This article characterizes Tobias Smollett's Roderick Random (1748) in terms of a specifically mid-eighteenth-century ambivalence about polite literacy and progress that both precludes its reading as a Bildungsroman and limits the utility of modelling the novel as an agent of empire. Though the preface and ending of the novel affirm traditional hierarchy, the digressive and peripatetic middle values such plebeian virtues in the protagonist as loyalty, righteous opposition to injustice, and manly competence, which are formal elements resembling such popular chapbook romances as Jack the Giant-Killer. Particularly significant are both the novel's portrait of Roderick's defiantly and virtuously impolite childhood and the depiction of maritime life as an alternative to the corruption and snobbishness of land-bound life, an alternate ethos that is complicated by its facilitation of the slave-trading that ultimately enables the Great House fantasy with which the novel concludes.
"Roderick Random, Literacy, and the Appropriation of Plebeian Culture,"
4, Article 5.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol24/iss4/5
Jennifer Thorn teaches at St. Anselm College, New Hampshire. Parts of her book project Phillis Wheatley, Gender, God, and Grief have appeared or will appear in SECC, ECTI, and Toni Bowers’ and Tita Chico’s edited volume Seduction and Sentiment in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (Palgrave). She is the editor of Writing British Infanticide: Child-Murder, Gender, and Print, 1722-1859 (2003) and the author of articles on race and translations of the Arabian Nights; on teaching the transatlantic; on Eliza Haywood’s fictions, reproduction, and castration; and on literacy, savagery, and violence in Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland.