Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reading Smollett

A couple of days ago I finished the book you see pictured here--Tobias Smollett's The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751). Smollett (1721-1771) was born and lived in Scotland, and I can't really remember why I started reading his books.

Tobias Smollett
Maybe because I'd just finished reading all of Thackeray? And I needed another Old Guy to read? (I'd already "done" Dickens and Trollope.) Probably. I've just gotten in the habit of having an Old Guy novel on my nightstand--and it's always the first book I read a bit of each night. (As I've written here before, I usually have a half-dozen or so books on my nightstand; I try to read a chapter or so in each one each night--don't always manage to do so, but I'm pretty good.) Some of the chapters were amazingly long. One of them ("Memoirs of a Lady of Quality," LXXXVIII) consumes over 100 pages, and there's another 40-pager near the end.

Pickle is 781 pages long. I began it on June 27, 2013, and finished on May 7, 2014--that's not exactly speed reading, I know, but Smollett hardly invites such an activity. His sentences are long--as are his paragraphs, many of which are a half-page long or longer (small print, too!). Fast reading causes me to miss things in such a book, so I don't try to do it.

a fairly typical page or two of Smollett

Pickle tells the story of its eponymous "hero," who's not really much of a hero--not at first. He's a spoiled young man with a temper who gets in trouble at school--and later on. He loves practical jokes (some border on cruelty), sex (ah, youth!), and spending money (which gets him in lots of trouble). He's also incredibly gullible and others cheat him out of his money, and he ends up broke and in the Fleet, where he finally learns a little humility and humanity.

Then ... a ship comes in (literally); some convenient people die (leaving him well set again); a long-ago lover returns. All's well that ends well, as someone once said.

Smollett has a sharp wit and eye. I like this little comment not far from the end when a woman he knows learns of his financial fall ...

Notwithstanding this interruption, she still retained a friendship and regard for his character, and felt all the affliction of a humane heart, at the news of his misfortunes and deplorable distemper. She had seen him courted and cultivated in the sunshine of his prosperity; but she knew, from sad experience, how all those insect-followers shrink away in the winter of distress. Her compassion represented him as a poor unhappy lunatic, destitute of all the necessaries of life, dragging about the ruins of human nature, and exhibiting the spectacle of blasted youth to the scorn and abhorrence of his fellow-creatures. Aching with these charitable considerations, she found means to learn in what part of the town he lodged and, laying aside all superfluous ceremony, went in a hackney-chair to his door ... (673).

I love that phrase "insect-followers"; some things never change.

Smollett didn't live very long and wrote other things beside novels. I've started reading his next novel--The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753) and then will have only The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) remaining. Then, I guess, I'll have to find another Old Guy to read.

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