Book 4 Chapter 14 of Tom Jones.

This is part of an ongoing project in which I will record and post one chapter per week of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones over the course of four years.

Look, I could spend a few paragraphs talking about the comedic situation that Fielding sets up here with the doctor, and the bleeding, and the setting of Tom's arm. I could write about Mrs. Honor's clear lust for Tom, and incidentally, her describing him as some kind of albino (surely ideas of attractiveness have changed since then).

But I won't. Because what comes in the second half of this chapter is absolutely, impossibly raunchy. Certainly the filthiest thing Fielding put into this book.

Mrs. Honor describes Tom picking up a muff that Sophia has left around, and the transports of longing that he engages in while examining it. Let's get this straight: the use of the word "muff," in the 18th Century, certainly held the same slang connotation that we would associate with it today (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the earliest known instance of its use in writing is 1690). So, yes, when Tom looks wistfully at Sophia's tossed off muff, when he picks it up in his hands, starts sighing and kissing it over and over, and when Mrs. Honor begins to warn him about stretching it out by putting his hands in it; when Tom describes it as the prettiest muff he's ever seen, you are absolutely supposed to ask yourself how they ever got away with printing this. Not only does Fielding play on this slang meaning, he draws it out considerably, putting it in the mouth of (at this point in the story) the most prudish and judgmental character that he can. So when Fielding writes about a muff, he means... a muff.

Boy oh boy. What a way to end off Book IV.


AuthorMark Turetsky