Tobias Smollett, in the preface to his first novel, The
Adventures of Roderick Random (1748), acknowledges the
influence of Alain René Le Sage's L'Histoire de Gil Blas de
Santillane (1715-35 in four volumes) on his work. By far the
most successful of "useful and entertaining" romances, Smollett
writes, Gil Blas describes "the knavery and foibles of
life, with infinite humour and sagacity." "The following sheets,"
he adds significantly, "I have modeled on his plan."
Smollett's translation of Gil Blas appeared nine
months after the publication of Roderick Random. This
chronicle of a merry, philosophical young man whose adventures lead
him into all levels of society from the highest to the lowest,
presents special problems for a translator. Smollett, without
always adhering to the literal expression of the novel's language,
is true to its style, spirit, and ideas. After two and a half
centuries, his remains the finest translation of this humorous,
satiric, and classic French novel.
In his early years in London, Smollett struggled to find a way
to distinguish himself through his medical practice, medical
writings, poetry, and plays. None of these attempts, however,
allowed him to demonstrate the full range of his personality and
talents. Only when he combined his own boundless imagination with
the skills he had learned from translating Gil Blas was he
able to create energetic narratives filled with vivid and original
Subjects: Language & Literature
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