly,' and this treatment accomplishes its object; the 'evil, day, is put off.' There is a more subtle passage when Fielding looks into her attitude of mind, faced with the continuous pressure put upon her to marry Blifil:

The idea, therefore, of the immense happiness she should convey to her father by her consent to this match, made a strong impression on her mind. Again, the extreme piety of such an act of obedience worked very forcibly, as she had a very deep sense of religion. Lastly, when she reflected how much she herself was to suffer, being indeed to become little less than a sacrifice, or a martyr to filial love and duty, she felt an agreeable tickling in a certain little passion which though it bears no immediate affinity either to religion or virtue, is often so kind to lend great assistance in executing the purposes of both. (Book VII, Chapter 9)

      Sophia's Admirable Love for Tom. In her relations with her lover, Sophia was no less admirable. She first fell in love with Tom without realizing that she had done so. It was the story of his connection with Molly Seagrim that made her aware of the state of her feelings. She was ashamed of the affection which she had unconsciously cherished for the youngman, and "summoned every argument her reason.....could suggest, to subdue and expel it". Then Tom broke his arm in rescuing her from an unruly horse, and his 'great bravery' on this occasion revived her passion. When she presently discovered that he, on his side, was desperately in love with her, she did not disguise the tenderness she felt for him. Thereafter, she showed herself both courageous and magnanimous. It took some courage to contemplate union with a man whom almost everyone spoke ill of. And it needed no little magnanimity to forgive his numerous shortcomings. The clear-sighted girl was not ignorant of those faults; but she recognized also the amiable qualities of her lover, and did not expect perfection. She was, indeed, very forbearing. She was willing to overlook the old scandal about Molly. She was ready to excuse even the shocking affair at Upton, as a dereliction due in part to Tom's despair of winning herself. What she could not pardon, however, was his proposal of marriage to Lady Bellaston, 'at the very time' (as she wrote), 'when you would have me imagine you was under such concern on my account'. Such levity seemed to her so utterly inconsistent with genuine affection that she resolved to discard the young man for goad nor could the persuasion of Mr. Allworthy or the exhortation of Squire Western, or the explanation of Mrs. Miller, induce her to restore to her favor one whom she had come to regard as, no better than 'a good-natured libertine'. Only at the last, when she was thoroughly convinced of the sincerity of Tom's repentance and felt quite sure that she could rely on his fidelity in the future, did she consent, in the most delightful manner imaginable to give him her hand. Sophia's ideas of the obligation of purity on men, as well as on women, were certainly in advance of her age. 'The delicacy of your sex', said Tom, "cannot conceive the grossness of ours, nor how little one sort of amour has to do with the heart." "I will never marry a man," replied Sophia, very gravely, "who will not learn refinement enough to be as incapable as I am myself of making such a distinction."

      Sophia's Irresistible Beauty. Sophia's charm is irresistible. Happily, Fielding did not fall into the mistake of making her, in Square's phrase 'perfectly perfect'. She was not exempt from trifling failings. Though she hated deceit, she used flattery, now and then, to extricate herself from difficult situations; though ordinarily very sweet-tempered, she could flame into an angry passion on occasion; she had also a spice of vanity, which caused her, though only for a moment, to toy with the idea of playing the part of a tragedy's heroine, sacrificing herself to her father's wishes, and figuring pathetically as a martyr to filial duty. But these tiny flaws—if flaws they can be called—only display her as natural and human. They, in no way, lessen our appreciation of her noble qualities of head and heart—her good sense and good feeling, her calm courage in face of life's difficulties and perplexities, her gaiety and candor. Sophia was Fielding's ideal of what a thoroughly wholesome and amiable English girl should be; he confessed himself 'greatly in love' with her, and was convinced that we would love her also.

      Flaws in Her Character. Two curiously opposite objections have been brought against Sophia. Richardson absurdly described her as 'so fond, so foolish, and so insipid' — preposterously ill-judged phrases, which Thackeray (who should have known better) echoed in his 'fond, foolish, palpitating little creature'. Byron, on the other hand, seems to have thought her too 'emphatic'. Yet she remains, unscathed by criticism, one of the most attractive and satisfying heroines in English literature.

