Some thoughts on Volume 1

So far in the novel I am really enjoying the linguistic qualities of the different characters. I am reminded of a writing seminar that I took last semester, which focused strongly on the rhetorical tropes, Ethos, Logos, and Pathos, and their application in writing. The question that we had to ask ourselves was how does the language that we employ situate us in a literary dialogue, when we are removed from the added context and communication of a face-to-face interaction.  I don’t know if it is a result of this being an epistolary novel or simply an effect of Smollett’s style as an author, but I found these tropes to come through strongly and diversely among the different authors of the letters; and that this, more than what their actions or what they had to say about themselves, served to build my opinions of them.   Jerry Melford for example seems to strive to establish his ethos, or literary credibility with references to his time at school and uses of both polite and sophisticated language, where his sister Lydia seems to rely more on pathos, eliciting an emotional response and asking for empathy and pity as regards her romantic preoccupation. Bramble on the other hand seems to be a sound and logical kind of man, and invokes a sense of logos in his letters by simply explaining his conclusions and opinions.


(I think this idea of literary tropes is also quite interesting in the context of the short introductory correspondence between the publisher and the supposed compiler of the book —- I think that there is more here too with the sort of meta-fictional reflection on the contemporary trend in epistolary literature which makes a conspicuous reference to Smollett himself, but I’ll come back to this later perhaps)


I would also like to look more closely on one letter in particular. The one written by Jerry Melford to Sir Watkin Phillips, dated April 18, from Hot-Well. I found this letter to be interesting for a number of reasons, only one of which being that it is the first letter to really get into the nitty-gritty of our proposed theme of waste and excretion. M. Bramble’s exchange with the mysterious Dr. L. about the beneficial qualities of human excretions, with a particular focus on stinks and smells is the first place in the novel to really deal with human waste. However this is not the part of this letter that I find to be most interesting.

Before Jerry even describes the strange conversation that he was witness to, he ventures a reassessment of his uncle’s character. He says “I think his peevishness arises partly from bodily pain, and partly from a natural excess of mental sensibility; for, I suppose, the mind as well as the body, is in some cases endued with a morbid excess of sensation.” (pp17)

            I feel that this line in particular relates to some of the discussions we have been having about the philosophy of aesthetics and little versus big T taste. We have analyzed the traditional distinction between the pleasure derived from physical sensation such as touch and taste, which is regarded as base, and the more abstract metaphysical pleasures such as sight and sound, which are privileged by out aesthetic philosophers.  The point of this differentiation rests on the separation of the bodily the mental. Here, Jerry is drawing an interesting connection between bodily and mental maladies and their effects. He seems to be saying that they philosophy, more than the actual bodily corruption of gout is what causes Mathew Bramble to be so disturbed/out-of-sorts. I find this to be an interesting condemnation of the commonly idealized mode of philosophizing.  I think his wording also situates mental and physical sensations as being in the same category and having similar effects on one’s overall attitude, which also contradicts many of the philosophies that we looked at earlier in the semester.


The fact that this conspicuous line is then followed by a graphic conversation about sensation, personal sensory preference, and physical effect of smells on people and cultures around the world, with a specific focus on waste makes me wonder how the circulation of these philosophies around the time of this novel might have directly solicited a literary response from Smollett in the form of this work.  (this reading could also be reinforced by the weird introduction in which Smollett situates himself as an author among his peers of the time, and the novel as part of the contemporary literary movement)


2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Volume 1

  1. Kira,
    I completely agree with your opinion on ethos, logos and pathos. When I was reading till about twenty pages in was I able to distinguish between characters only based of the styles of the writing! I was very intrigued by Lydia’s character, and maybe it was because of the fact that when it came to Lydia the messages were more personal and emotional.

    As for the quote you chose to write about it was very interesting how the body or mind is being compared to fecal matter. Can another meaning of this be maybe that sometimes are thoughts can be considered as garbage or sh*t? thats what this quote made me think of , your thoughts definitely made me start to think though!!

  2. I found this information very interesting. I hadn’t yet looked at the letters in this fashion and I have to agree that it took me a little into the reading before I could read each letter without first flipping to the end of the letter to discover who the author was. I agree that this letter you discuss above is probably the first direct mention of excrement, but I believe there is more going on in the ironic sense than I was able to fully grasp, just based on the meaning of Humphry Clinker’s name ( pg. 76) Humphry (meaning to go without a meal) and Clinker (being a slang term for excrement). I am interested to know what connection you made of the meanings of his two names and the connection to what was going on in the progression of letters and how it ties back to him?

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