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Mythes et mémoires

"An overgrown monster": London in Some Eighteenth-Century Writings

Hélène Dachez
p. 285-294


Au XVIIIème siècle, grâce au développement démographique, à celui du commerce et à l’émergence de la classe moyenne, Londres devint le centre incontesté de la vie intellectuelle, sociale et économique de l’Angleterre, où se déroule une partie au moins de la très grande majorité des romans de l’époque (tels ceux de Henry Fielding). Pour la plupart des auteurs, et notamment pour Tobias Smollett et pour Laurence Sterne, cette expansion sans précédent transforme la capitale en monstre (Daniel Defoe, lui, la représente à la fois comme un monstre et comme un prodige). Londres, lieu malléable par excellence, où alternent circulation déréglée et menace de stase, devient le lieu de tous les excès, et les auteurs mettent en avant un processus de contamination réciproque entre les êtres répréhensibles qui y pullulent et la capitale parasite, corrompue et corruptrice.
Il faut alors souligner et analyser le traitement particulièrement original que propose Samuel Richardson (qui partage avec Samuel Johnson un amour immense pour la capitale), dans Clarissa, où Londres joue un rôle primordial dans le destin des personnages et dans l’économie du roman.

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  • 1 Letter 5 of Defoe’s Tour is devoted to "The City of London" (Defoe 1971, 286-336).

1In 1753 the British Parliament rejected a proposal of census, designed to assess the number of British people, for three main reasons. For one thing, the refusal may be put down to patriotic grounds, since stating a precise number of inhabitants "would reveal England’s weakness to its enemies" (Parreaux 29) for, unlike that of London, the population of Britain as a whole had decreased over the last few decades. The second reason was religious: the census "would bring divine wrath for prying into the secrets of heavenly origin" (Parreaux 29), and the third was political; "it would be a menace to individual liberty" (Parreaux 29). The first census was thus carried out only in 1801. Even though no precise figure of the British population was made available before the very beginning of the nineteenth century, there can be no doubt that the space occupied by the English capital as well as the number of its inhabitants dramatically increased throughout the eighteenth century—a change Defoe notices as early as 1724-26 in his Tour through the Whole Island of Great-Britain1The author explains the geographical expansion of the capital—due to the erection of an unprecedented number of new buildings—on two grounds. "This account of new buildings is to be understood", he says, "1. Of houses re-built after the great fires in London and Southwark, &c [in 1666] / [and] 2. [because of| New foundations, on ground where never any buildings were erected before" (Defoe 1971, 296).

2To be more precise, in the eighteenth century, there were two major building waves. The first was the outcome of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713—which sealed the end of the war waged by England on France and Spain—and developed in the 1730s to such a degree that Defoe, speaking of "the two great parishes of St Giles’s and St Martin’s in the Fields" writes that "the increase of the buildings here, is really a kind of prodigy" (Defoe 1971, 300). The second wave began after the Treaty of Paris in 1763—at the end of the Seven Years’ War. That very short second period during which huge and unheard-of changes took place in London is directly echoed by Smollett through the character of Matthew Bramble, who on his tour of the British island is hardly able to recognize the English metropolis:

London is literally new to me; new in its streets, houses, and even in its situation; [it seems that]... "London is gone out of town". What I left open fields, producing hay and corn, I now find covered with streets, and squares, and palaces, and churches. I am credibly informed, that in the space of seven years, eleven thousand new houses have been built in one quarter of Westminster, exclusive of what is daily added to the other parts of the metropolis. (Smollett 1998, 86)

  • 2 See Chapter 7 "A competent share of banknotes" (99-119) in Donald Bruce’s Radical Doctor Smollett.
  • 3 It should be added that in the eighteenth century, merchants were able to enjoy unprecedented recog (...)

