Smollett, Tobias

Tagged: Author

(1721-1771) Scottish medical practitioner (he did not gain a degree), journalist, translator, poet and author whose reputation has always suffered – certainly among the more dignified critics – through the sometimes distorting savagery of his Satire, a saeva indignatio he shares with other eighteenth century authors like Jonathan Swift. His first significant work of fiction in this vein, The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748 2vols), has also been deprecated by later critics for its entirely deliberate (and only seeming) looseness of form: it is one of the first and perhaps the most scathing picaresques to be published in English, though its exaggerations from "realism" do not extend into the fantastic; as with his other novels, the topos of the Rake's Progress underlies the sometimes scatological figurations of his storylines. There are elements of supernatural horror in The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753 2vols), particularly the central nocturnal sequences [for Night Journey see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Of his many translations, his 1755 version of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605-1615) remains entirely readable.

Smollett is of Proto SF interest for The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769 2vols), in which his Satirical assaults on English life are transposed to a fantasticated Japan; the invisible narrator – an atom based on the theory ascribed to Democritus (circa 460-370 BC) that the universe is assembled from ultimate particles – recounts his/her/its life within eminent persons (see Great and Small), taking no prisoners in its descriptions of Japanese (ie English) luminaries and politicos. It was early thought by some critics, perhaps because of its entirely deliberate tastelessness, that Smollett did not write Atom; in his introduction to the 1989 scholarly edition [see Checklist below], Robert Adams Day persuasively argues for his authorship of the tale. [JC]

Tobias George Smollett

born Dalquhurn, Dunbartonshire, Scotland: circa 16 March 1721

died Il Giardino, near Leghorn [ie Livorno], Italy: 17 September 1771

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