Talk18th Century British Literature

Join LibraryThing to post.


This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Sep 5, 2010, 12:24am

In my classics book group, each member takes turns picking a book. For my next pick (for October), I chose Smollett's The Expedition of Humphry Clinker.

I've never read Smollett before, but it's one of many unread titles I own. Any general comments on Smollett, or TEoHC? Also, I think my copy of Don Quixote has him for a translator. Is the translation any good?


Sep 5, 2010, 10:19pm

I've always found Smollett rather hard going: he's so consistently (although not necessarily unjustifiably) unpleasant in his subject matter, and has a tendency to wallow in it. And I never understand what his women see in his men, but that's not unusual. :)

That said, Humphry Clinker is good fun. Smollett lightened up a bit there and got a sense of proportion, so that while one of the major characters (a self-portrait) still complains endlessly about his constipation and so on, the epistolary novel trick of offering varying perspectives on the same events lifts the mood and gives us some relief from the wallowing. It's also funnier than Smollett's other works, I think, although some of the humour is still scatological.

Sep 8, 2010, 12:19pm

Thanks. That confirms what I saw elsewhere: by the time he wrote TEoHC, Smollett had "mellowed."

I heard of Smollett via Fielding, and decided to obtain one of his novels. The first Dickens novel that I ever bought was The Pickwick Papers, and the general circumstances of this Smollett book sounded similar. At some point I'd like to get more of Smollett's works, but he's hard to find on store shelves.

Of course, maybe I should make it through this one first. I'm inclined to say scatological humor doesn't bother me, but then I remember I didn't find Christopher Moore's Lamb all that funny.

Sep 8, 2010, 6:29pm

I hope you post your impressions of TEoHC when you've read it - I'd be very interested to hear what you make of it. It should, at any rate, function as a test for whether you're up to the more "Smollettian" Smolletts!

Sep 9, 2010, 3:53am

I have the Folio Society Don Quixote, which is the Smollett translation, and find it quite agreeable to read, but I don't have anything to compare it with. I tend to dip in and out and read a couple of chapters here and there - the book is a bit heavy to read comfortably.

There was a thread about Don Quixote translations a little while ago which has links to a couple of articles.

Sep 10, 2010, 12:54pm

I haven't read Humphry Clinker yet, though I started it and found the first 50 pages funny...I enjoyed his translation of Don Quixote (Wordsworth Classics edition).

Sep 13, 2010, 12:15am

Thanks, all. I followed the link to a very useful and interesting page on translations and the theory of translating foreign works.

I had heard that Pevear and Volokhonsky were good for the Russians. The Don Quixote I got mainly because it was cheap and I had heard of Smollett, but I was already working at a bookstore when the Grossman translation came out and did hear it lauded at the time. Oddly, perhaps, I think I also picked up the Smollett because my translation of Virgil's Aeneid is the one by Dryden. You might have to know me to be able to follow that. :-)

I did just barely open TEoHC. The absolute beginning and Tabitha's first letter give me a bit of pause. The former because I've studied some French and Spanish and a very little Italian, but never Latin. The latter because she's just barely literate. Sort of. It's like reading heavy dialect. But the rest of it I've read I've enjoyed so far.

However, I have two other book groups that meet before the classics book group, so I have to finish The Kitchen Boy (for historical fiction) and Women's Wisconsin (for my museum book group) first. So Smollett will be on the back burner for a while.

Sep 13, 2010, 1:27am

Hey, no need to explain multiple competing reading commitments to me! :) Get back to us when you can.

Oct 5, 2010, 2:16am

If I tell you I've been recommending the Smollett to everyone*, does that tell you whether I liked it?

A couple of members of my classics group said they were confused by what was happening in the story. I didn't have that problem. I do wish, however, that I had noticed the glossary in my Penguin Classics copy before I had finished reading the story. That said, I could understand the gist of the words I didn't recognize from context, for the most part.