3From 1688 onwards, the rise of the commercial class, the development of trade and the greater number of merchants living in London favoured its growth too.2 Great quantities of goods and huge numbers of people circulated in and through the capital, so that, as the major point of arrival and departure in the country, London was endowed with the function of a hub, which Defoe underscores:3

  • 4 The idea of London as a centre is an eighteenth-century topos. Number 4 of The Review (18 Feb. 1706 (...)

from London, the goods go chiefly to the great towns, and from those again to the smaller markets, and from those to the meanest villages, so that all the manufactures of England, and most of them also of foreign countries, arc to be found in the meanest village, and in the remotest corner of the whole island of Britain.... The magnitude of the city of London adds very considerably to the inland trade; for as this city is the centre of our trade, so all the manufactures are brought hither, and from hence circulating again to all the country, as they are particularly called for. But that is not all; the magnitude of the city influences the whole nation also in the article of provision, and something is raised in every county in England, however remote, for the supply of London; nay all the best of every produce is brought hither; so that all the people, and all the lands of England, seem to be at work for, or employed by, or on account of, this overgrown city, (Defoe 1997, 228)4

4The function of hub was duplicated by one of magnet within the city, whose places of sociability and culture, particularly appreciated by Samuel Johnson, gained more and more prominence as trade kept increasing:

from the late seventeenth century... [the] centre of gravity was conspicuously migrating away from Court into metropolitan spaces at large—into coffee-houses, taverns, learned societies, salons, assembly rooms, debating clubs, theatres, galleries and concert rooms, formerly the minions of monarchy, the arts and letters were to become the consorts of commerce and citizenry. (Porter 34)

  • 5 Tom Jones goes to London (Fielding 1985, 609), is followed there by Mrs Western (750), by Blifil an (...)

5It is then no wonder that the authors of fiction of the time chose to have—if not all—at least part of their plots take place in such a central place. Although Defoe’s Tour is no work of fiction, the author begins his fifth letter (entirely devoted to the description of the English capital) in telling terms: "SIR, —As I am now near the centre of this work, so I am to describe the great center of England, the city of London, and parts adjacent" (Defoe 1971, 286). André Parreaux underlines this central part played by the capital, when he writes that "in none of Smollett’s novels is the scene continuously in London. But in all, although the main characters usually come from the country, a number of incidents takes place in London" (Parreaux 13). In Humphry Clinker the travellers spend three weeks in London—from 24 May to 14 June—out of the seven and a half months they spend on their journey. Ferdinand Count Fathom commits some of his most reprehensible crimes and offences in the capital, and Roderick Random and his friend Strap know no end of setbacks there too. In the same manner, Henry Fielding chooses London as the scene of the last six books of Tom Jones, where all the main characters, by an authorial sleight of hand, meet and where Tom becomes reconciled with Sophia at last; and the episode taking place at Vauxhall in Amelia gives life to Fielding’s last novel.5

  • 6 Menenius tells the citizens that the fable of the belly is "A pretty tale" and adds "It may be you (...)

6Besides, if Defoe admires London as a "prodigy" (Defoe 1971, 300) and calls the new buildings "prodigious enlargements to the city" (Defoe 1971, 298), he is also struck by the ever-growing and seemingly unstoppable process, to such a point that the "prodigy" easily and counterproductively turns into a "monster": "whither will this monstrous city then extend?" he asks, after explaining that "we see several villages, formerly standing, as it were in the country, and at a great distance, now joined to the streets by continued buildings, and more making haste to meet in the like manner" (Defoe 1971, 287-88). Matthew Bramble’s teratological metaphor, according to which "the capital is become an overgrown monster; which like a dropsical head, will in time leave the body and extremities without nourishment or support" (Smollett 1998, 87) offers a synthesis of the fears most eighteenth-century writers—with the remarkable exceptions of Samuel Johnson and Samuel Richardson as shall be seen—experienced, especially if they were Tories and fearful of change. The metaphor of London and/or the state as a degenerate and parasitical body was by no means new or original. It had appeared in many different forms as is illustrated, for instance, by Menenius’s fable of the belly in Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Coriolanus—itself an already over-familiar commonplace, Menenius acknowledges.6

  • 7 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. 1993, article "monster".

