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July 12th, 2005

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05:08 pm - mobs, masses, multitudes and the Bramble-Jery dynamic
Bramble and Jery differ sharply in their responses to and attitudes toward the masses and multitudes they encounter. A few passages and then some comments and questions:

Bramble in Bath:

"the mob is a monster I never could abide, either in its head, tail, midriff, or members; I detest the whole of it, as a mass of ignorance, presumption, malice, and brutality; and, in this term of reprobation, I include, without respect of rank, station, or quality, all those of both sexes, who affect its manners, and court its society." (p. 66 [Penguin Classics edition])

In London:

"the capital is become an overgrown monster; which, like a dropsical head, will in time leave the body and extremities without nourishment and support." (118)

"In short, there is no distinction of subordination left--The different departments of life are jumbled together--The hod-carrier, the low mechanic, the tapster, the publican, the shopkeeper, the pettifogger, the ditizen, and courtier, all tread upon the kibes of one another: actuated by the demons of profligacy and licentiousness, they are seen every where rambling, riding, rolling, rushing, justling, mixing, bouncing, cracking, and crashing in one vile ferment of stupidity and corruption--All is tumult and hurry; one would imagine they were impelled by some disorder of the brain, that will not suffer them to be at rest." (119)

For Jery, on the other hand, there's a sense of satisfaction in seeing human life, nature, and character as it really is:

"a man has daily opportunities of seeing the most remarkable characters of the community. He sees them in their natural attitudes and true colours; descended from their pedestals, and divested of their formal draperies, undisguised by art and affectation--Here we have ministers of state, judges, generals, bishops, projectors, philosophers, wits, poets, players, chemists, fiddlers, and buffoons. If he makes any considerable stay in the place, he is sure of meeting with some particular friend, whom he did not expect to see; and to me there is nothing more agreeable than such casual rencounters--Another entertainment, peculiar to Bath, arises from the general mixture of all degrees assembled in our public rooms, without distinction of rank or fortune. This is what my uncle reprobates, as a monstrous jumble of hetergeneous principles; a vile mob of noise and impertinence, without decency or subordination. But this chaos is to me a source of infinite amusement." (78)

This is perhaps the greatest distinction between the worldviews of Bramble and Jery. With whom does Smollett expect us to sympathize? (These are the two characters, after all, whose letters dominate the bulk of the book, especially after the beginning, after which the women--at least through their own words--largely disappear.) My sense is that we are supposed to share Jery's sense that the variety of incident and character to be found in Bath (and every place they visit on their tour) is to be appreciated and valued, yet I think in some sense we're also expected to ultimately share Bramble's distrust of the "monster,"-- the mob and the multitude--perhaps not in as bitter and averse a way as Bramble (we ought to have some of Jery's receptiveness and flexibility), but clearly he (Bramble) is presented, on the whole, as a sympathetic figure whose wisdom and experience we ought to largely trust and take seriously. Jery's role in Humphry Clinker is, in some sense, to apologize to us for Bramble's shortcomings and blindspots but ultimately to persuade us to sympathize with him and take him seriously. That is, I think we're supposed to agree with Bramble that distinction and subordination are crucial to the proper functioning of society, even as Jery is to teach us to appreciate and find pleasure in, to some degree, the variety of "originals" to be found in the world.

How neatly do you think Smollett reconciles these two positions? Where do his sympathies lie? How do you read the Bramble-Jery dynamic? How does the gradual disappearance of the women's voices from the novel play into and effect this? (This builds, then, on the earlier post about the role of women in HC . . . ) What do you make of the representation of masses, mobs, and multitudes in this novel? How do you read its class politics? . . .

(1 comment | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 18th, 2005 01:41 am (UTC)

class politics in Humphrey Clinker

I think S ollet appeals to a higher-class society, the bourgeois society. Of course, all of us who have read this novel know this, but at the same time, he appeals to the growing middle class, which is becoming more prevalent. I think Bramble makes it obvious when he speaks of doing things in moderation. Perhaps I am being too general, after all it has been a year since I have read Smollet's novel. The discussion of women is interesting. I would like to hear someone else's opinion about the role of women because mine is limited, even though this novel is one of the many novels in my area of study in graduate school.

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