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The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia [Paperback]

Samuel Johnson

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Book Description

June 15 2009 019922997X 978-0199229970 New Edition
Thomas Keymer is a 2011 Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada. 'What then is to be done? said Rasselas; the more we inquire, the less we can resolve.' Rasselas and his companions escape the pleasures of the 'happy valley' in order to make their 'choice of life'. By witnessing the misfortunes and miseries of others they may come to understand the nature of happiness, and value it more highly. Their travels and enquiries raise important practical and philosophical questions concerning many aspects of the human condition, including the business of a poet, the stability of reason, the immortality of the soul, and how to find contentment. Johnson's adaptation of the popular oriental tale displays his usual wit and perceptiveness; sceptical and probing, his tale nevertheless suggests that wisdom and self-knowledge need not be entirely beyond reach. This new edition relates the novel to Johnson's life and thought and to politics, society, and the global context of the Seven Years War.

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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)

"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) --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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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A prince's search for happiness Dec 17 2010
By Jeffrey Van Wagoner - Published on Amazon.com
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, as one would expect from Dr July 8 2014
By Thomas Byrne - Published on Amazon.com
An excellent read, as one would expect from Dr. Johnson. A profoundly intellectual book, but within the grasp on any educated and experienced adult reader.
3.0 out of 5 stars alright March 29 2014
By A. Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
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.

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