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Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, ed. John P. Zomchick et George S. Rousseau

Athens GA, U of Georgia P, 2014, ISBN 978-0-8203-4525-3
Damian Grant
p. 324-326
Référence(s) :

Smollett, Tobias. — The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. Ed. John P. Zomchick & George S. Rousseau. Athens GA : U of Georgia P, 2014. 924 pp. ISBN 978-0-8203-4525-3.

Texte intégral

1Tobias Smollett’s second novel finally makes its appearance in the Georgia edition, the eleventh and final volume in the series and the last of the five novels. (Only the Travels are not be included). It has been a long haul. Co-editor John P. Zomchick looks back in the Textual Commentary over forty years of “wrestling with the complexities of this text,” and in the Acknowledgements ruefully records the deaths of four colleagues who died during the preparation of the volume, including O. M. Brack Jr., the founding father of the Smollett edition, and co-editor of no less than six of its eleven volumes. The result of this labour is a monument of 924 pages, which certainly “conforms to the highest standards of excellence in historical and textual scholarship,” as is claimed in the blurb.

2Not that all scholarly issues are simple. In contrast to James Clifford’s OUP text from 1964, the editors have decided to follow the first edition of 1751 rather than Smollett’s own “revised and corrected” edition of 1758, from which the author deleted some 20,000 words of rancour (against Fielding among others) and redundancy. The argument that this plunges us back into the white heat of the creative moment has to be set against the principle that respects a writer’s own final revisions ; and here, it must be said, the reading experience is hardly going to be improved. The text is then followed by 160 pages (in small print) of some fifteen hundred explanatory Notes, intended to clarify and enhance this experience ; many of them simply glosses (derived from the OED, Johnson, Partridge, and elsewhere) ; others on significant places, historical events ; the rules of card games, legal issues, plays, operas, and pleasure gardens. There is also a great number on people who are referred to, implied, or have for the editors a ghostly presence in the text ; especially – one could argue, perversely – in the interpolated Memoirs of a Lady of Quality (chapter 88 : 290 notes), and on the adventitious narrative of the Annersley inheritance case in chapter 106 (140 notes). It is these notes especially that have, it seems, exercised Smollett scholars for a generation ; and while one cannot fail to be impressed by such diligence, and share their frustration when “Mrs S–—” or “Mr C–—” resists identification, one cannot but recall Johnson’s words in The Rambler ; “surely human life is given us for wiser purposes than to gather what our ancestors have wisely cast away, and to learn what is of no value, but because it has been forgotten.”

3We then have the Textual Commentary (itself “dedicated,” we are told in a note, to “the memory of a former student and friend”) which takes us through the history of three editions of the novel, to 1765 ; a List of Emendations, and Word-Divisions ; a Historical Collation, running to 68 pages, Bibliographical descriptions of the first four editions, and an Index. It should also be mentioned that this edition includes no less than thirty-four illustrations, drawn from different sources : Fuseli’s four frontispieces from the fourth edition of 1769 (the last published in Smollett’s lifetime), illustrations made by Thomas Rowlandson and Richard Corbould in the eighteenth century, and then by George Cruickshank in the nineteenth. These themselves represent a valuable form of commentary, a creative interaction with another medium which contrasts instructively with what simply verbal supplement can provide.

4This edition cannot therefore be accused of having skimped on anything, in terms of time, effort and exhaustiveness. But one can nevertheless record some dissatisfaction at the level of critical engagement with the novel, in the Introduction. It might be said that this is unimportant, since the Georgia edition is nine parts scholarship and has never pretended to critical judgment. But the blurb does also promise a “substantial historical and critical introduction,” and here we are certainly sold short. The editors assure us in their Preface that they have “profited from all biographical and critical attention that scholars continue to direct to Smollett and his work,” but there is precious little evidence of this ; nor, surprisingly, is there even an informed bibliography of criticism of the novel, which – at the cost of a page or two – might have offered some compensation (back in 1965, James Clifford set a better example). In this context, the editors’ “general expression of gratitude” to the obliterated voices is inexcusable.

5Such criticism as is quoted is distinctly old-fashioned and unimaginative ; dare one say, a Smollett scholar’s criticism. The clumsy tumbrils of morality and structure are wheeled out yet again, and long-deceased non-arguments are exhibited in all their vacuousness. Smollett’s distinctiveness as a writer lies in his use of language, which can be, should be, and has been the focus of critical discussion ; but for these editors, it is as if the linguistic turn in criticism never happened. And even Hawser Trunnion fails to alert them to the relevance of the carnivalesque or to the fact that it was Trunnion’s wonderful, inventive idiolect (there are examples in all the novels) that appealed to and inspired Dickens. One should offer congratulations to the team of Georgia editors, nevertheless, for reaching the end of the road. For our own conclusion, we may say that Smollett has been very well served by his scholars ; but not by his critics – at least, not by those canonized in the American academy.

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Référence papier

Damian Grant, « Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, ed. John P. Zomchick et George S. Rousseau », XVII-XVIII, 71 | 2014, 324-326.

Référence électronique

Damian Grant, « Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, ed. John P. Zomchick et George S. Rousseau », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 71 | 2014, mis en ligne le 26 mai 2016, consulté le 09 décembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/1718/431

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Auteur

Damian Grant

Independent scholar and critic

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