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'Smelfungus Smollett' and Reception Theory

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Elinor Shaffer FBA.

Joint meeting of the Reading & Reception Studies Seminar and the Eighteenth Century & Romantic Studies Seminar

During the eighteenth century Scottish-born Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), novelist, journalist, social commentator and physician, was considered a canonical writer together with Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne and Jane Austen. Sir Walter Scott judged Smollett’s comic novels superior to Fielding’s for their mirth (although Scottish nationalism probably played a part in this estimate), and Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Henry James later praised his craft of fiction for its modes of narrative experimentalism. But Smollett’s critical fortunes declined in the twentieth century, in part for his representations of duplicity and vice in our century, whose more recent varieties of barbarism and violence doubtlessly matched his own century’s. This discussion maps Smollett’s rise and fall, and considers the widening rift between his quasi-canonical status within academia and in the public domain where he has dropped out altogether, and then moves on to speculate if, and in what critical ways, it is possible that he speaks at all to us today.

George Rousseau has written about a variety of eighteenth-century prose forms, in literature especially the works of Smollett, Fielding, Goldsmith, Sterne and the novelists of sense and sensibility. His Tobias Smollett: Essays of Two Decades (Edinburgh) appeared in 1982, and Oxford University Press published his and the late P. G. Boucé’s Tobias Smollett: Bicentennial Essays in 1971. His forthcoming biography of Sir John Hill, one of Smollett’s principal antagonists, appears next year. Other books include a trilogy entitled Pre- and Post-Modern Discourses: medical, scientific, anthropological (1991); (with Roy Porter) Gout: The Patrician Malady (1998); Framing and Imagining Disease in Cultural History (2003); Nervous Acts: Essays on Literature, Culture and Sensibility (2004), Marguerite Yourcenar (2004), and Children and Sexuality: The Greeks to the Great War (2007). He is based at the University of Oxford where he the Co-Director of the Centre for the History of Childhood.

The Reading and Reception Studies Seminar meets regularly in Cambridge and at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and is convened by Dr Elinor Shaffer FBA .

The 18th Century and Romantic Studies Seminar is convened by Dr Fred Parker and Dr Mina Gorji.

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