- The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Norton Critical Editionby Evan Gottlieb
In the last two decades, criticism on Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker(1771) has exploded. Evan Gottlieb’s new Norton Critical Edition of the novel, then, is an overdue update of James Thorson’s 1983 edition. The 2015 volume features new primary source material in “Backgrounds and Contexts,” including Smollett’s poem “The Tears of Scotland” and an excerpt from An Essay on the External Uses of Water. The poem, written in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion, and the medical tract (Smollett was trained as a physician) accentuate essential aspects of Smollett’s history and influences. Gottlieb also includes all new articles in his “Contemporary Criticism,” following to a tee the moniker “Contemporary.” Some longtime devotees of the 1983 edition might raise their eyebrows at the scholarly razing since the previous edition laid the groundwork for ongoing conversations about the text. Indeed, my favorite essay, John F. Sena’s “Ancient Designs and Modern Folly: Architecture in The Expedition of Humphry Clinker,” still seems necessary as no one in the current edition addresses Matt Bramble’s, the prickly protagonist’s, extensive treatment of Bath’s [End Page 133]modern architectural innovations (although Misty Anderson’s essay touches on “the tourist culture of Bath” [522–23]).
Gottlieb, though, includes many of the frequently-cited essays on the novel as well as a couple trenchant new pieces. Robert Mayer’s article on the ways in which Scotland rescues England from the corruption of modern practices (1992), Charlotte Sussman’s work on the novel’s anxieties of transculturation (1994), and Gottlieb’s own piece on sympathy and national identity (2005) seem as fresh as when they first appeared in print (or at least as fresh as when I first read them). More recent essays—including one by Misty Anderson, who discusses the ways in which Smollett moderates some of his earlier scathing indictments of Methodism, and another by Annika Mann, who uses the subfields of digital humanities and ecocriticism to read the novel—provide new directions in Smollett studies. Anderson’s work, in particular, covers what has been, surprisingly, under-discussed in criticism on the novel. While this epistolary novel features five letter-writers, none, of course, were written by the titular picaro; Anderson focuses our attention on the importance of Clinker’s “sociable enthusiasm” to smooth over class and economic divisions (532). All together, the 2015 version is, with the contextual materials and lightly redacted critical articles (in fact, only Anderson’s and Mann’s essays were condensed), more than one hundred pages longer than the first Norton edition.
Some of the essays could have been shorter. Readers of Smollett might not necessarily appreciate the historical or philosophical scaffolding for several of the essays. The Norton is a bit expensive and, if students can save money with a slimmer edition, then the paperback probably should be more compact, especially considering most students can access the critical articles for free through their university libraries. With more condensed essays, perhaps the edition could have included more primary works, such as Smollett’s Travels through France and Italy(1766). While both the travelogue and novel benefit from peripatetic structures and were written during a similar stage in the author’s life, one is notoriously gloomy about cross-cultural interactions, while the other sings—at least in the novel’s conclusion—the praises of traveling. The benefit of travelling, Jery, Matt Bramble’s Oxford-educated nephew, avers, “is that of dispelling those shameful clouds that darken the faculties of the mind” (335). Students and scholars would benefit, too, from comparing the Grand Tour ( Travels) with the journey around Britain and transatlantic crossings (as depicted in the novel).
The back of the book boasts “expanded annotations,” always a contentious issue in pedagogy. Editorial intrusion can spoil endings, constrain interpretations, or overload beginning students of eighteenth-century literature. Gottlieb, though, promises “just enough editorial commentary to elucidate” the characters’ unique vernaculars without...