ePub The Adventures of Roderick Random ePub

by Tobias Smollett

Money Makes the World Go Round, and It Might Even Bring About Some Marriages

Oh, what ups and downs, what periods of joy, enthusiasm, high hopes, and then what vales of languishing interest, of gnarly monotony and wearying spirits! In case you may be wondering, I’m not yet talking of the life of Roderick Random himself, to which these oppositions may undoubtedly be applied as well, but of my reading experience of Tobias Smollett’s first novel, which nowadays goes by the title of The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748). There were nights when I would sit and devour chapter after chapter, especially after the eponymous hero has been pressed into navy service and suffers from the tyranny of a high-handed captain and an under-handed, obsequious surgeon, but then there were also nights when sleep was the more attractive option in comparison to reading about the perfections and the discretion of Narcissa and the hero’s going nuts about her.

All in all, though, I don’t regret reading this novel, which was probably one of the sub-texts Dickens had in mind when he sent Mr. Pickwick and his friends on a tour through contemporary England, because Smollett’s no-nonsense materialism is an apt counterpoise to the necessity he found himself under to pander to the sentimentalities and the sense of propriety of some of his readers. Thus, one can bear with the cardboard non-entity of Narcissa for all her blandness because, after all, Roderick is a young man that has his faults, plenty of them, as well as his more redeeming qualities and is therefore able to arouse our interest. The novel is basically about money and how important it is to secure it, and at one point in the novel Roderick is even willing to go dowry-hunting – without the first-person-narrator’s taking this as an opportunity to start moralizing and boring us to death – in order to make his fortune. Money is the root of all evil: It makes people plot against their own relations, resort to theft, embezzlement and fraud, it makes our hero degrade himself in many different ways, but – here Smollett remains realistic – it is also the basis of a life in security and comfort. Thus, whenever Roderick, who does not scruple in the least about living off the means of his rather simple-minded friend Hugh Strap, does somebody a good turn money-wise, he will make a point of mentioning this to the reader.

Roderick Random is at times very sordid in its realism, displaying his character’s obsession with material wealth and with sexual adventure, which may have helped the novel forfeit the good opinion of many a Victorian reader, and yet this is probably why it can be read as a social novel. Smollett’s criticism of the British navy and of the Literaturbetrieb, i.e. the scene of publishers and patrons, is visceral, and in the respective passages he manages to give haunting descriptions of human misery and desperation. Here Smollett heavily draws from his own personal experience. At other times (or rather, at the same time), he can also be very funny, as the following three examples may show:

”’There's a sneaking dog! I always thought him a fellow without a soul, d—n me, a canting scoundrel, who has crept into business by his hypocrisy, and kissing the a—e of every body.’ – ‘Ay, ay,’ says another, ‘one might see with half an eye that the rascal has no honesty in him, by his going so regularly to church.’” (Chapter VII)

”Thus equipped, I put on the gentleman of figure, and, attended by my honest friend, who was contented with the station of my valet, visited the Louvre, examined the gallery of Luxembourg, and appeared at Versailles, where I had the honour of seeing his Most Christian Majesty eat a considerable quantity of olives.” (Chapter XLIV)

Yes, even kings eat olives, probably with a view to maintaining the effects of their anointment.

”Baffled hitherto in my matrimonial schemes, I began to question my talents for the science of fortune-hunting, and to bend my thoughts towards some employment under the government.” (Chapter LI)

So anyone who is too clumsy but not too scrupulous to go fortune-hunting and prostitute themselves this way will end up in the government? Surely, this is jumping to conclusions. Some of these people will probably also go into Parliament.

Strange as it may sound, but it was exactly his lack of moral impeccability in unison with the spirit of generosity and his ability to feel for others that made Roderick dear to me as a reader even though I cringed at the narrator’s, and possibly the author’s, double moral standards, which exact chastity and virginity from a lady like Narcissa but at the same time allow her husband-in-spe to have a good time with many a buxom wench. Tobias Smollett was a man of his time in this and many other ways, e.g. he does not refrain from using the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jewish usurer and lecher to entertain the reader, and he also grasps many an opportunity to polemicise against homosexuals, and although this goes against the grain, it does not dominate the tone of the novel but is restricted to some few passages.

I must say that even though Roderick behaves with little intelligence and discretion in some situations, even though he callously exploits his somehow dumb companion Strap, whom he looks down on as his inferior, even though he has a rash temper and is rather inclined to filthy lucre, which, by the way, is not so filthy after all on a rainy day, I quite like this boisterous blockhead because he is human in all these follies and does not wholly forget the benefit of other people – and so, we might not actually want to identify with him, but still we cannot deny that there is some Rodericity in all of us.

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Book Title
Book Author
PublisherPenguin Group
Release date 01.05.1996
Pages count476
eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
File size2.4 Mb
Book rating3.48 (639 votes)
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