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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 22

Nov 14: Tobias Smollet, Humphry Clinker (separate edition)

    Post #11 Due - Group A

    Class Objectives:

  • To discuss the epistolary novel as a form
  • To analyze themes introduced in the first Volume of HC
  • To begin to understand the journey motif in the novel

    This week we begin our discussion of Smollett's novel Humphry Clinker, a comic novel in the epistolary style. First published in 1771, the story engages issues of currency in the late eighteenth-century, including domestic travel, crime, health, courtship, economic and political issues. Dozens of characters populate the narrative, although only five or six are given prominence. Be sure to examine the map of the United Kingdom that traces the travels of the group as you read through the narrative. Also, pay particular attention to the illustrations and the commentary they provide on the narrative.

    For our first class on the novel, we will be discussing the development of the narrative in the first of three volumes. Please be prepared to address some of the following questions.

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:


    Humphry Clinker and the Epistolary Form

    The novel is epistolary -- or told in letters -- which happened to be one of the most popular narrative forms in the eighteenth century. Examine the narrative structure as a series of letters. Who are the letter writers? What is the occasion for letter writing? Who are the receivers of the letters? What do the letters reveal about the writers?

    How does the narrative get told in the series of letters? What is the benefit of reading the letters of four or five writers as opposed to one?

    Compare and contrast the style of writing of the various writers. In particular, compare the letters of Tabitha Bramble, Lydia Melford and Winifred Jenkins with the majority of letters written by Matt Bramble and Jery Melford. What role does gender play in the epistolary construction of character? How successful is Smollett in distinguishing character?

    The epistolary structure allows for the introduction of numerous episodes, descriptive passages, digressions, and the relation of topical information. Why might this be appropriate for a novel? Why might it be inappropriate?

    2. Themes:

    Consider the ways in which some of the following themes are introduced in the first volume of the novel:

  • Disorder threatens well being.
  • A proper degree of sensitivity promotes order and well being.
  • Charity begins at home.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Consider the ways in which some of the following subjects are introduced and represented in the first volume of the novel:

  • Money -- home economy, charity, marriage and family
  • Love and sexual responsibility (compare the females' behavior with the males')
  • Travel -- lodgings, "characters" or "originals", society, buildings, environments
  • Sickness and medicine -- relationship between health and spirit
  • City versus country living

    3. Volume I

    As you read, consider yourself as an "armchair traveler." What do you learn from the narrative?

    These letters are written on the road from Gloucester, Bristol (Hot Wells), Bath and London. What do we learn about these locations? What is the significance of this travel in the narrative?

    Narrative opens with Lydia's problem. What is her problem and why are her male guardians writing about it?

    Each of the travelers is on a journey for which they have an ostensible object. Along the way, each traveler realizes an unexpected goal. Keep these in mind for each character.

    What is Lydia's ostensible goal for her journey? Matt's? Tabitha's? Jery's?

    "My misanthropy increases every day" (Matt Bramble to Dr. Lewis, April 28, p. 44). Compare the representation of misanthropy in Matt Bramble with the attitudes of the other characters. What prompts Matt's hatred? What seems to ameliorate it?

    The eponymous hero does not enter the book until p. 75 and then without great appearance. Who is Humphry Clinker? How do the people treat him?

    Matt Bramble says of Humphry: "You stand convicted of sickness, hunger, wretchedness, and want" (76). How does his action compare with those of Tabitha and the Landlord? What is the significance?

    How does Humphry Clinker gain a place in Matt Bramble's family?

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