Samuel Johnson's Rasselas: The Duplicity of Choice and the Sense of an Ending

Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, Vols. 19/20, pp. 75-99, 1989-1990

13 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2010

Date Written: 1989

Abstract

Samuel Johnson's philosophical novel, 'The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, deals with 'The Choice of Life.' This phrase, which is emphasized several times throughout the novel, is also its shortest conceivable summary. The issue of that choice, however, is not clear. In spite of Johnson's well-turned aphorisms, Rasselas' choice of life remains inconclusive. Worse still, a study of the response to the work throughout its life reveals that the readers of the book have interpreted this inconclusiveness, and the doctrine of the book as a whole, in widely different ways - the implied authorial attitude of the work has proved difficult to discern. These disagreements reveal some tensions in the thematic structure of the novel and in Johnson's system of morals. The status of Johnson's novel as a literary artifact seems to work against its purported moral content. A comprehensive interpretation of Rasselas cannot see it as the seamless product of its author's intention.

Keywords: Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, Philosophical Novel, Choice, Intention, Closure

Suggested Citation

Garcia Landa, Jose Angel, Samuel Johnson's Rasselas: The Duplicity of Choice and the Sense of an Ending (1989). Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, Vols. 19/20, pp. 75-99, 1989-1990. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1594819

Jose Angel Garcia Landa (Contact Author)

Universidad de Zaragoza ( email )

Gran Via 2
Zaragoza, 50005
Spain

HOME PAGE: http://www.garcialanda.net

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