Smollett's TEoHC had as many fools and eccentrics as ever a play by Shakespeare or a novel by Dickens. He's great at describing characters. I had a definite image of Lt. Lismahago. Smollett comes off as well-informed on any number of topics. And, actually, I didn't see what the men in the book saw in the women, for the most part.

Reading it felt very familiar. And made me want to read more. If not Smollett, then other 18th century works. I always notice books mentioned in other books, and may need to see if I can find some of the nonfiction he mentions at Google Books for reference or download. I'm especially interested in the law and agriculture titles. (I know, I'm odd. I once read the catalog of books Jefferson donated to form the original library of Congress. So far not the books themselves, just the catalog.)

According to the notes, Smollett inserted himself into his story in multiple incarnations. That was a little offputting. I wish I had read some of Smollett's other work before reading this one, too, since his fictional characters from other books end up in this one. Don Quixote was also mentioned in several places in the story.

I haven't been doing a lot of reading lately, but including the Smollett I finished two books this weekend that I quite enjoyed. I only hope I enjoy my third monthly book group title as much.

* Anyone reading this book would need enough knowledge of 18th century British society to understand some of the allusions (e.g., Billingsgate = whore/fishwife; Hounslow = heath/highwayman). And a flexible enough vocabulary to understand the meaning certain words used to have.

Oct 5, 2010, 7:43pm

That's a really interesting point you make about the language. I've done enough reading in this era that I hardly notice any more, but it certainly something that you need to come to terms with if you are going to enjoy this kind of reading. I have a friend who is not well-versed in "the classics", who is reading Great Expectations - she uses me as a reference point to explain the various things, particularly the social arrangements or conventions, that she doesn't understand and which the novel, of course, takes for granted.

If you do go on with Smollett, I hope you will post again: it's been very interesting to hear your reactions.

Oct 25, 2010, 11:56am

I'm almost certain that I read Roderick Random a few years back and found it rather tedious. Clinker and some of the other works look more exciting (Roderick Random is an early work so I'm willing to give him another chance as it wasn't awful, just uneventful). The University of Georgia Press has a fairly complete catalog of his work. For some reason I bought most of them a couple years back and remember them not being very expensive on the second hand market. The bits I've read of Ferdinand Count Fathom and The History and Adventures of an Atom seem pretty good. His translation of Gil Blas is still the only one in avaliable in English. He also translated the The Adventures of Telemachus.

I think you should read Tristram Shandy, now that is an amazing work! Also, read Gulliver's Travels. Others to consider: Frances Burney, Defoe (definitely Moll Flanders), Richardson (Pamela as a person makes little sense, but his prose is good and it's much, much shorter than Clarissa). Life of Samuel Johnson, or some selections from The Spectator. The Vicar of Wakefield is such a sweet book too. So much to read and so little time!

(I don't know that I would recommend Tom Jones, but it is a seminal piece of 18th century literature)

Oct 25, 2010, 5:36pm

Strangely, after I responded to ReneeMarie's original post by saying I didn't much care for Smollett other than Humphry Clinker, I'm now tempted to take another look at him. I've been reading James Foster's History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel, in which he makes a strong case for Smollett as a major influence on the direction of the English novel over the last quarter of the 18th century. I'm thinking of re-reading him with that in mind.

Oct 25, 2010, 10:23pm

11> Thanks for the reading suggestions. I'd like to read Gil Blas, Tristram Shandy, Defoe, Richardson, Boswell, and more Burney (I've read only Evelina, again my pick for book group).

I've already read The Vicar of Wakefield, but didn't enjoy it as much as the Smollett, so maybe I should reread it. I have Selections from the Tatler and the Spectator, so someday it will be read -- along with Eliza Haywood's Selections from the Female Spectator.

But for the life of me I cannot summon up any enthusiasm for Gulliver's Travels.

Why the caveat concerning Tom Jones?

