‘The pamphlet on the table’: The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves

Jones, Richard J (2022). ‘The pamphlet on the table’: The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves. In: Poplawski, Paul ed. Studying English Literature in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 183–198.

URL: https://www.cambridge.org/highereducation/books/st...


This essay explores how a work of fiction appeared in a magazine and how the work of a magazine appeared in a fiction. The fiction is The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760–1) by the eighteenth-century Scottish writer, Tobias Smollett. The magazine is one of his periodical projects, The British Magazine, which ran for eight years from 1760. In part, then, the essay is interested in foregrounding and backgrounding these two contexts: it is interested in how fiction was created in the expanding print culture of the mid eighteenth century; it also suggests how that same print culture was supported by a fiction.
The essay is intended to complement approaches to Smollett which see him working for the most part as a novelist. In the eighteenth century, Smollett was best known as a historian, critic and translator; he worked tirelessly on vast publishing projects, often issued in instalments. The essay first establishes this context – the culture of periodical writing that marked the Enlightenment period – and then provides a short reading of Launcelot Greaves as part of it. Informing this reading is Smollett’s interest in Miguel de Cervantes’s great work Don Quixote (1605 and 1615); this might be thought of as providing another context for understanding the ambitions of Smollett’s writing. The essay therefore raises questions about the kind of work in which Smollett was engaged – and perhaps the kind of stories we tell ourselves about what writing is and what it does.

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