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The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia Paperback – Jun 15 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Edition edition (June 15 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019922997X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199229970
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.5 x 12.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #224,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x97d2a138) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97d4921c) out of 5 stars A prince's search for happiness Dec 17 2010
By Jeffrey Van Wagoner - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I finally got around to reading something from the great Samuel Johnson, who had such a significant impact in the 18th century. This is a relatively short novel about a prince that is effectively imprisoned in "happy valley" along with the emperor's other sons and daughters to protect them from the vicissitudes of life. The price grows weary of the place and escapes along with his sister and a poet.

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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97d49270) out of 5 stars Extremely important book Jan. 30 2013
By jaruska - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
May be a slow read, but I was amazed at each paragraph... Tons of wisdom for any age. Recommendation to a teenage boy unfortunately did not meet with much enthusiasm. Witty, very wise, written by a great personality of his time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98705e34) out of 5 stars alright March 29 2014
By A. Meyer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Although this was an interesting book I did have many times where I simply drifted into other pursuits and left the book just sitting there. The story is about a prince and his companions who are determined to find out the way of life and what is the best for them. In the beginning the prince pines to know the outside world and all its woes because he was stuck in a world where pleasure was the only thing he knew. Once they are on their way they discover time and time again that no matter what, whether it was the philosopher, or the hermit, or the isolated scientist, it didn't matter, they all felt that their life was pursued pointlessly and wished for something else.
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.
HASH(0x97d494f8) out of 5 stars A classic, perhaps some lessons for millenials and younger. Sept. 20 2014
By John L. Miller - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This classic work is more than 250 years old, but is easily accessible and readable today.

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.
HASH(0x97d49330) out of 5 stars "Look Inside" is misleading Dec 5 2014
By J. Michael - Published on
Format: Paperback
Johnson's Rasselas is a psychologically acute tale of the search for happiness, as relevant today as it was when first published. But the purpose of my post is to register my objection to the "Look Inside" feature on this page. If one attempts to look inside this book, one is taken to the Oxford edition instead. This renders the feature useless for those of us comparing editions for the purpose of classroom adoption.