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ENL 6236: Restoration and
Eighteenth-Century Literature

Civility and the Public Sphere

Class 13

Reading Assignment:

Nov. 22: Public Places - Domestic Tourism
    Smollett's Humphry Clinker Vols. 1-2

    Recommended: O'Gorman's Chapter 11

    Report Topic: Public Spas (Bath, Bristol, etc.); domestic tourism -- Susan

    Bibliography -- Kathy

    Due: Post #12


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. It is particularly interesting in regard to the development of the public sphere because of its focus on people and travel throughout the United Kingdom. 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 two (of three) volumes and the treatment of specific themes related to our course. We also have two presentations, and so our time will elapse quickly. Please be prepared to address some of the following 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 in Smollett in distinguishing character?

The epistolary structure allows for the introduction of numerous episodes, descriptive passages, digressions, and the relation of topical information. How might this be ideal for the emerging novel form? In what ways does Smollett exploit the capacities of the form? Consequently, what does this particular novel have in common with other prose forms of the era, such as travel narratives, biographies, periodical essays, literary criticism?

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

2. Themes:

Consider the ways in which some of the following themes are introduced in the first two volumes 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 two volumes 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

    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 represetation of misanthropy in Humphry Clinker to that in Swift's writing. 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?

    4. Volume II

    These letters are written from London, Harrogate, Scarborough, Newcastle-on-the-Tyne, Northumberland, to Edinburgh, Scotland. What does this travel represent in the narrative?

    On writing novels: "but that branch of business is now engrossed by female authors, who publish merely for the propogation of virtue, with so much ease and spirit, and delicacy, and knowledge of the human heart, and all in the serene tranquillity of high life, that the reader is not only inchanted by their genius, but reformed by their morality" (121).

    What is Smollett's tone in this passage? How might this serve as a comment on his own practice as a male author of novels?

    What are Matt Bramble's ideals for marriage with respect to Lydia? How do they fit into the schema of marriage decisions in the era? (See p. 132).

    Is there a relationship between Matt Bramble's health and the affairs of hs family and friends? If so, what is Smollett's point?

    Why is Tabitha so anxious "to alter my resolution of living a single life"? What is the significance of her errors of judgment regarding potential suitors, such as Barton?

    How does Smollett's representation of the injustice in criminal law compare with Gay's depiction in The Beggar's Opera?

    Evaluate the contrasts between Dutton and Clinker as servants. What is the significance of Winifred's attraction to both?

    One of Tabitha Bramble's frequent sayings is "Charity begins at huom" (148). What does she mean by this? What does this suggest about her character? In what sense is Smollett being ironic when characters announce this?

    Taking one example of an episode in the novel, discuss the role of the Burdocks. In what sense are they an example of affected civility? How do they fail? (Cf. their behavior to the treatment the Bramble clan recieves in Scotland.)

    What is the effect of the many episodes of robbery and violence on the highways of Humphry Clinker?

    What is the effect of Smollett's wanton mixture of factual characters, fictional creation, self-reference and intertextual reference to his other fictions?

    What is the effect of having the same events related by multiple characters in separate letters? Offer an example that might illustrate the difference of class or gender.

    How do the travelers react to Scotland? How is it different from England? What role does civility play in Scottish society?

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