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The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

by Tobias Smollett

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1,4752111,192 (3.63)139
William Thackeray called it "the most laughable story that has ever been written since the goodly art of novel-writing began." As a group of travellers visit places in England and Scotland, they provide through satire and wit a vivid and detailed picture of the contemporary social andpolitical scene.… (more)

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English (20)  Danish (1)  All languages (21)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
frustrated love, lost heirs and adventures in Scotland
  ritaer | Jul 9, 2021 |
Of the three 18th-century novels I read in the last few years (the others were Tristram Shandy and Tom Jones) this one was by far the shortest and the funniest. In particular the misspellings of one of the characters, who is only semi-literate. ( )
  Stravaiger64 | Dec 9, 2019 |
This is an epistolary novel written in 1771, the year the author died. It was one of a number of 18th century novels which were travelogues with rambling plots and colourful characters in sometimes bizarre situations. For the most part, this worked for me, and much of this is very amusing, though it dragged in places. One or two of the letter writers' epistles were a bit hard to read due to their idiolect, though this often had an amusing effect. The author of each letter was only stated at the epistle's end, so at first I couldn't tell who it was until I got used to the pattern. Some of the amusement derived from the different letter writers' interpretations of the same events and places. The early part of the novel is set in Bath, which at this time was in the midst of its Georgian transformation into the beautiful and elegant city I love today. The principle letter writer, Matthew Bramble, is scathing about Bath: "The Circus is a pretty bauble, contrived for shew, and looks like Vespasian's amphitheatre turned outside in" and, referring to the then forthcoming Royal Crescent among other new builds, "What sort of a monster Bath will become in a few years, with these growing excrescences, may be easily conceived". His niece Lydia on the other hand considers Bath "an earthly paradise. The Squares, the Circus and the Parades, put you in mind of ...sumptuous places; and the new buildings....look like so many enchanted castles". The expedition of the title progresses east to London, then north, ending in Scotland. It is in Scotland that the author's love of the beautiful landscapes and descriptions of towns comes across as more profound and this section includes the appearance of a real life relative of Smollett. Ironically, Humphry Clinker is a very minor character who appears only about a quarter of the way in, and is an eccentric coachman and servant of Bramble, though his role eventually turns out to be more significant. The ending, after the travellers' much quicker return down south, is somewhat abrupt and involves a set of ridiculous coincidences so typical of 18th and 19th century novels. I'm glad I read this, and enjoyed it, though got bogged down in a few places especially in the first half. ( )
2 vote john257hopper | Sep 18, 2017 |
I wavered between 3½ and 4 stars for this -- it took me a while to get into the swing of Smollett's style. However, once I did I found this epistolary novel increasingly enjoyable. Even the mis-spellings of the servant Win Jenkins which annoyed me at first became a source of amusement by the end. ( )
3 vote leslie.98 | Dec 31, 2016 |
I have said it before and I'll say it again: I am never disappointed when I read a classic. Always there is at least historical interest to be gotten out of them, and usually a great deal more than that.

Despite a good grounding in 18th Century British fiction, I had somehow failed to explore the works of Tobias Smollett up until now, so when I spotted the Heron Books hardcover reprint of Smollett's final novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, on a sale table at one of the weekend book fairs here in Queretaro, naturally I snapped it up.

Humphry Clinker draws in genial fashion on several literary traditions - the travelogue, the picaresque, and the epistolary novel.

The story follows the peregrinations of a Welsh squire, Matthew Bramble of Brambleton Hall, his husband-hunting sister Tabitha, his nephew and niece Jeremy and Lydia Melford, and their servants and occasional fellow-travelers, as they make their way in literally roundabout fashion through various spa towns - Bath, Harrogate, Scarborough - and prominent cities - Gloucester, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow - across the whole Island of Britain. This positions the book in the company of such non-fictional specimens as Daniel Defoe's A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain.

Smollett wrote an account of his own travels in France and Italy just a few years before Clinker, and apparently was an even more dyspeptic chronicler than his own Matt. Bramble, who may be taken as a somewhat autobiographical portrait. Bramble finds travel a great fuss and bother, but is willing to undertake it for the possibly salutary effects on his health - he suffers from gout - and the edification of his younger relations.

