Archive for November 23rd, 2011

Standing by its own Worth: Amory’s The Life of John Buncle

23 November 2011

Contributed by Eoghan Smith

The Life of John Buncle, Esq, by Thomas Amory, and edited here by Moyra Haslett, is to the modern reader a remarkable book. Although not as famous as Irish eighteenth-century novels such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, it is nonetheless a brilliantly eclectic offering of Enlightenment possibility, and, in its eccentricity, an exemplary piece of eighteenth-century fiction. Before Ezra Pound tricked the world into believing that it was twentieth-century modernism that was “making it new”, there were novelists such as Amory, whose range of styles, experimentalism and literary reference – to the point of whole-scale plagiarism – points to the great formless democracy that is the early novel.

The book is a carnival of voices, registers and media – aptly described in the introduction here as “by turns that of pastoral, sermon, romance, learned disquisition, theological debate, experimental science, poetry, travelogue, eulogy and prayer”. A sort of journey through the consciousness of the mid-eighteenth century, the novel is ostensibly a memoir of one John Buncle, who, after leaving Trinity College and becoming alienated from his father and exiled from home, travels to England to seek out a friend with whom he can live. Along the way we are treated to Buncle’s extravagantly unusual encounters with, among other things, a woman-only society of mathematicians, and a range of religious communities through which Amory advances what Haslett describes as “Whig, libertarian politics”. (more…)