Places: The Adventures of Roderick Random

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1748

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Picaresque

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Scotland

*Scotland. Adventures of Roderick Random, TheRoderick’s Scottish home is sketchily described, but, as his grandfather is a landowner, the house and estate must be somewhat grand and extensive. After Roderick is driven out by the malice of his relatives, that home becomes a kind of lost and found Eden, for, as an adult, he will return to it, rich, happily married, and reunited with his lost father.


*London. Capital of Great Britain and leading city of England where Roderick’s first visit becomes a descent into a kind of slapstick hell. For though the novel’s tone is comic, Tobias Smollett nevertheless emphasizes the poverty, degradation, physical dirtiness, and viciousness of the city. It is a dark place, physically as well as morally unlit, with narrow, dangerous streets. It is no surprise that many of Roderick’s mishaps take place at night. Smollett, perhaps unintentionally, makes a savage indictment of the abuses of the class structure. However, Roderick, although a critic, is not a revolutionary. London’s lower classes are usually presented not merely as victims but also as violent and evil in themselves; they are quite willing to steal from, cheat, and physically attack other poor people. Roderick, resentful of being treated like a member of the lower class, insists upon his status as a gentleman, while he has no shame in using and mistreating his schoolmate Hugh Strap.

Roderick’s later adventures in London introduce him to yet other examples of social degradation and discrimination: For instance, Marshalsea prison, where Roderick is imprisoned for debt, is also not well described. Once more, however, there is a sense of darkness, and the lives of its inmates, especially the poor, are concretely conjured. At the same time, if a prisoner has access to money, he can have a private room and his own food. Roderick does visit coffeehouses, where he meets men of the middle class but no women, for women are excluded. Here London seems more cheerful but no less cruel.


*Bath. Resort city in western England. This is the Bath of ballrooms and gamerooms, where rich nobles and pretenders come. Almost all the action takes place in the ballrooms, crowded, noisy, implicitly sweaty, where people come to see and to be seen. The emphasis is on the sheer vulgarity of the place.


Ships. Vessels on which a good deal of the novel’s action occurs. Their divisions; the exalted place and power of the officers; the dark, crowded, filthy, and stinking quarters of the crew; the bad food and water are all images of the general society. However, the slaving voyage, from which Roderick gains a good deal of money, is barely sketched, with no description of the enslaved Africans nor of their treatment. Perhaps Smollett really knew little of such voyages, and the voyage is a mere plot device. However, the moral implications are hidden by the thinness of the narrative.


*Cartagena. Caribbean port city of the South American nation of Colombia whose defenses are sufficiently well described to enable readers to follow the attacks, victories, and defeats. There are forts, redoubts, trenches, cannon, and the English commanders know absolutely nothing of what to do.

BibliographyBold, Alan, ed. Smollett: Author of the FirstDistinction. London: Vision, 1982. A collection of essaysdesigned to review and revive Smollett’s literary reputation.Deals with his work in the context of his Scottish heritage andtradition and discusses the author’s urgency of pace, use oflanguage, and selection of themes.Bouce, Paul-Gabriel. The Novels of TobiasSmollett. Translated by Antonia White. London: Longman, 1976.Begins with brief biography and attempts to show autobiographicalinjection throughout the author’s novels. Addresses Smollettas a moralist rather than the usual picaresque designation butnotes the influence of Alain-René Lesage and Miguel deCervantes on his work.Bruce, Donald. Radical Doctor Smollett. Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1965. One of the definitive works on Smollett,which gives a historical survey of Smollett’s criticalreputation as a novelist. Addresses his use of medicine, sex,crime, and wealth as themes for social criticism. Discusses whetheror not the work should be categorized as picaresque and ultimatelyclasses the author as pessimistic and belligerent.Giddings, Robert. The Tradition of Smollett.London: Methuen, 1967. Discusses Smollett as a standard-bearer ofthe picaresque tradition and compares him to Henry Fielding. Alsodiscusses Smollett as evolutionary predecessor for all rogue novelsup to the work of John Barth.Spector, Robert Donald. Tobias George Smollett.Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Discusses Smollett’s fivenovels as masterpieces of the picaresque form and shows how eachled to and perfected the next. Repudiates previous criticalanalysis of the author.
Categories: Places