Thomas Amory Critical Essays


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Thomas Amory 1691(?)-1788

English novelist

Amory is remembered for two highly idiosyncratic works: Memoirs: Containing the Lives of Several Ladies of Great Britain, and The Life of John Buncle, Esq. Although generally called novels, these works are quite different from the novel form as it is recognized today, and even departed from the novel form that was developing at the time of their appearance. Both works incorporate lively, informed discussion of philosophical, theological, scientific, mathematical, and religious thought within thinly developed, fanciful plots.

Biographical Information

Amory was a reclusive figure, and much of what has been taken as biographical information about him was inferred from his published works. Born in England to an Irish family, Amory lived for many years in Ireland. He may have attended the University of Dublin, but this is not certain. He returned to England as an adult and settled in London. He married and had one son, who occasionally published letters in newspapers and magazines to correct extravagant suppositions made in the press regarding Amory. He died in 1788.

Major Works

Memoirs: Containing the Lives of Several Ladies of Great Britain, published in two volumes in 1755, purports to be an account of the remarkable women whom the narrator—presumably Amory himself—met on his travels. Much of the book, however, is taken up with transcriptions of the "Ladies" discussing Unitarian theology. Is is assumed that Amory used this method to transmit his own religious principles. The Life of John Buncle, Esq. was also published in two volumes, the first in 1756, the second ten years later. The uncomplicated plot has the eponymous protagonist meeting and marrying a series of wealthy, beautiful, and scholarly Unitarian women in succession. The narrative is composed primarily of Buncle's descriptions of where and how he meets each woman, and of the long, intellectual talks that constitute their courtship. Amory drew widely, if sketchily, from such important thinkers of the period as John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Voltaire to create the sparkling, informed conversation of Buncle's wives, thus giving readers a selective, though necessarily superficial, overview of English Enlightenment thought.

Critical Reception

Amory's contemporaries were confused by and hostile to the author's published works. The Critical Review, for example, called The Life of John Buncle "nonsense" and found the book "insufferable." Amory's reputation enjoyed a brief resuscitation during the English Romantic period in the early nineteenth century. Prominent critics such as William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Charles Lamb, reflecting the preoccupations of English Romanticism, were intrigued by the book's descriptions of natural wonders. Hazlitt even called Amory "the English Rabelais" because of his ability to create larger-than-life figures who fuse a life of the mind and spirit with that of the body. With the waning of Romanticism, however, Amory's reputation declined. In the twentieth century his books are little regarded except as curiosities. He has been compared with Laurence Sterne, the author of another eccentric, rambling novel, Tristram Shandy. But while Sterne successfully fused the novel's digressions into an overall narrative scheme, critics agree that Amory's books are little more than thinly disguised treatises on his theological and philosophical avocations Most commentators, however, acknowledge the humor and enthusiasm with which Amory created his improbable plots and unlikely characters.