Author Rating: A

The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (read 1981, reread 8/14/11) Recommended

I had originally read this as part of coursework I did in 18th Century English literature, but after reading in David McCullough’s biography of John Adams that Adams was a Smollett fan and had a copy of this book in his library, I thought I would revisit it. It has held up pretty well over 240 years.

Published in 1771 and the last of the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett, the story is presented in the form of letters written by six different characters — Matthew Bramble, a Welsh Squire; his sister Tabitha; their niece and nephew, Jery and Lydia Melford; Tabitha’s maid Winifred Jenkins; and Lydia’s suitor, Wilson — as they travel to and spend time in various spa towns and seaside resorts in England.

Much of what makes the book amusing is how differently each of the characters relate about the same events. It’s a wonderful view into life in England in the mid to late 18th century.