Religious Attitudes in the World of Humphry Clinker

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If the social or political historian were to step across the corridor and ask his friend in the English Department what early novel might be especially rich in data for his study of eighteenth-century English life, his colleague might well end up naming Tobias Smollett’s Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771). Untroubled by plot (practically speaking, the novel has none), unconcerned with sentiment, and seemingly unaware of the art of fiction, Smollett cast his last novel into a series of letters reporting the adventures and observations of a Welsh family traveling through England and Scotland. Often the novel assumes the guise more of perceptive journalistic dispatches than of a piece of imaginative fiction. Smollett’s five letter-writers react vividly to the many elements of English and Scottish society to which they are exposed. Through their reactions, Smollett comments pungently on many of the salient characteristics of his own society, a society which he had carefully scrutinized during a long writing career.

 

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