13 – 14 May 2021


Tobias Smollett (1721–1771) probably wrote more words than any other writer in the eighteenth century. This has often been overlooked because the words were not always his own. Smollett laboured over vast works of compilation, including historical works, reviews, magazines, translations and compendiums. Even his novels – which sit a little awkwardly in the stories that have been told about the rise of the novel – embraced a similar practice. As a result, Smollett has never been quite able to achieve the reputation which he rightly deserves – that is, as one of the great literary figures of the mid-eighteenth century.

This year marks the three-hundredth anniversary of Smollett’s birth and this provides the excuse to ask some questions about his ‘work of writing’. This is the kind of work that might stand as an image of the Enlightenment; it is also a labour that, as Smollett predicted, exhausted him and contributed to his death. We will want to ask how Smollett understood the task that he set himself. Is it right to speak of him as a historian or translator or critic or poet or novelist or hack? How can we understand the kind of creativity Smollett shows in his work? What might this tell us about the work of writing in the eighteenth century – or how might it change our understanding of the Enlightenment itself?




The conference will be hosted by the Institute for English Studies, online via Zoom, on 13 and 14 May 2021. The conference is free to attend but registration is required. The times of the sessions (given in BST) can be found in the programme details.

The conference is supported by the History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) research collaboration based in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The Open University, UK, and the Institute of English Studies, University of London.

Conference organiser

Dr. Richard J. Jones, Lecturer in English Literature at The Open University, UK