Immensely popular with its first readers, Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities remains a minor classic of British fiction, although overshadowed by the early work of Robert Smith Surtees’ more famous contemporary, Charles Dickens. Many critics have noted the similarities between Surtees’ sporting novel and Dickens’s first masterpiece, Pickwick Papers (1836-1837). Unfortunately for Surtees, his younger contemporary went on to become the most celebrated novelist of his day, moving beyond the picaresque tradition that informs these two early works and taking with him a reading public that could not get enough of Dickens’s blend of social realism and Victorian sentimentalism. Although he continued to write for several decades after Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities appeared in 1838, Surtees never again achieved the popular following he enjoyed for this delightful look at the adventures of a goodhearted grocer whose penchant for sport leads him across Britain and to the Continent in search of adventure.
Much of the strength, and many of the weaknesses, associated with Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities can be traced to the form of its initial publication in New Sporting magazine. Forced to relate his tale in a series of vignettes that could stand alone for readers of the periodical, Surtees sometimes sacrifices unity of plotting for the sense of completeness in individual scenes. When the individual stories are read as parts of a single novel, readers find themselves wondering at times about the causal relationships between parts; the sense of the well-plotted novel, central to later works of the nineteenth century (for example, the complexities of publications by Dickens or Thomas Hardy) is noticeably absent. Instead, Surtees is forced to rely on readers’ engagement with Jorrocks as the bait that will lure them from one chapter to the next. Fortunately for the author, his sporting hero does have many endearing qualities, and succeeding generations found his adventures humorous and engaging, thus ensuring a continued readership for the work.
The initial publication as a serial work also leads Surtees to repeat incidents, if not verbatim, then certainly by type. Because of the time...
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