18th Century

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.


The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (not yet read)

(Wikipedia) [This early novel is] a frame tale which Potocki wrote to entertain his wife. On account of its rich interlocking structure and telescoping story sequences, the novel has drawn comparisons to such celebrated works as the Decameron and the Arabian Nights.

The book’s title is explained in the foreword, which is narrated by an unnamed French officer who describes his fortuitous discovery of an intriguing Spanish manuscript during the sack of Zaragoza in 1809, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Soon after, the French officer is captured by the Spanish and stripped of his possessions; but a Spanish officer recognizes the manuscript’s importance, and during the French officer’s captivity the Spaniard translates it for him into French.

The manuscript has been written by a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden. In 1739, while en route to Madrid to serve with the Spanish Army, he is diverted into Spain’s rugged Sierra Morena region. There, over a period of sixty-six days, he encounters a varied group of characters, including Muslim princesses, Gypsies, outlaws and cabbalists, who tell him an intertwining series of bizarre, amusing and fantastic tales which he records in his diary.

The sixty-six stories cover a wide range of themes, subjects and styles, including gothic horror, picaresque adventures and comic, erotic and moral tales. The stories reflect Potocki’s interest in secret societies, the supernatural, and oriental cultures, and they are illustrated with his detailed observations of 18th-century European manners and customs, particularly those of upper-class Spanish society.

Many of the locations described in the tales are real places and regions which Potocki would have visited during his travels, while others are fictionalized accounts of actual places.

While there is still some dispute about the novel’s authorship, it is now generally accepted to have indeed been written by Potocki. He began writing it in the 1790s and completed it in 1814, a year before his death, though the novel’s structure is thought to have been fully mapped out by 1805.

UPDATE: Holy smokes, it’s a movie too! There are clips from it on Youtube

Author Rating: A

Moll Flanders (recorded book 3/08) Recommended

I had read Moll Flanders back in the early ’80s. Virginia Leishman does an excellent job reading this wonderful novel for Recorded Books.

Robinson Crusoe (recorded book 3/21/09) Recommended

I somehow missed reading Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is a wonderful writer. Ron Keith does an excellent job reading it for Recorded Books.