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Teen Reader

  The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

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About the Author

  Tobias Smollett

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771)

Tobias George Smollett lived from 16 March 1721 to 17 September 1771. He was a Scottish author best known for picaresque novels like Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle.


Smollett was born at Dalquhurn, north of Dumbarton. His father was a wealthy judge and after his schooling, Smollett attended Glasgow University, where he qualified as a surgeon. Always more interested in writing than in medicine, Tobias Smollett went to London in 1739 to try to make a living writing plays. This proved unsuccessful and instead he took a commission as a naval surgeon on board HMS Chichester for a voyage to Jamaica. Here he stayed for several years, marrying a wealthy Jamaican heiress, Anne Lascelles before returning to London in 1747 to set up a medical practice in Downing Street.

Smollett's first published work was a poem about the Battle of Culloden called The Tears of Scotland. But he first rose to prominence as a writer with the publication in 1748 of The Strange and Surprising Adventures of Captain Roderick Random. This was a picaresque novel (a novel describing the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society) that was also a satire of other picaresque novels of the day.

In 1750, Smollett gained his MD degree at Aberdeen University. He also travelled to France, a journey that provided the inspiration for his second successful novel, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. This was the story of the fortunes and misfortunes of an egotistical dandy, which gave a comic and caustic portrayal of 18th century European society.

Smollett moved briefly to Bath, before returning to London in 1753 to publish The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom. By now Smollett was recognised as a leading member of London's literary community alongside the likes of David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne.

In 1755 Smollett published a translation of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, and in 1756 he became editor of The Critical Review. Between 1757 and 1765 Smollett wrote what he regarded as his major work, A Complete History of England, though during this period he also spent a short time in prison for libel, and published The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves.

Travels through France and Italy followed in 1766, and in 1769 he published The History and Adventures of an Atom, a view of English politics during the Seven Years' War masquerading as a story from ancient Japan. Smollett also visited Scotland, which provided some of the material for his last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, published in 1771, the year in which he died from an intestinal disorder while visiting Italy. (From


The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker was the last of the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett, published in London on 17 June 1771 (three months before Smollett's death), and is considered by many to be his best and funniest work. It is an epistolary novel, presented in the form of letters written by six characters: Matthew Bramble, a Welsh Squire; his sister Tabitha; their niece Lydia and nephew Jeremy Melford; Tabitha's maid Winifred Jenkins; and Lydia's suitor Wilson.

Much of the comedy arises from differences in the descriptions of the same events and places seen by the participants. Attributions of motives and descriptions of behavior show wild variation and reveal much about the character of the teller. The setting, amidst the high-society spa towns, inns, and seaside resorts of the 18th century, provides his characters with many opportunities for satirical observations on English and Scottish life, manners, and politics. (From Wikipedia)


Questions for The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

What other epistolary novels (novels written in letter form) have you read?  What is the effect of reading a story this way?

How did your opinion of events change when you read about the same event from another point of view?

How did your view of the characters change throughout the novel?

In your opinion, what was the strangest medical practice in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker?

Who do you view as the main character of the novel?  What are the reasons for your choice?


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