7Through its geographical and human expansion, the capital was considered to be a paradoxical place that gave rise to feelings of fascination and fear or repulsion. Such ambiguity is to be found in the various meanings of "monster", that is 1. "an animal, plant, or other thing, which deviated markedly from the normal type; spec. a congenitally malformed animal"; 2. "an imaginary creature, usu. large and of frightening appearance, and made up of incongruous elements" and 3. "a person of inhuman and horrible cruelty or wickedness".7

  • 8 According to her brother Jery, Lydia is "quite ignorant of the world" (Smollett 1998, 8), and Bramb (...)

8The presence of shows and places of entertainment, which Smollett evokes from several points of view in Humphry Clinker—for the scenes taking place at Ranelagh and Vauxhall are filtered through the eyes both of the grumpily oversensitive Bramble and of Lydia, his niece who is as innocent as easily moved to admiration—reveals the ambiguous influence the city exerts on its visitors and illustrates the etymology of the "monster", a creature first and foremost meant to be shown and seen, as the Latin term monstrare (to show) suggests.8 Whereas Lydia expresses a genuine admiration for the monuments, the crowds of people and the places of diversion, among which is Ranelagh which, according to her, "looks like the enchanted palace of a genie" (Smollett 1998, 92), Bramble on the contrary highlights the lack of unity of Vauxhall’s various and heterogeneous elements, thereby underlining that fragmentation is one of the major characteristics of the monstrous city: "it is a composition of baubles... without any unity of design, or propriety of disposition. It is an unnatural assembly of objects, fantastically illuminated in broken masses" (Smollett 1998, 89). The lack of unity that microcosmically defines the pleasure garden is also to be found at a macrocosmic level, for Bramble sees London as a whole as a "chaos... mishapen and monstrous... without head or tail, member or proportion" (Smollett 1998, 90). Even language and meaning are fragmented in the English capital, if we are to believe Jery’s account of the evening spent at S—’s (i.e., Smollett himself), where the host entertains and feeds petty or unlucky authors once a week. The young man is struck both by the attractive power of the place and by the absence of unity among the guests. They make "an assembly of Grubs... [an] assemblage of originals" about which Jery writes that "not only their talents, but also their nations and dialects were so various, that our conversation resembled the confusion of tongues at Babel. We had the Irish brogue, the Scotch accent, and foreign idiom, twanged off by the most discordant vociferation; for, as they all spoke together, no man had any chance to be heard, unless he could bawl louder than his fellows (Smollett 1998, 126).

  • 9 Paul-Gabriel Boucé appositely remarks that "l’air, l’eau, le soleil, trinité vitale des éléments, s (...)

9Lack of unity, fragmentation and hybridity, which turn the personified city into an unnatural body, combine with the notions of perversion and degeneracy, so much so that the six "non-naturals"—that is the air we breathe, food and drink, stasis and movement, sleep, retention and excretion, and the passions—are jeopardized and/or become dangerous for the human body. Bramble, one of the staunchest critics of the English capital, voices an almost endless list of complaints: noises keep him awake, and he cannot get used to the meat and drinks available in the capital. "If I would drink water", he says, "I must quaff the maukish contents of an open aqueduct, exposed to all manner of defilement; or swallow that which comes from the river Thames, impregnated with all the filth of London and Westminster" (Smollett 1998, 120).9 His "town grievances" (Smollett 1998, 118) are aggravated by the unnatural treatment of bread, meat and vegetables for, instead of strengthening the inhabitants’ bodies, they endanger their health:

The bread I eat in London, [Bramble remarks,] is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum, and bone-ashes; insipid to the taste, and destructive to the constitution.... As [Londoners] have discharged the natural colour from their bread, their butcher’s meat, and poultry, their cutlets, ragouts, fricasees, and sauces of all kinds; so they insist upon having the complexion of their pot-herbs mended, even at the hazard of their lives. Perhaps you will hardly believe they can be so mad as to boil their greens with brass half-pence, in order to improve their colour. (Smollett 1998, 120-21)

