Written as the letters of the five members of Squire Bramble's household sent as they journey around Britain, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker is a grouchy, very funny examination of how one story varies depending on who's doing the telling.
The tale is centered around the arrival of Mr. Clinker into the otherwise uneventful household, who never speaks and does not even enter the novel until a third of the way through. In spite of this, the duels, imprisonments, failed romances and jealousies and an inconveniently overturned carriage, all recounted with Smollet's characteristically coarse and satirical verve, manage to make Mr. Clinker one of classical literature's best-loved characters. This was Tobias Smollett's last novel.
Published in 1771, the year of the author's death, it brought together all the qualities of Smollett's work - his renowned gravelly style, his knowledge of the travails of a doctor beset by hypochondriacs,(being a qualified surgeon and MD himself), his lengthy and varied travels and a recent stay at the fashionable and increasingly ridiculous spa at Bath - all combine to make a very funny read.
Public Domain (P)2008 Silksoundbooks Limited
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The Expedition of Humphry Clinker is another delightful 18th century romp, although it has little or nothing to do with Humphry Clinker, who turns out to be a minor character. The framework, as with other novels of the period, is a journey around the country by the squire Matthew Bramble, his sister Tabitha, his niece and nephew (Liddy and Jery), and Tabitha's maid Win Jenkins. Along the way they pick up Clinker, an honest and religious man, as a footman.
The story is told in the letters they write to their particular friends. And the joy of the audiobook - and it is a joy, first to last - is the excellence of the ensemble cast. Unfortunately, though the four people in the cast are named in the credits, there is no guide as to who reads which part. Squire Bramble - Hywel Simons? Ioen Meredith? - is an especially brilliant performance.
Plot? There's no plot. There's lots of movement, though, and a few surprises and coincidences; and plenty of conflict, and a happy ending. If you decide to try this one out, just sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy the wonderful trip and the engaging characters. As with any good journey, the real pleasure comes from the diversions and digressions.
And don't bother trying to remember the names of the people addressed by the letters. Liddy unfortunately writes to someone named Letty, which occasioned some confusion in the beginning. But the people written to never write back, so the only people you really need to keep straight are the six letter writers themselves - and Humphry Clinker.
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