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The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia Paperback – Jun 15 2009
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“Jessica Richard’s engaging new edition of Rasselas for Broadview provides everything needed to bring into focus the paradoxical nature of Samuel Johnson’s achievement in that slender masterpiece. As this edition makes clear, Johnson penned, against the cultural grain, a willfully anti-exotic ‘Oriental tale.’ Richard highlights the insouciance of such an Oriental tale in which the main characters―Coptic Christians in Africa―reflect with aplomb on the accidental happenstance of northwest Europe’s global ascendance. Through her well-chosen contextual materials, Richard both establishes a background for Rasselas in the conventions of eighteenth-century literary Orientalism and clarifies the manifest singularity of Johnson’s classic novella.” ― Clement Hawes, Pennsylvania State University
“The globalization of literary studies has produced fascinating insights into the cultural interactions between Europe and the East, and Europe and the Americas during the eighteenth century. Jessica Richard’s enterprising edition of Johnson’s Rasselas brings out the global interests of this popular tale by placing it firmly in the context of enlightenment Orientalism. It highlights Johnson’s cosmopolitan universalism, for while embracing cultural difference he reverses the Oriental gaze, and uses the conventions of the Oriental tale to historicize his exploration of human desire and happiness. This new Broadview edition offers an excellent introduction to Johnson’s global status.” ― Greg Clingham, Bucknell University--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Back Cover
In Samuel Johnson’s classic philosophical tale, the prince and princess of Abissinia escape their confinement in the Happy Valley and conduct an ultimately unsuccessful search for a choice of life that leads to happiness. Johnson uses the conventions of the Oriental tale to depict a universal restlessness of desire. The excesses of Orientalism―its superfluous splendours, its despotic tyrannies, its riotous pleasures―cannot satisfy us. His tale challenges us by showing the problem of finding happiness to be insoluble while still dignifying our quest for fulfillment.
The appendices to this Broadview edition include reviews and biographies, selections from the sequel Dinarbas (1790), and the complete text of Elizabeth Pope Whately’s The Second Part of the History of Rasselas (1835). Selections from Johnson’s translation of the travel narrative A Voyage to Abyssinia, as well as his Oriental tales in the Rambler, are also included, along with another popular tale, Joseph Addison’s “The Vision of Mirzah,” and selections from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The story involves their search for happiness and the type of life that they should lead. They explore the lives of the rich and powerful, the poor, scientists, farmers, and many other life styles. There is much philosophical discussion that I found interesting, but I'm not sure that this style of writing would appeal to most modern readers. Even with all of the dialogue, it is still a relatively short book. Subjects that were explored included whether it is better to be married or single, rich or poor, powerful or a subject, educated or ignorant.
I would recommend this book to those interested in philosophy and what was in the 18th century one of the most popular of books. For those looking for an adventure novel, this is not the place to look.
This is something perhaps all young people should read (if they can keep their attention on it long enough), since it does hammer home the old saying the grass is always greener on the other side, and that sayings futility. One must learn to balance life with purpose and knowledge that when you grasp for one thing you inevitably end up losing another which you had. It is much like choosing paths, once chosen the others close up and regret is perhaps all you may have left after that unless you are given to a higher purpose.
It's a philosophical work, a discourse between a prince, a princess, a wise teacher, and people representing the various segments of society. Rasselas seeks happiness and fulfillment. All he discovers is that each person is discontent with their own life, and wishes they took a different path. Rasselas is arguably in the best position of any of them, and yet does not appreciate it.
Consider it a series of short essays, each where a thief, a farmer, a rich merchant, a king, and so on expounds upon what they hoped to get from their life, and why it isn't ideal.
It's as entertaining to read as a collection of essays (not my cup of tea), and for me with decades of adult life under my belt, held little in the way of surprises and insight. Read it as a necessary work of earlier light philosophy, perhaps, but I don't believe there'll be answers or surprises here for anyone over 30.