by Tobias George Smollett
p. standard revised edition 1758
Read on Amazon KINDLE
It is easy to tell you how Tobias Smollett's Peregrine Pickle made it into my personal "Bottom 10 of 18th Century Classic Novels."
First, I hated the other two Tobias Smollett books I read as part of the 18th century portion of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (1). I think it's important to note that I don't feel like I owe any special deference to the creators/editors of this list, but that a lot of the questions surrounding considerations on the 18th century portion are what we in the legal field call "A settled question of law."
Second, Peregrine Pickle is what you call a looongggg book. The Amazon Kindle product page says 748 pages but I swear it was over 1100 pages on my Kindle. 1100 Pages. He was using Roman Numerals for Chapter Numbering that I didn't even recognize. (Is C 100 or 50?) I just can't imagine many people read this book. It doesn't have an Oxford World Classic's edition, a Penguin Classics edition or even a Dover Thrift edition. In fact, before the Kindle/Ereader I probably never would have read Peregrine Pickle at all.
Third, like Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker, Peregrine Pickle lacks what we Moderns call "character development." Maybe I'll just let Robert Gorham Davis explain, as he does in his introduction to the 1950 Rineheart edition of Humphrey Clinker:
In the strictest sense the picaresque novel is the biography or autobiography of a picaro, a rogue, a servant, a witty swindler, an antihero. In a broader sense it is the travel adventures of an unsettled young man, often of good birth, who has the moral characteristics of the picaro, the love of hoaxes and intrigues. Though there is usually some sort of success, change of heart or reconciliation at the end, the picaresque novel differs from the "growing up" novel introduced by romanticism- Wilhelm Meister, The Sentimental Education, Of Human Bondage,- in that there is no organic growth of the particular character through experience. The adventures are self-sufficient, require only type characters, and could happen in almost any sequence equally well.
So it's one thing to write a thousand page Harry Potter novel where every single reader desperately cares about "what happens" to the main character, quite another to sustain the interest of an Audience through scenery and slap-stick humor. It puts the Picaresque novel closer to genre films and "true crime" TV shows then other motifs in 18th century literature. The behavior in Peregrine Pickle can be quite shocking at times- certainly "pre-Victorian" in terms of the depiction of say, sexual mores.
In Peregrine Pickle, for example, the titular picaro spends about 200 page trying to bang this chick in a series of inns between Paris and Amsterdam. There are def. accusations of "rape" contained in Peregrine Pickle and "comic" behavior that quite obviously involves the kind of sexual assault that gets you locked up in state prison. It was a different time.
Unfortunately, Peregrine Pickle's brief interesting moments, whether they be the lead character trying to rape some chick or an interesting depiction of the emerging public sphere of the 18th century, are interspersed with hundreds of pages of non-hits, and even entire other books. For example, the Memoirs of a Lady of Quality take up 300 pages in the middle of Peregrine Pickle and basically are a whole other story told by a woman who has no relationship to Peregrine Pickle. This is how Smollett rolled, people, he was a working writer and got paid by the word.
It's hard to recommend Peregrine Pickle to anyone. After all, Roderick Random is written first, and Humphrey Clinker is supposed to be the best, which leaves Peregrine Pickle in a distant third place. And thus, Peregrine Pickle- number nine(?) on my bottom ten Literary Classics of the 18th century.
(1) Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker.