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Humphry Clinker Close Reading

I was not sure exactly what I wanted to write about this week , so I decided to do a close reading of a letter by Matt. The letter deals specifically on the subject of Baynard’s wife, and I think there are some things that can be said as to what his thoughts about her actually reveal about himself.

She was neither proud, insolent, nor capricious, nor given to scandal, nor addicted to gaming, nor inclined to gallantry. She could read, and write, and dance, and sing, and play upon the harpsichord, and smatter French, and take a hand at whist and ombre; but even these accomplishments she possessed by halves — She excelled in nothing. Her conversation was flat, her stile mean, and her expression embarrassed — In a word, her character was totally insipid. Her person was not disagreeable; but there was nothing graceful in her address, nor engaging in her manners; and she was so ill qualified to do the honours of the house, that when she sat at the head of the table, one was always looking for the mistress of the family in some other place…..

Baynard had flattered himself, that it would be no difficult matter to mould such a subject after his own fashion, and that she would chearfully enter into his views, which were wholly turned to domestic happiness. He proposed to reside always in the country, of which he was fond to a degree of enthusiasm; to cultivate his estate, which was very improvable; to enjoy the exercise of rural diversions; to maintain an intimacy of correspondence with some friends that were settled in his neighbourhood; to keep a comfortable house, without suffering his expence to exceed the limits of his income; and to find pleasure and employ merit for his wife in the management and avocations of her own family — This, however, was a visionary scheme, which he never was able to realize. His wife was as ignorant as a new-born babe of everything that related to the conduct of a family; and she had no idea of a country-life. Her understanding did not reach so far as to comprehend the first principles of discretion; and, indeed, if her capacity had been better than it was, her natural indolence would not have permitted her to abandon a certain routine, to which she had been habituated. She had not taste enough to relish any rational enjoyment; but her ruling passion was vanity, not that species which arises from self-conceit of superior accomplishments, but that which is of a bastard and idiot nature, excited by shew and ostentation, which implies not even the least consciousness of any personal merit.”

In this somewhat long passage (have a different source so didn’t want to just list the page number) Matt comes off as extremely judgmental and assuming, in addition to giving light to some of his own qualities. When he first starts to describe her, instead of using qualities or observations, he instead begins listing the things she is not. Such a position reflects both the negative and broodish nature of Matt, which almost feels as though he is projecting some of his own contempt on to her. Even in the case where he talks about her abilities, it is seemingly stated “matter-of-factly” and of course ending with the statement that she “excelled in nothing”. In his description of her, Matt comes to the conclusion that she is boring. Looking back on the things that do not comprise of her character, these could be seen as qualities Matt looks for in a women. Or, at the very least, someone Matt would find more enjoyment observing. Whatever the case, he surely does not feel as though she is structured for the type of life her and Baynard are a bout to embark on. I found the ending quote of the passage to be most revealing, when he states that “her ruling passion is vanity, not that which arises from self-conceit of superior accomplishments..”. The quote serves a a lens into the viewpoint of Matt, and how he seems to  view himself in the context of the people around him. In his mind, he is ok to be self conceited through the superiority of his own accomplishments. I think even Smollet means to further this notion through the sheer amount of time is spent in his letters over most of the other characters. In doing so, Smollet models him as the authority of the group, as well as the central character and voice throughout the novel.

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