10If the bodies of its inhabitants are bound to become ill on account of the deleterious, harmful and nefarious treatment they receive, such is also the case for the body of London, so much so that there seems to be a two-way process of contamination between the capital and its inhabitants. If London reaches an apex of monstrosity through physical and moral corruption, it also reveals some characters’ monstrous behaviour—as is embodied by Baynard’s wife, whose vanity and thirst for luxury, which she is bent on assuaging by living in London at all costs (in all senses of the phrase), draw Bramble’s old friend "deeper and deeper into the vortex of extravagance and dissipation" (Smollett 1998, 288). The woman’s corruption and her desire to live a fashionable life in town at the expense of those around her are so ingrained that they contaminate the pleasant life they could live in the country, leading Baynard to mortgage his ancestors’ domain after defacing it to such a point that Bramble is unable to recognize it (Smollett 1998, 285-86).

11Moreover, in the eighteenth century, doctors—among them George Cheyne in his famous work The English Malady (1733)—systematically insisted on the importance of regular movement. Stasis and excessive movements were equally dangerous for the body and the soul (that is those of the inhabitants and those of the city too). "All is tumult and hurry", Bramble notes "... one would imagine [Londoners] were impelled by some disorder of the brain that will not suffer them to rest" (Smollett 1998, 88). At the other end of the spectrum, because of excess and consequential obstruction, bodily fluids were prevented from moving freely and became corrupt, so much so that the body suffered plethora, whose regular outcome was apoplexy—a fate Walter Shandy significantly prognosticates for the overgrown city of London, which he claims he can save through a project designed to stem excessive fluxes of people and goods, and consequential obstruction: "was I an absolute prince... I would appoint able judges, at every avenue of my metropolis, who would take cognizance of every fool’s business that came there;—and if... it appeared not of weight sufficient to leave his home, and come up, bag and baggage, with his wife and children... they would all be sent back... to the place of their legal settlements" (Sterne 40).

12Instead of showing signs of improvement (i.e., restored balance and easily moving flows of men and goods), the overgrown body of monstrous, parasitical London falls into a vicious circle and needs ever greater quantities of nourishment to be able to keep going—at the risk of suffering from macrocephaly, which Walter Shandy also maintains he knows how to avoid: "I shall take care, that my metropolis totter’d not through its own weight;—that the head be no longer too big for the body;—and that the extreams, now wasted and pin’d in, be restored to their due share of nourishment, and regain, with it, their natural strength and beauty" (Sterne 40). As if to underline London’s monstrous bulk and parasitical action over its neighbour, Lismahago denounces the same scrounging behaviour at a greater level, between London (which he calls South-Britain) and Scotland:

not one in two hundred that leave Scotland ever returns to settle in his own country; and the few that do return, carry thither nothing that can possibly diminish the stock of South-Britain; for none of their treasures stagnates in Scotland.... All the produce of our lands, and all the profits of our trade, are engrossed by the natives of South-Britain; for you will find that the exchange between the two kingdoms is always against Scotland; and that she retains neither gold nor silver for her own circulation. (Smollett 1998, 278)

  • 10 Even though she enjoys being in London, Lydia confesses that "I would gladly give up all these tumu (...)
  • 11 The discussion between Samuel Johnson and James Boswell took place on 20 September 1777.

