Black Acts

  • John Allen Stevenson


I have been to this point largely concerned with issues of legitimacy, especially in matters of inheritance. But questions of legitimacy are inseparable from issues of property, for what is being inherited is not merely a title or a name, but very tangible material possessions: a kingdom, an estate, cash. That recollection is important for the next stage of this study, which concerns what at first seems to be a very different subject, theft.’ But theft is not only armed robbery or breaking and entering, and conflicts over property—be the property in question a throne or wealth in some less grandiose form—can quickly seem controlled by the legal and emotional context evoked by more direct and violent encounters. As we have seen, Fielding’s narrator refers to the Jacobite invaders of England as “banditti”; Anne Brett’s resistance to the filial overtures of Richard Savage were very likely rooted in the well-founded fear that his desire for love would soon turn into an insistent demand for money. At stake in both inheritance and robbery is the movement of property. Legitimacy is a most ambiguous matter in Tom Jones, and much the same is true about stealing; property in this novel tends to move in ambiguous ways, and is insistently shadowed by the possibility of theft. A prime example of this phenomenon, and the most troubling property transaction in the novel, is Black George’s decision to pocket the substantial sum that Allworthy granted Tom at the time he exiled him from Paradise Hall. It is far from simple robbery.


Property Qualification Eighteenth Century Real History Small Landowner Capital Crime 
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  1. 37.
    Sir Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitland, The History of English Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), II, 452.Google Scholar

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© John Allen Stevenson 2005

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  • John Allen Stevenson

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