Roderick Random goes from rags to riches in a series of unexpected events. He travels from Scotland to London, becomes a surgeon on board a war ship, takes part in the most violent battles of the 1740s, visits Bath and discovers the London underworlds. He is, thus, constantly in motion.
As he moves from a social level to another, he encounters more than a hundred other funny characters, odd caricatures which compose altogether a scathing satire of Smollett’s contemporary society.
Roderick Random is a provocative novel. It plays with the political, economic and moral ideas of the time, and portrays the abuse of institutional authority.
It overturns classical representations of the body, and explores the general instability of identities.
This book offers an interpretation of the novel in its eighteenth-century context, giving the necessary historical background information to help a twenty-first century reader. It also features a great number of close-readings, scanning the poetics of Smollett’s prose in which language is both a tool and a pleasurable end.
PART I. SOURCES, GENRES AND LITERARY TRADITIONS
I. ‘The following sheets I have modelled on this plan’: Prefaces, Narration and the Picaresque
Gil Blas and the eighteenth-century picaresque
Definitions and modes of satires
Healthy morals or sadistic pleasure?
III. Roderick Random, a novel?
Introduction: contemporary views of the eighteenth-century novel
A hotchpotch of literary genres
“A new species of writing ”: Smollett and Fielding
PART II. TEXT AND CONTEXT—REPRESENTING SOCIETY
I. Social Tableaux
Chaotic social exchanges: the art of conversation
Painting society: Smollett and Hogarth
Fumes of the underworlds: hearing, smelling and feeling society
II. Institutional Violence: The Navy
Press-gangs and political liberties
Institutions of the Empire
Prostitution: money, text and sex
PART III. TEXT AND CONTEXT—REPRESENTING THE BODY
I. Reading the Body: Appearances
Grotesque portraits: pushing the limits of humanity
Seeing through people’s bodies
II. Medicine and Surgery
Introduction: scottish surgeons
Pain and knowledge
The language of physics
1721-1748: Smollett’s Early Life in Context
List of Characters
Secondary Characters by Order of Appearance