Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Representing Scotland in Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker: Smollett's Development as a Novelist

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Representing Scotland in Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker: Smollett's Development as a Novelist

Article excerpt

It is a critical commonplace that Tobias Smollett's last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), marks a departure from his earlier novels. In The Later Career of Tobias Smollett, still the most careful attempt to account for the differences between the early and the late Smollett, Louis L. Martz argues that Smollett's work as editor, compiler, travel writer, and historian in the 1750s and '60s, that is between The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753), the last of his early novels, and Humphry Clinker, changed his creative outlook and accounts for the stylistic and intellectual advance represented by Smollett's last novel.(1) I agree with Martz's argument that Smollett's work in the 1750s and 1760s anticipates most of Smollett's formal choices in Humphry Clinker.(2) Martz, however, explains neither why they were chosen nor why they appear in this particular configuration in Humphry Clinker.

I want to make two points in this essay. First, I want to show that Smollett's development as a novelist is closely linked with his attempt in Humphry Clinker to represent Scotland as England's partner and ally rather than its enemy.(3) Such a representation of Scotland, designed to combat prevalent stereotypes, depends on one of the most important aspects of Smollett's development as a writer: his preoccupation with descriptions of specific localities in his later work. Humphry Clinker shifts the focus towards specific localities, towards characters' engagement with them, and away from the picaresque, away from a focus on character as the structural principle holding together a string of otherwise unrelated adventures. The latter is, of course, the focus of The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748), Smollett's first novel, in which a Scottish hero is charged with the defense of Scotland and Scots against anti-Scottish prejudice while living through countless adventures.(4) Second, I want to show that, although his description of Scotland, especially of Glasgow, acknowledges, even celebrates, the significance of commerce, Smollett's political and social views, firmly lodged in the anti-luxury camp and hence suspicious of commerce, did not undergo any substantial change in the course of his career.(5) This contradiction manifests itself, though it is not resolved there, in the withdrawal from the world of commerce into a pre-commercial world, into a literary convention, at the end of both Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker.

I

I began thinking about this essay when I noticed the similarity between a well-known passage in The Adventures of Roderick Random and a passage in John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In his treatment of the freedom of the will, Locke writes that "a Tennis-ball, whether in motion by the stroke of a Racket, or lying still at rest, is not by any one taken to be a free Agent."(6) The opening chapter of Smollett's The Adventures of Roderick Random recounts that shortly before Random's birth, his mother "dreamed, she was delivered of a tennis-ball, which the devil (who to her great surprize, acted the part of a midwife) struck so forcibly with a racket, that it disappeared in an instant."(7) Of course, Roderick Random is not a novelistic investigation of Locke's philosophical concerns; still, the similarity between these two passages points to a crucial aspect of Smollett's early fiction. The heroes of his early novels are at the mercy of external forces; they are at the mercy of plots that propel them at breakneck speed through innumerable adventures in many different locations. A typical chapter heading in The Adventures of Roderick Random reads:

   We lodge at a house near Amiens, where I am robbed by the capuchin, who
   escapes while I am asleep--I go to Noyons in search of him, but without
   success--I make my condition known to several people, but find no relief--I
   grow desperate--join a company of soldiers--inlist in the regiment of
   Picardy--we are ordered into Germany--I find the fatigues of the march
   almost intolerable--quarrel with my comrade in a dispute upon politicks--he
   challenges me to the field, wounds and disarms me. … 
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