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Transitions in Humphry Clinker FREDERICK M. KEENER Addressing The Expedition of Humphry Clinker—particularly the scene in which Humphry, having pulled the supposedly drowning Matthew Bramble to shore, assists at his figurative rebirth—Northrop Frye comments, "no one will suspect Smollett of deliberate mythopoeia but only of following convention, at least as far as his plot is concerned." Bridling at the remark, Paul-Gabriel Bouce argues for recognition of a thematic and "moral architectural structure which underpins the entire novel," and elsewhere refers—introducing a metaphor still more appropriate than the one from architecture, I think—to the "protean technique" of this novel's repetitions.1 I shall examine some of these repetitions, or parallels, seeking to raise in re­ lief a quality that makes this novel quite exceptional in its time: the text's metaphoric, associative quality, a point commentators have often addressed but have certainly not exhausted or even, I think, ade­ quately specified.2 This quality makes Humphry Clinker an extraor­ dinarily poetic novel. I Smollett's character Matthew Bramble is the seedbed in which all the other important characters in the book sprout; or, to improve the metaphor, he is the stock upon which either they are growing when the book begins or they burgeon thereafter. In the book as it proceeds, his character engenders those of a good many others, progressively 149 150 / KEENER and, in Roman Jakobson's syntactic sense, metaphorically.3 The plant metaphor, with its implications of "organic" form, is itself in the novel and is developed there. The name Bramble, that of a prickly bush with fruit—the source of bramble jelly—is an emblem of Matt's mixed, self-contrastive charac­ ter, his oxymoronic amiable humorousness or misanthropic philan­ thropy. In Bramble's travels he will sail between the botanical Scylla and Charybdis represented by fruitless characters with names like Burdock (a weed with burrs) and Pimpernel (a kind of primrose, thornless). But it is not image clusters of so conventional a meta­ phorical sort that are my subject. Bramble's family, as the book opens, is revealed to be made up of several versions, or aspects, of himself. His nephew, Jery, is a younger version, combining Bramble's satirical, Jeremian eye with a Spectatorial lightheartedness Matt may once have had but has no more. Matt's young niece, Lydia, of romantic name, is quite the opposite— all heartfelt sensitivity yearning for, in both senses of the word, engagement; impressionable; entirely unsatirical—the representative of Bramble's more or less covert generosity, but like him also in being blocked, frustrated. Lydia is already in love with a mysterious stranger, possibly of low degree. But there are characters more significant than these, chiefly Matt's sister Tabitha, as choleric as he but stingy as he is generous. And metaphorically more important than Tabitha is her dog, Chowder, her darling and, as Ronald Paulson says, her "alter ego."4 Yapping, nip­ ping, underfoot, the troublesome Chowder bears a name suggesting not merely mongrel but also the farrago of the Juvenalian satirist, and is of a species recalling the sect of Cynics. (The text promotes such asso­ ciations: Jery at first thinks Bramble "a complete Cynic" [April 18]). Since Tabitha suggests cat, as in Tabby ("that wild-cat my sister Tabby" [April 17]), one wonders whether she and Chowder are made for each other. But Tabby has something—something possibly redemptive to a degree—which Chowder shares but which Matt seems to have spent in his youth: note Chowder's attentions to a "female turnspit, of his own species" (Jery, April 24). As the novel opens, Tabby redoubles Matt, representing, mostly, the harsh side of him, with only a hint of something that could im­ prove her. And Chowder, the distilled essence of that negative aspect of Matt, isolates his and her bitterness: the seemingly unadulterated essence of spleen. Like Matt, Chowder is subject to constipation and possibly dropsy (Matt, April 2, 20; Tabitha, April 2; Win, April 26) and is retentive—recalling Tabitha's avarice. Seemingly Chowder must Transitions in Humphry Clinker / 151 go, if Matt and Tabitha are to get or become better. Chowder must be vented, purged. What may as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 149-163
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-20
Open Access
No
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