The Adventures Of Roderick Random

Today I finished reading

This picaresque novel, first published in 1748 describes the developmental decades of the life of an apparently orphaned child during the 1730s and ’40s; an age when schooling depended on someone’s ability to pay, and not question the teaching methods; when honour and duty were of paramount importance except where duplicity and self-interest were the norm; when whoring and debauchery were fair game, although the reputation of a truly beloved was a prime consideration promoting respectful restraint; when press gangs and recruiting sergeants roamed city streets after hours, capturing drunkards who would find themselves in the morning enlisted as unwilling sailors or soldiers of the king; when a ship’s captain could rule his crewmen’s lives and death; when gentlemen could carry swords and pistols and duel for satisfaction; when the gaming tables could make or break a fortune; when power was dependent on social status rather than merit; when law favoured the rich and let the poor go hang. We learn of our eponymous hero’s schooldays, his learning and backgrounds, his paramours and his one true love; his seafaring, his soldiering, his impressment, his duels, his naval and land battles, his imprisonment, his friends and his enemies; his gullibility, his sensibility, his naivety, his impetuous temper, his loyalty and his sense of honour. The author has good descriptive skills and a dry sense of humour: all is presented in almost 500 pages of packed, yet flowing, prose, with scarcely any white paper visible; nevertheless, provided readers can tolerate such lengthy literature from an age before film, internet, and the mobile phone speeded up communication to such an extent that reading no longer fills candlelit evenings, and can manage vocabulary of three hundred years ago, yet remarkably intelligible to modern readers with the stamina for up to five unbroken printed sheets at a time, sometimes taking up a whole, albeit short, chapter, unless they are relieved by one of

Frank Martin’s skilful wood engravings that perfectly reflect the period and the text, their placement perhaps planned for precisely that purpose.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s classic cottage pie; crunchy carrots and firm Brussels sprouts, with which she and I finished yesterday’s wines.

59 comments

    1. I have read both, but Tom Jones was so long ago I can’t remember. Maybe I’ll get it out again. Thanks very much, Pat

  1. Compliments on finishing the 500 pages…
    Your copy seems to have been printed in 1961, if my Roman numerals don’t fail me. Is Frank Martin a contemporary illustrator?
    Now the book itself was published in 1748. More or less at the same time as Voltaire’s “Candide”, of which I have a copy. Read it a couple of times. Smolett probably spoke French. I wonder how easily books crossed the Channel at that time?
    Take care my friend

      1. Is that right? How nice. It is a very good book. I discovered it when we lived in Holland and my father bought old,, bound, French books at auctions. I kept the books. This one is a nice, early 19th century edition with engravings. Maybe in these troubled days I should read it again, to remember Dr Panloss’ unbeatable optimism.

          1. I have a vivid memory of my brother, too, telling me about the book Candide and “the best of all possible worlds.” I think I only read part of it a long time ago, but I’ve seen Leonard Bernstein’s version several times. šŸ™‚

      1. I always find it interesting that despite centuries of wars between us, across the Channel, that there should always be so much communication between us. I’m sure Montesquieu, when he wrote “L’esprit des lois” (on checs and balances) had read Locke. Or vice-versa. Don’t know who wrote first.

    1. He also uses Latin – all without translation. I can manage the French but not the Latin. I forgot to mention that. Frank Martin was prolific in the ’60s. It was a policy of the Folio Society to have the illustrations reflecting the period of the book

      1. Compliments on the French. I took Latin at school. Forgot almost all of it sadly. Though between French and Spanish, I can grasp a word or two. I’ll look up Frank Martin. Thanks.

        1. I passed our 11+ with no real knowledge of English grammar. In the Jesuit grammar school we did Latin first year. I floundered because I didn’t know the terms and therefore the word order threw me. Next year the French was much more like ours and I got on fine with it. I’m pleased you liked Frank Martin.

          1. I can understand about Latin, the order is so different.
            And yes, I like Frank Martin. A very good artist. I looked him up. He had great portraits… Thanks for pointing him out.

      2. Oh, about Latin without translation, Hannah Arendt (one of my favourite philosophers) used to quote Greek words in Greek alphabet, without translation. A bit of a challenge. When the editor of the New Yorker received her article on the Eichmann trial he told her:
        Iā€™m “Hannah, the article looks good. Though… you do realize most of our reader can’t read Greek?”
        To which she answered: “Zen zey must learn.”
        (From the movie on her life. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth it)

          1. Could be on Netflix. I saw it in a cinema in Paris a few years ago, and saw it again here… But then Netflix has different catalogues in each country.

  2. This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I’ll make sure to get it. The woodcuts are excellent. Your opening sentence reminded me of the monologue of Natasha Rostova addressing the oak tree from War and Peace which consists of one sentence stretched for a page and a half. We had to recite it from memory at school.

  3. This sounds like one or two 18th century novels that I had to read for one of the French Literature papers. The illustrations are quite nice, though!

  4. A great review! I enjoyed reading it AND many of the pages you shared.
    The wood-engravings are so detailed and action-packed. I really enjoyed the expressions on the faces. šŸ™‚
    (((HUGS))) ā¤ļøā¤ļøā¤ļøā¤ļøā¤ļø

  5. I thought I was well-versed in literature (obtaining an Masters in English Literature back in the day ) but I am a baby compared to the intellects here. I never heard of this book! Fascinating piece of “what it was like back in the day,” and the wood carvings are amazing. I admit, I wouldn’t have the ‘stamina’ to read these long paragraphs, and it’s also an example of “it’s a man’s world” at that time and challenging for women to read now at times.

    1. Thanks very much, Pam. I passed A Level English Literature at 18, with Scholarship marks, but Family Circumstances made University impossible, so it is an extra pleasure to be doing this now.

  6. What a pleasant and interesting way to spend the afternoon while keeping out of the chilly weather.
    We had our first snow overnight. It was lovely to look at, but I chose to stay home out of the cold.

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