12> ...a strong case for Smollett as a major influence on the direction of the English novel over the last quarter of the 18th century.

"A classic is a book that comes before other classics; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree."
-- Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics

I'm thinking maybe Calvino explained why reading Smollett felt so familiar to me.

Oct 26, 2010, 1:04am

Foster claims that Smollett is the original source of certain recurrent character types that appeared and reappeared in the late 18th-century novel, particularly the sentimental novel.

Oct 26, 2010, 1:26pm

>14 lyzard:
He certainly was the inspiration behind the character Smellfungus in A Sentimental Journey.

Oct 26, 2010, 3:28pm

>13 ReneeMarie:

I enjoyed the gentler, good natured outlook on life that seemed to cling around the edges of Goldsmith's little domestic farce. But maybe that was satire. On the flip, the fourth part of Gulliver's Travels is something everyone should read. I cannot think of, or imagine, a more misanthropic view of humanity ever being . It stands in such contrast to the beginning, cartoonish encounters. It's quite audacious.

Well Tom Jones, for me, dragged on and on and on and on. I think anyone who's read Don Quixote knows what it's like to read a hunker that just won't end. I felt Tom Jones himself was a dullard and that most of the comedic situations, appropriated from Cervantes, fell flat. Or maybe it was just too paradigmatic for my tastes. Don't let my opinion stop you from reading it though.

Personally, I think Tristram Shandy is an amazing book. It has an obvious connection to Rabelais, yet is entirely authentic and unique. It is a challenege in parts. Yet there are some wonderful scenes and vibrant cast of extras. Did anyone see the Winterbottom movie? I actually think the parts of the book that they shot were spot on. It's a veritable shame they just didn't go ahead and do the whole book itself. I think it was a little bit of hyperbole, the whole "Tristram Shandy is unfilmable" mantra the actors keep repeating throughout.

I've still got to read Clarissa. It's sitting on my shelf.

Oct 26, 2010, 9:11pm

16> At some point I'm sure I'll read Tom Jones. But it sounds like I should work my way through Don Quixote first. Yes? No? Hmmnn, I wonder where my copies of those two books are lurking.

Another member of my classics group wants to read Tristram Shandy (it was assigned in one of her college classes; the teacher said he didn't really expect anyone to finish it in the time allotted, she didn't finish but read more of it than anyone else). Should one avoid the movie until the book has been read?

I haven't read Rabelais, although I have Gargantua and Pantagruel sitting -- somewhere -- in my apartment. Where's the connection to Tristram Shandy? Is it story/content, style, or ...?


Oct 26, 2010, 10:01pm

The thing about Tom Jones is that many of the qualities we now take for granted were entirely new at the time, like the semi-omniscient narrator and the occasional crossovers with real historical events. It's certainly self-indulgent, but in that respect it needs to be kept in perspective.

I really need to re-read Tristram Shandy - it's been far too long! Good luck with Clarissa - I look forward to hearing your impressions. I confess, I've only read it the once; couldn't face it a second time. (That's not a criticism, just the nature of the beast!)

Edited: Oct 27, 2010, 7:28pm

> 18
I think it was novel for it's time because Tom acted impulsively, in an id-like manner. But yes, we should cut these works some slack. Or should we? I would recommend reading Tom Jones and hope a personal criticism wouldn't dissuade anyone (I might recommend Don Quixote first though because it's a more important work and there is some beautiful writing, check out the Exemplary Stories too if you ever have the chance, they're very good!). At some point I'd like to read Amelia, or Jonathan Wild to see how that compares to Tom Jones. I did read Tom Jones about 8 years ago and believe I've become a more patient reader since then, so that could have been a source of my frustrations rather than Fielding himself. Though, those scenarios still lack humor and are decidely unfunny when I really think about it.

The humor, the emphasis on body and bodily functions, and overall narrative zeal are the connection between G+P and Tristram Shandy. There is some great early 18th century science in Tristram Shandy that is brilliantly ridiculous.

Don't see the movie, though I don't think there are any real spoilers. It was just something I happened to catch on IFC and couldn't help but be impressed with the few scenes they did from the book. It's one of those films about the filming of a film.

I think I may get to reading Clarissa in or around Februrary of the upcoming year. I'm not expecting anything spectacular (I do like Richardson's style) and just want to say that I read it. I'm reading a very entertaining book right now by Dumas called Olympe De Cleves, or at least that's what this reprint company decided it should be called. It's reading like Victor Hugo which is nice. Maybe I can fit another Smollett in between this one and Clarissa. Has anyone read Peregrine Pickle?

Oct 27, 2010, 5:45pm

Well, with Tom's impulses, we're back on the old division between Richardson and Fielding, the "idealist" novel on one hand and the "realist" on the other. :)

I don't think it's about cutting slack, just understanding the time and the circumstances under which these books were written. I have issues with Tom Jones, too, but I nevertheless think of it as one half of the true birth of the modern novel, with the other half being Tristram Shandy.

As for Clarissa, it depends on what you mean by spectacular! It's at least the ne plus ultra of the epistolary novel, and in terms of its depths and psychology goes places no other novel did. It's a pretty gruelling journey, though.

I have read Peregrine Pickle, but too long ago to be much help to you, sorry.

Edited: Oct 28, 2010, 2:50pm

Ostensibly, but there are many moments when Fielding is the idealist and Richardson the realist.

For academic purposes, it is easier (and perhaps more productive) to separate them into camps; but Fielding is more the realist only in his indirect evocation of chaos.

Richardson's novels (on the other hand) are more or less situated in an idealized, hermetic environment. Yet the characters of the respective authors don't themselves fall neatly within these divisions. Richardson for example is a mimic, who inhabits his characters and endows them with a somewhat convincing psychological framework. Whereas Tom Jones and everyone else in Fielding's novel is an archetype.

Of course, it can also depend on what is considered a more realistic view of life. Is life essentially chaotic and random? Is idealization somehow less realistic? Can anything be portrayed without a certain level of idealization? Continue ad nauseum...

I think Tom Jones is considered realistic because he was a first and as such came made an quite impression charging into the minds of the drawing room reader. But, he's not realistically observed or developed (again though, here's that problem of being a modern reader, who has the all benefit of 200 plus years of literature, the benefits of a Tolstoy, Joyce, etc.).

But the ending, and at most points in the narration, the idealized conclusion Fielding has created for Tom hovers so closely that it is impossible to ignore this as the true catalyst that guides plot and character.

So, this along with other factors, makes me feel there isn't much reason to label Fielding, other than convience, a realist.

But nevertheless, these are interesting thoughts to discuss, particularly the idea of idealism versus realism.

Edited: Oct 28, 2010, 5:45pm

At the time there was a very strong tendency to divide novel writing up into two camps, "the idealists" and "the realists", with Richardson at the head of one and Fielding at the head of the other; it's how they saw themselves, at least to an extent, but certainly how they promoted themselves as writers. One thought the purpose of the novel was to tell it as it is, and the other that it was to inspire people to be better.

Of course, we look back now and see the contradictions in this simplistic kind of labelling - that Fielding was a realist who nevertheless contrived happy endings, and that Richardson was an idealist who liked to wallow in tragedy and sentiment - but it was taken very seriously at the time. I've just been reading Clara Reeve's The Progress Of Romance, her review of literature to 1785, where she flatly declares Richardson the superior of the two, not because he was the greater artist, but because he was the greater moralist. In her view, and in that of many critics of the time (and for a long time afterwards), a novel's artistry was far less important than its moral.

(Thankfully, there was eventually a backlash against that by the same critics, confronted by a tidal wave of novels by people who thought that as long as their moral was good, it didn't matter that their writing was terrible!)