Introduced by John Sutherland
Illustrated by Derrick Harris
A new Folio edition of Tobias Smollett’s final masterpiece, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, a hilarious road-trip through Georgian Britain, dynamically illustrated by Derrick Harris and with an introduction by John Sutherland.
‘ A brilliant anatomy of British follies.’
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker is one of the great comic novels of the 18th century, the outstanding masterpiece of Tobias Smollett (1721–71), a prolific journalist, historian, editor and translator, whose ground-breaking fictional creations helped shape the modern novel.
Written in Italy during Smollett’s last illness, and published just months before his death from overwork, Humphry Clinker gives a riotous account of the misadventures of an eccentric ‘assemblage of originals’ as they embark on a misguided sightseeing tour of England and Scotland: former libertine Matthew Bramble, now a misanthropic hypochondriac; his sister, Tabitha, a shrewish old maid on the prowl for eligible bachelors; his nephew, Jery, a high-spirited Oxford graduate; his love-sick teenage niece, Lydia; and their simple-minded maid, Winifred Jenkins. When they are joined en route by Captain Obadiah Lismahago, an irascible Scot who has survived scalping at the hands of American Indians, and the titular hero, Humphry Clinker, an accident-prone stable-worker with a hidden talent for preaching, the stage is set for a bizarre period version of the disastrous family holiday.
Told entirely through the gossipy letters that Smollett’s characters write along the way, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker conjures up in vivid detail the sights, sounds – and smells – of the Georgian era, blending satirical portraits of recognisable historical figures and biting social commentary with hilarious fictions. Encounters with stool-obsessed physicians and reluctant highwaymen, hen-pecked husbands and practical-joking country squires, long-lost relatives and lovers-in-disguise sit alongside surprisingly modern concerns about battery hens, artificial white bread, and the question of Scottish independence. The result is a unique blend of the scatological, the poignant, the lyrical and the laugh-out-loud, and remains as fresh and entertaining today as when it first appeared nearly 250 years ago.
‘Humphry Clinker is certainly Smollett’s best.’
Smollett’s text is perfectly matched by Derrick Harris’s dynamic woodcuts that evoke 19th-century popular prints and add a witty, modern edge. The binding features the paper jacket design from The Folio Society 1955 edition, while the patterned slipcase reproduces the original fifties binding. This new and updated edition also includes an informative introduction by John Sutherland celebrating Smollett’s distinctive talent, and a map that allows us to trace the route of this extraordinary fictional ‘expedition’.
Tobias Smollett was a poet, satirical novelist, and historian born in 1721. After attending the University of Glasgow and working as an apprentice surgeon, he left for London to pursue his literary ambitions. However, financial difficulties led him to take the post of surgeon’s mate aboard the H.M.S. Chichester, providing him with material for his novels The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751). Throughout much of his life Smollett was attacked by critics for his vicious characters and indecent language, although these aspects of his work—along with vivid depictions of naval life and personal attacks on prominent contemporary figures—were much enjoyed by the British public. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, believed by many to be his finest work, was first published in 1771. He died in Italy in the same year.
John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College, London, and has taught in universities worldwide. Author of over twenty books, his interest lies in the areas of Victorian fiction, the history of publishing and twentieth-century fiction. His latest books are: Love, Sex, Death and Words: Tales from a Year in Literature (2010), written with Stephen Fender; Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 465 Lives (2011); and A Little History of Literature (2013). He was chairman of the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and regularly writes for the Guardian.
Derrick Harris (1919–60) studied wood engraving at the Central School of Art, London, under John Farleigh from 1943 to 1946. Despite his tragically short life, he left a rich and joyful body of work including illustrations for The Folio Society, Penguin Books, The Golden Cockerel Press, BBC; the Radio Times, the Listener magazine, BBC Schools publications, Festival of Britain and Air India. He also taught at Kingston, Reigate and Hornsey Schools of Art. His work beautifully illustrates the optimism of post-war Britain and can be seen as the missing link between Eric Ravilious in one generation and David Gentleman two generations later.
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