13Besides, many authors, especially if they were Tories, regularly contrasted town and country to underline the deleterious aspects of city life, and the paragraphs where Bramble complains of his "town grievances" are preceded by one where he expatiates on his "country comforts" (Smollett 1998, 118-19).10 In London, A Poem in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal (1738), Samuel Johnson—although famous for his love of London—cannot but admit that country life is more pleasant than life in a metropolis and in a nation ruled by such worthless and dishonest people as Sir Robert Walpole, the then Prime Minister: "Grant me, kind heaven, to find some happier place/Where honesty and sense are no disgrace;" he prays, before rising up against "London! The needy villain’s gen’ral home,/The common shore [i.e., sewer] of Paris and of Rome; [which]/With eager thirst, by folly or by fate,/Sucks in the dregs of each corrupted state" (Johnson 44-45, 93-96). The poet is all the more critical of London’s degeneracy, due to the people that so badly governed the kingdom at the time, as he was one of the greatest lovers of the capital, and his encomium of the place to Boswell in 1777 is well known: "Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford".11

  • 12 The quotation is taken from the Dent edition, but is not to be found in the Penguin edition. Unless (...)

14Together with Samuel Johnson, who never missed an opportunity to enjoy London’s sociability with his friends and was unable to stay away from the capital for long, Samuel Richardon—unlike the great majority of eighteenth-century writers—never saw London as "an overgrown monster". It is only in the "postscript" of his novel that the novelist voices a discreet moral condemnation of the pleasure gardens of the capital: "it must be confessed, that we are not to look for Clarissas among the constant frequenters of Ranelagh and Vauxhall" (Richardson 1932, 4.564).12 Nowhere else in Clarissa—a novel whose whole plot takes place in or around London—does the London printer offer a moral condemnation of the capital, never does he deplore the changes or the new buildings recently erected there, and never does he contrast paradisiacal country life to quasi-infernal city life.

15Indeed, at the beginning of the novel, once it has become impossible for the heroine to remain in Harlowe Place (situated out of London) she contemplates her escape to the capital as a hopeful step, even though she knows nothing about it and is therefore unable to choose between the various places Lovelace mentions for her possible future home: "a mercer’s in Bedford Street, Covent Garden", "lodgings in Norfolk Street and others in Cecil Street", "good accommodations in Dover Street, at a widow’s" (Richardson 1985, 469), or again "very handsome [accommodations] in or near Hanover Square, Soho Square, Golden Square, or in some of the new streets about Grosvenor Square" (Richardson 1985, 470). Unlike Smollett in Humphry Clinker, Richardson chooses to give no details about those streets, whose only function, it seems, is to enhance Clarissa’s disorientation and defamiliarization, as a result of which she puts herself in the hands of her merciless seducer. In spite of the regular mention of places, London is reduced to a misleading map which is all the less realistic and all the more symbolic as Lovelace plays with space, creating and suppressing places at his will to bewilder his victim, for instance when he pretends Sinclair’s house is on Dover Street when in fact it is not. Terry Castle analyses this process of obfuscation created from playing with real places: "the actual location of Sinclair’s house remains unknown. The heroine’s captor exults that even if one located Dover Street on a map, one would still not locate the place itself.... One might call Lovelace’s tactic here a disruption of the topographic, or even cartographic code of meaning: his artifices rob the map of its conventional signifying function" (Castle 101). At the same time as Lovelace mentions a myriad of places in London, he erases them, so that Clarissa loses all sense of direction, as when she is taken back to Sinclair’s house "through several streets and ways I knew nothing of" (Richardson 1985, 1006), where the rape is committed.

16And yet, despite this outrageous act, made possible because Clarissa is urged to drink an opiate—called "London milk" (Richardson 1985, 1008)—which deprives her of her defensive powers, London becomes the place of the salvation of Clarissa, whose only wish after the rape and once she has left Sinclair’s house is to go to church—a proof that Richardson deals with London more in symbolical terms than in realistic ones, for Clarissa uses Lovelace’s erroneous map of London as a palimpsest on which she draws a halo-shaped territory delimited by the steeples of the churches she goes to (Soupel 66). And at the same time, she manages to expel Lovelace from the capital. A correspondence may therefore be established between Clarissa (whom Lovelace is forbidden to see) and London (whose ground he is no longer allowed to tread). The libertine cannot but acknowledge that the place he intended to turn into a trap from which Clarissa, he thought, could not escape, has become an impenetrable shelter on the margins of which he is for ever condemned to remain: "I ride towards London three or four times a day, resolving pro and con twenty times in two or three miles; and at last ride back; and, in view of Uxbridge... turn my horse’s head again towards the town... but at the very entrance of it, after infinite canvassings, once more alter my mind, dreading to offend and shock her" (Richardson 1985, 1334).

