Prince of Abyssinia The History of Rasselas Criticism - Essay

Sir Walter Raleigh (essay date 1894)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Novels of the Eighteenth Century," in The English Novel: A Short Sketch of Its History from the Earliest Times to the Appearance of "Waverly", John Murray, 1894, pp. 180-215.

[In the following excerpt, Raleigh considers whether Rasselas belongs to the novel genre.]

The contributions of Johnson and Goldsmith to prose fiction are examples of pure eighteenth-century work. It was in the year 1759, some months before the publication of the earliest instalment of Tristram Shandy, that the great Cham descended into the arena of the novelists with his moral apologue called The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. His immediate object in...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)

Gwin J. Kolb (essay date 1951)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Structure of Rasselas," in PMLA, Vol. LXVI, No. 5, September, 1951, pp. 698-717.

[In the following essay, Kolb discusses the relationship of structure to meaning in Rasselas. Kolb argues that Johnson's story is structurally distinct from the generic eighteenth-century oriental tale, and suggests that the common practice of viewing Rasselas as an oriental tale is misleading and results in an incomplete understanding of the work.]


In beginning a discussion of the structure of Rasselas one need not spend much time clearing the ground of previous arguments before advancing one's own. What the new...

(The entire section is 9628 words.)

Walter Jackson Bate (essay date 1955)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Hunger of Imagination," in The Achievement of Samuel Johnson, Oxford University Press, 1955, pp. 63-91.

[In the following essay, Bate, a leading scholar of the eighteenth century, explores Johnson's view of the mind as a aspect of the human organism that should be constantly stimulated and diverted with intellectual pursuits and conscious reflection.]

In Rasselas, the little group, which has been traveling about in search of a fuller understanding of human nature and destiny, is taken by the philosopher, Imlac, to see the pyramids. Neither Rasselas nor his sister is excited by the prospect of the visit. They state, rather pretentiously, that...

(The entire section is 9447 words.)

George Sherburn (essay date 1959)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Rasselas Returns—To What?," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3, July, 1959, pp. 383-84.

[In the following essay, Sherburn argues that, contrary to the assumption of earlier critics, