Tobias Smollett Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Tobias Smollett combined his medical practice with an active and varied career as a man of letters. His earliest, though unsuccessful, effort was as a playwright with The Regicide: Or, James the First of Scotland, a Tragedy (pb. 1749), published by subscription a full ten years after fruitless attempts at having it staged in London. Two other disappointments followed with his inability to secure a production for Alceste (pb. 1748-1749), a combination of opera, tragedy, and masque, and with the rejection of his first comedy, The Absent Man (wr. 1751), which was never produced or published. Both of these works have now been lost. His only success on the stage came finally with The Reprisal: Or, The Tars of Old England (pr. 1757), a comedy; this farce was produced by David Garrick at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Smollett’s deep moral energy surfaced in two early verse satires, “Advice: A Satire” (1746) and its sequel, “Reproof: A Satire” (1747); these rather weak poems were printed together in 1748. Smollett’s poetry includes a number of odes and lyrics, but his best poem remains “The Tears of Scotland.” Written in 1746, it celebrates the unwavering independence of the Scots, who had been crushed by English troops at the Battle of Culloden.

As Smollett’s literary career grew, his hackwork for publishers increased with translations. His most popular work among these projects was A...

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Tobias Smollett Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Tobias Smollett cannot be said to have added dignity to the art of the novel in the manner of Henry Fielding’s imitation of the epic, nor can it be argued that he gave form to the genre as did Samuel Richardson, yet the eighteenth century novel cannot be discussed without giving full attention to Smollett’s stylistic virtuosity and satiric intent.

Smollett successfully challenged Richardson’s and Fielding’s substantial popular reputation by providing “familiar scenes in an uncommon and amusing point of view.” In The Adventures of Roderick Random (commonly known as Roderick Random), his first novel, he displayed a thorough understanding of the distinction between the novel and the romance, of which Samuel Johnson would speak in The Rambler essays (1750-1752). Borrowing from Latin comedy and Elizabethan drama, Smollett created caricatures of human beings with the dexterity of William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson. Though his characters lack the psychological depth of those of Richardson, they possess breathtaking energy and evocative power.

Only in the late twentieth century did Smollett’s role in the development of the English novel become fully appreciated. Criticism of that time emphasized the wrongheadedness of viewing Smollett’s satiric energy as a deviation from Fielding’s epic ambitions for the novel. Instead, Smollett is seen at the beginning of another tradition. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens both valued Smollett’s work; Dickens acknowledged his debt to Smollett’s picaresque realism and comic characterization in Pickwick Papers (1836-1837, serial; 1837, book). Among modern novelists, the savage comedy of writers as various as Evelyn Waugh and Joseph Heller is in Smollett’s tradition rather than that of Fielding or Richardson.

Smollett’s works continue to provoke critical inquiry. The Oxford English Novels series has published all five of his novels, and the University of Delaware has published its Bicentennial Edition of the Works of Tobias Smollett, with The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (commonly known as Humphry Clinker) appearing in 1979.

Tobias Smollett Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bold, Alan, ed. Smollett: Author of the First Distinction. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982. Contains four essays dealing with general issues and five concentrating on each of Smollett’s major novels. Includes index.

Bulckaen, Denise. A Dictionary of Characters in Tobias Smollett. Nancy, France: Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1993. A useful way of keeping track of the plethora of characters in Smollett’s fiction. Each character is identified; chapter and page number of the character’s first appearance are also cited. There is also an index of the main categories of characters.

Grant, Damian. Tobias Smollett: A Study in Style. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977. As the title suggests, Grant ignores questions of realism and moral purpose to concentrate on what he regards as Smollett’s three styles: comic, passionate, and, to a lesser extent, lyrical.

Knapp, Lewis Mansfield. Tobias Smollett: Doctor of Men and Manners. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1949. The standard life, sympathetic and detailed, but with little critical analysis of the works.

Lewis, Jeremy. Tobias Smollett. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003. This engrossing and appreciative look at Smollett’s life, written by acclaimed biographer Lewis, is the first new biography in over forty years.

Rousseau, G. S. Tobias Smollett: Essays of Two Decades. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. and T. Clark, 1982. Collects fifteen previously published essays and reviews on such topics as Smollett as letter writer and his role in various medical controversies of his day. Makes a good case for not regarding Smollett’s novels as picaresque.

Spector, Robert D. Smollett’s Women: A Study in an Eighteenth-Century Masculine Sensibility. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Organized differently from most books on Smollett, with chapters on society, personality, and literary tradition; heroines, fallen women, and women as victims; and the comic and the grotesque. Includes notes and bibliography.

Spector, Robert D. Tobias George Smollett. 1968. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. The first chapter of the book quickly surveys Smollett’s minor works. The rest of the book is a consideration of his novels. Contains an annotated bibliography of secondary criticism.

Wagoner, Mary. Tobias Smollett. New York: Garland, 1984. Provides an extensive list of editions of Smollett’s works as well as an annotated bibliography of secondary material. Arranged by subject (for example, “Biographies and Biographical Material” and “The Expedition of Humphry Clinker”) and therefore easy to use for locating criticism on a specific topic.