      Rosalind, Viola and Sophia. Like Rosalind from As You Like it, or Viola from Twelfth Night, she combines a fresh simplicity of mind with the courage to go out into the world on her own. She has more physical courage than Viola, who trembled at the idea of a duel. 'A good brisk pace', she says to her maid, Mrs. Honour, "will preserve us from the cold, and if you cannot defend me from a villain, Honour, I will defend you, for I will take a pistol with me. (Book VII, chapter 7). And when a man rides up to her in the darkness (Book X, chapter 9) 'she neither screamed out nor fainted away'. Sophia, we feel, is generally a more capable character than other Fielding heroines; she is a Squire's daughter, and an heiress. Like Fanny, she has that simplicity which Fielding associates with the country, but it is not a simplicity of mind; her understanding was of the first rate, but she wanted all that "useful art which females convert to so many good purposes in life and which, as it rather arises from the heart than from the head, is often the property of the silliest of women" (Book VII, chapter 3). Much later in terms of experience, when Lord Fellamar calls on her (Book XV, chapter 2), she is 'somewhat more a mistress of computation'.

      Clarissa and Sophia. It would be interesting to find a parallel between Tom Jones and Richardson's Clarissa, in view of the link between the earlier novels of these two novelists. There is the superficial one, in that, each is of epic length, and generally acclaimed to be its author's masterpiece. We think Fielding could have been influenced by those opening books of Clarissa which describe the heroine's persecution by her family. Sophia's persecution by her father and her aunt has many parallels in Clarissa. Both Clarissa and Sophia promise their parents that they will never marry without permission; both remain passive in the face of mounting cruelty. In Sophia's interminable arguments and pleadings with her aunt, there is a strong ring of Richardson:

'Surely', says Sophia, 'I am born deficient and have not the senses with which other people are blessed; there must be certainly some sense which can relish the delights of sound and show which I have not; for surely mankind would not labor so much nor sacrifice so much for the obtaining, nor would they be so elate and proud with possessing, what appeared to be as it doth to me, the most insignificant of all trifles.'

      The 'trifle' is worldly honor. Sophia has no ambition, except to please her father: 'May heaven blast me. If there is a misery, I would not suffer to preserve you', she says to him (Book XVI, Chapter 2).

      Sophia as a Contrast to Jones. Sophia stands out as a contrast to Jones. While he is vulnerable, and easily tempted she is solid as a rock both against alliances with Blifil or Fellamar, pressed by her father and her aunt respectively, and against one with Jones till he proves himself worthy of her. She is not narrow or prudish. She does not hold his sexual freedom against him—she falls in love with him while hearing about it at her father's dinner-table; and Fielding insists that it is Tom's (apparent) making free with her name, up and down the country inns, that offends her. This is important; a touch which shows, we think, Fielding's sensitivity. It would have been beyond Richardson. Sophia gives an impression of moral integrity, more than any other character. She is a woman of principle. In her letter to Jones, she says, 'A promise is with me a very sacred thing and to be extended to everything understood from if (Book XVI, Chapter 5). She, morally, is at the center, as in the next novel, Captain Booth wavers back and forth with Amelia and his home at the center. No doubt this was autobiographical.

      Several features of Fielding's first wife appear in Sophia, and Fielding has admittedly drawn her after the first Mrs. Fielding.

      Sophia Western is the heroine of the novel. She possessed a lovely, charming appearance, and a sweet disposition. Her 'understanding was of the first rate' (Book VII, Chapter 3). She was also a perfect mistress of music' (Book IV, Chapter 5), and particularly fond of Handel's compositions. But she was so much devoted to her father (who loved only light music), that 'she learned all these tunes (i.e., of light music) to oblige him' (Book IV, Chapter 5). Though very gentle-mannered and simple, Sophia had great daring and courage of spirit. She defies her tempestuous father, and leaves his house to seek her lover.

      Though a realist, and an avowed satirist of sentimentalism, Fielding is a bit of a sentimentalist himself in his portraiture of Sophia. She is not only 'an angel upon earth' (XI, 3), but let's fall plenty of tears on quite a few occasions. Sophia is almost an ideal character.

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