As an epistolary novel, Humphry Clinker is perhaps unusual for highlighting letters by men - in most novels of this kind, the women are the more enthusiastic correspondents. By my count, there are 27 letters by Bramble here; 28 by Jery Melford; and a total of 28 by four others - Tabitha, Lydia, Tabitha's scattered servant Winifred Jenkins, and Lydia's now-you-see-him-now-you-don't suitor Wilson (who gets but a single brief missive). The letters by Matt. Bramble and Jery Melford are epically longer than those by the others, which together can't take up more than 15% or so of the word-count of the novel. The novel belongs to the two men.

Matt. Bramble's letters to his friend Dr. Lewis are a combination of the philosophical and the somewhat petulant; Jery Melford's letters to his fellow Oxonian Watkin Phillips are observant, amused, and largely carry the thread of the narrative.

Matthew characterizes his nephew as a "pert jackanapes, full of college-petulance and self-conceit; proud as a German count, and as hot and hasty as a Welch mountaineer." Jery is a splendid depiction of a post-collegian male who would seem at home in any era, but oddly perhaps, he is not especially lusty. Oh, he makes the occasional admiring comment about this or that woman. But he is skeptical about the "permanence" of female charms, and to that extent resistant of them. Although Humphry Clinker is full of love and lust - all the women are hot for beaux in one way or another - it is decidedly not a tale of Jery Melford's love-life.

And what, you may wonder, of Humphry Clinker himself? He does not, surprisingly, figure very largely in the book named for him. He comes on the scene late, insinuates himself into the family's graces as a manservant for Squire Bramble, has a few misadventures, writes no letters, and makes a pretty minor character overall.

So why is this novel titled The Expedition of Humphry Clinker? It may have to do with the picaresque element, which is the weakest of the major strands here. A picaro is a rogue who lives by his wits. Humphry Clinker is lower-class and marginally roguish, with a penchant for getting into scrapes - but is also very religious. Nothing in "his" novel is related from anything close to his POV, which would ordinarily be standard in a picaresque narrative. So I am afraid he is a half-picaro at best - but apparently just enough of one to score a title. Frankly, I would have named the novel something else.

No matter ultimately, for this is a joyous book despite all of Matt. Bramble's grousing. It has high spirits for days. The late-arriving character who stands out is not actually Clinker, but the Scotsman Lieutenant Lismahago, who once spent an extended period with a Native American tribe, thereby securing a "colorful" status for all time, and who although interesting to talk to is confoundedly contradictory of whatever position one might choose to take. Matt. Bramble can't quite decide whether he likes this fellow or not, but sister Tabitha has no such qualms - he is an available male of appropriate age and social class, and she moves in for the kill.

All resolves nicely, as is appropriate for a comedy - although one must admit that the long-term prospects for a couple of the couplings do not look all that bright. ( )
2 vote PatrickMurtha | Aug 21, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (69 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tobias Smollettprimary authorall editionscalculated
Aitchison, SuzyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bickford-Smith, CaralieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bloom, HaroldAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, T.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ross, AngusEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Abergavenny, Aug. 4
Respected Sir,
I have received your esteemed favour of the 13th ultimo, whereby it appeareth, that you have perused those same Letters, the which were delivered unto you by my friend the Reverend Mr. Hugo Bhen; and I am pleased to find you think they may be printed with a good prospect of success; inasmuch as the objections you mention, I humbly conceive are such as may be redargued, if not entirely removed.
Before we had gone nine miles, my horse lost one of his shoes; so that I was obliged to stop at Barnet to have another, while the coach proceeded at an easy pace over the common. About a mile short of Hatfield, the postilions, stopping the carriage, gave notice to Clinker that there were two suspicious fellows a-horseback, at the end of a lane, who seemed waiting to attack the coach. Humphry forthwith apprised my uncle, declaring he would stand by him to the last drop of his blood; and unflinging his carbine, prepared for action. The ’squire had pistols in the pockets of the coach, and resolved to make use of them directly; but he was effectually prevented by his female companions, who flung themselves about his neck, and screamed in concert—At that instant, who should come up at a hand-gallop, but Martin, the highway-man, who, advancing to the coach, begged the ladies would compose themselves for a moment then, desiring Clinker to follow him to the charge, he pulled a pistol out of his bosom, and they rode up together to give battle to the rogues, who, having fired at a great distance, fled across the common.
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William Thackeray called it "the most laughable story that has ever been written since the goodly art of novel-writing began." As a group of travellers visit places in England and Scotland, they provide through satire and wit a vivid and detailed picture of the contemporary social andpolitical scene.

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Average: (3.63)
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