17As the place where the rape was prepared and committed, London could easily be called "an overgrown monster". Yet, excess and monstrosity arc displaced onto the characters. In the eyes of Belford, who used to admire him as the leader of the confraternity of rakes he was part of, Lovelace, upon committing the rape, exceeds all bounds, as Belford’s horrified reaction to such a monstrous act shows: "O THOU savage-hearted monster! What work hast thou made in one guilty hour, for a whole age of repentance!... What a poor piece of barbarity... supported by stratagems the most insidious!" (Richardson 1985, 883-84). If, as a rapist, Lovelace becomes a monster, he is also the victim of his stratagems which go beyond his initial intentions, and he acknowledges to Belford that "to own the truth, I have overplotted myself" (Richardson 1985, 574; emphasis mine)—thereby showing there are various ways of becoming an "overgrown monster". On top of excluding Lovelace from its perimeter, London manages to get rid of Sinclair, whose death scene is particularly striking because it reworks the above-mentioned characteristics of monstrosity. A monster in her behaviour towards Clarissa, the brothel-keeper falls down the stairs—an accident that should be read as Retribution. Seeing that she is doomed to die, she behaves in an inhuman way and is significantly compared by Belford to three animals. "She was raving... and even howling, more like a wolf than a human creature... her big eyes goggling and flaming-red as... those of a salamander" (Richardson 1985, 1387-88), Belford says, after reporting Sally’s harsh words to her madam: "Sinclair... forbear this noise! It is more like that of a bull than a woman!" (Richardson 1985, 1387). As has been underlined, fragmentation and monstrosity arc linked, and Sinclair ends up with a fragmented body, which Belford describes: "her wide mouth... splitting her face... in two parts... [she] was to be lanced and quartered" (Richardson 1985, 1388, 1391).

18Now, if Richardson displaces the motif of the city as an "overgrown monster" onto his characters and has Lovelace and Sinclair receive the fate they deserve, he reserves for Clarissa a wholly different fate, which turns the motif upside down. Instead of being overgrown, the heroine chooses asceticism, carries out a physical and moral catharsis, so much so that she becomes "a lovely skeleton" (Richardson 1985, 1231), and spends the last weeks of her life reading the Bible. By repeatedly asking Lovelace to help her disappear from his and from everybody else’s sight ("let me be put into that Bedlam privately... don’t let me be made a show of" [Richardson 1985, 895]), she refuses to embody the Latin etymology of the term and turns the image of the monster into that of a saint.

  • 13 In a letter to Alexander Carlyle dated 1753 Smollett wrote: "I do not think I could enjoy life with (...)

19Unlike the great majority of eighteenth-century writers, who followed the structure of the Bildungsroman, where the protagonists fall prey to the temptations of the corrupt and corrupting capital before experiencing a scene of recognition, inheriting a domain that is rightfully theirs and going back to the country where they lead a healthier life—and like the famous exception of Samuel Johnson—Richardson chooses to offer an original vision of London as a place of redemption. The opposition between his outlook and that of Smollett may be put down to biographical reasons. As a Scotsman, Smollett, who came to London at the age of eighteen to seek his fortune, experienced many setbacks—among which were the impossibility of having his play The Regicide (1739) staged and of having his medical M.D. from Marischal College in Aberdeen recognized. He remained bitter over his experiences in the capital, where Bramble-like he always felt a foreigner.13 Richardson, who spent most of his life in London, where he became a prodigious writer, admitted the existence of vices in the capital but his interest lay more in the study of the dark aspects of the human soul. Besides, as is illustrated by the cathartic eviction of the novel’s reprehensible characters from London, he knew that the capital he was so deeply attached to was capable of amendment and improvement, and that "overgrown monster[s]" could easily turn into "prodig[ies]" (Defoe 1971, 300) again.

