Tom has been trying to act virtuously by uniting Nancy and Nightingale, but the narrator notes that his own situation with Sophia is not improving. The narrator uses this situation to counteract the argument of moral writers who assert that “virtue is the certain road to happiness” (695).
The reader is reminded of the young man who looked after Sophia at the play-house – Lord Fellamar. He has fallen for Sophia. Lady Bellaston encourages his suit of Sophia so that she can have Tom Jones for herself. She tells Lord Fellamar that is rival for her affections is wholly undesirable.
Lady Bellaston is a member of a society called Little World, where members tell lies that are then to be passed on as gossip. They tell a tale of a young man named Jones who has killed someone in a duel. Sophia pales when she hears the story. Lord Fellamar believes that Sophia is now free and will be receptive to his affections, even though she begs Lady Bellaston not to admit to man to her company.
Sophia retires and Lord Fellmar goes to her chamber. Lady Bellaston suggests that he force himself sexually upon her, at which time she will be virtue-bound to marry him. He is disgusted by the idea, but she uses her persuasion to convince him of the plan's ultimate virtue. He finally agrees.
Sophia is reading a play called The Fatal Marriage, by Thomas Southerne. She is shocked when Lord Fellamar enters and forces himself on her. She screams loudly, and Squire Western suddenly bursts in to rescue her. Lady Bellaston then enters, and asks Sophia to accept Lord Fellmar’s advances for her father’s sake. Lord Fellmar is of course unaware of Blifil’s suit. He is therefore surprised when Squire Western rebuffs him as a match for his daughter. Squire Western dismisses Honour and plans to confine Sophia again.
The reader is reminded that Mrs. Fitzpatrick wants to prevent Sophia from making a poor match as she had done. Both from this desire and a motive to gain her aunt's favors, she had written to Mrs. Western to reveal Sophia’s whereabouts. Mrs. Western passed the information to Squire Western, telling him to dress smartly and utilize gentlemanly action to retrieve his daughter. It is evident in the previous chapter that he ignored this instruction.
Honour visits Mrs. Miller’s to tell Tom what has happened. She is bereft at losing both her position and her connection with Sophia. Partridge informs Tom that Lady Bellaston has arrived, so Honour conceals herself in his room, from which vantage she overhears Lady Bellaston’s amorous and flattering advances to the young man. They are fortuitously interrupted by Nightingale, who is drunk and believes Tom’s room to be his own. Honour reveals herself, and Lady Bellaston calmly leaves. Having witnessed this awkward scene, Honour is now at an advantage in knowing of Lady Bellaston’s scandalous behavior.
Nightingale and Nancy are married. Nightingale is able to escape the wrath of his uncle because his cousin (the uncle's daughter) had defied her father and married a clergyman without his consent. He therefore had to leave London to tend to his affairs. Because Nightingale's situation is in good shape, Tom considers returning to his own affairs.
Lady Bellaston sends three letters requesting that Tom attend her. Nightingale informs Tom that she is renowned for her debauchery- “she is a demirep; that is to say a woman who intrigues with every man she likes” (725). Nightingale suggests that the way out of Tom’s entanglement with Lady Bellaston is to propose marriage to her, since she only wants him as a playtoy. Tom does so in a letter. She responds, condemning him as a villain.
Mrs. Miller has received a letter from Allworthy, saying that he and Blifil wish to take rooms on an upcoming visit to London. Because he took care of her years ago, she always grants his request for rooms, and so Nightingale and Tom must move out. Tom realizes that if Blifil is in town, his marriage to Sophia is all the more imminent. Honour writes to Tom, saying that she can no longer help his case with Sophia because Lady Bellaston is now her employer.
Mrs. Hunt, a wealthy widow who is looking to marry again, writes to Tom offering to share her fortune with him if he will court her. Though Tom is impoverished, he declines the offer and beholds Sophia’s muff to remind him of his love.
Partridge discovers that Black George is in town with Allworthy, and George tells Partridge that they have come for the marriage to Sophia. He is willing to take a letter to her from Tom.
Though the narrator would probably want virtue to be “the certain road to happiness,” his portrayal is more realistic in that bad things can still happen to those who do good (695). In trying to portray human nature, he must acknowledge that our characters do not always correspond to our luck. For instance, even as Tom works virtuously to rectify Nancy's and Nightingale's situation, forces are at work making his chances of winning Sophia ever slimmer.
Of course, Fielding does not ignore that we often facilitate our own situations through our conflicted choices. Those forces that work against Tom are enabled by his willingness to entertain Lady Bellaston for money. Our virtue is not the only key to our happiness, partially because we are forever conflicted between our virtuous and base qualities. On the other hand, the return of Black George into to the story, and his ability to facilitate communication between Sophia and Tom, shows that Tom’s earlier selfless deeds have returned to bless him. His polite rejection of Arabella Hunt will also work in his favor with Sophia later. So we are often blessed by our choices.
Lady Bellaston’s character is further developed as she is revealed to be a demirep. Her decline of Tom’s proposal indicates what has been hinted at before: she is not looking for a husband, just entertainment. Part of her reticence to marry again would be based in the fact that any husband would then have claim to her fortune. She deliberately prompts Lord Fellamar in Sophia’s direction to win Tom for herself, and yet she has few serious intentions. The cruelty she shows in recommending he employ rape to his advantage - “nothing but violent methods will do” - serves as a vicious attack on the hypocrisy and dehumanization that high society and disaffected wealth can bring to a person (699).
Sophia shows her understanding of the situation's complexity when she weeps while reading Thomas Southerne’s 1694 play, The Fatal Marriage, also known as The Innocent Adultery. Fielding’s ability to identify skilful contemporary drama (and not just classic examples) is displayed here. It was a popular text at the time, and its title makes its relevance clear. The play was later adapted by Garrick. Its 1782 performances, with Sarah Siddons as Isabella, were heralded as some of the greatest tragedy performances of the age.
The situation with Nightingale's uncle parodies a comedy of manners. The two elder brothers argue the loyalty and honor of their children, but are both hypocrites. The uncle is quick to change his tune when he realizes his nephew is not actually married, but then he changes it again when he realizes his own daughter is guilty of the transgression he accuses his nephew of. The idea seems to be that each should mind his own business, and allow others to find their own happiness. Because they do not, these brothers have to constantly misrepresent their situations in order to save face in front of the other.