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Bruce, Donald, Radical Doctor Smollett, London: Gollancz, 1964.

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Soupel, Serge, "Londres dans Clarissa (1747-1748) de S. Richardson", Les Représentations de Londres 3, Annales du GERB, 1985, 59-72.

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1 Letter 5 of Defoe’s Tour is devoted to "The City of London" (Defoe 1971, 286-336).

2 See Chapter 7 "A competent share of banknotes" (99-119) in Donald Bruce’s Radical Doctor Smollett.

3 It should be added that in the eighteenth century, merchants were able to enjoy unprecedented recognition and respect, as Defoe notes: "as many of our best families rose from trade, so many branches of the best families in England, under the nobility, have stooped so low as to be put apprentices to tradesmen in London, and to set up and follow those trades when they have come out of their times, and have thought it no dishonour" (Defoe 1997, 217).

4 The idea of London as a centre is an eighteenth-century topos. Number 4 of The Review (18 Feb. 1706) voices the idea in strangely similar terms: "London is the great Center of this Circulation.... Hither all the Manufactures in the Nation front the several and remotest Countries are convey’d in gross, as to the vast Center of Trade; and here they pass from the Wholesaler to the Merchant, from the Whare-house to the Shop, and from thence, by a happy Counter-changing again, are transmitted to all the several Parts of the Kingdom again; and upon this Circulation... more Families depend, and are maintain’d, than upon the first Working of the whole Manufacture of the Nation".

5 Tom Jones goes to London (Fielding 1985, 609), is followed there by Mrs Western (750), by Blifil and Allworthy (763), finds Sophia again (645), who breaks with him (776) and they finally become reconciled (866).

6 Menenius tells the citizens that the fable of the belly is "A pretty tale" and adds "It may be you have heard it,/But since it serves my purpose, I will venture/To stale’t a little more" (Shakespeare 1.1.87-89).

7 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. 1993, article "monster".

8 According to her brother Jery, Lydia is "quite ignorant of the world" (Smollett 1998, 8), and Bramble calls her "a good-natured simpleton, as soft as butter and as easily melted" (Smollett 1998, 11-12); as for Bramble, he is seen by Jery as "as tender as a man without a skin; who cannot bear the slightest touch without flinching. What tickles another would give him torment" (Smollett 1998, 49).

9 Paul-Gabriel Boucé appositely remarks that "l’air, l’eau, le soleil, trinité vitale des éléments, se transforment en facteurs latents de mort" (Boucé 258).

10 Even though she enjoys being in London, Lydia confesses that "I would gladly give up all these tumultuous pleasures, for country solitude, and a happy retreat with those we love" (Smollett 1998, 95).

11 The discussion between Samuel Johnson and James Boswell took place on 20 September 1777.

12 The quotation is taken from the Dent edition, but is not to be found in the Penguin edition. Unless otherwise mentioned all references to Richardson’s text are to the latter edition.

13 In a letter to Alexander Carlyle dated 1753 Smollett wrote: "I do not think I could enjoy life with greater relish in any part of the World than in Scotland among you and your friends.... I am heartily tired of this land of indifference and phlegm where the finer sensations of the soul are not felt, and felicity is held to consist in stupefying Port and overgrown buttocks of beef—where Genius is lost. Learning undervalued. Taste altogether extinguished, and Ignorance prevail, to such a degree that one of our Chelsea club asked me if the Weather was good when I crossed the sea from Scotland" (Treadwell 40).

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Bibliographical reference

Hélène Dachez, « "An overgrown monster": London in Some Eighteenth-Century Writings », Caliban, 25 | 2009, 285-294.

Electronic reference

Hélène Dachez, « "An overgrown monster": London in Some Eighteenth-Century Writings », Caliban [Online], 25 | 2009, Online since 13 December 2016, connection on 28 February 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Hélène Dachez

Université Toulouse-Le Mirail

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Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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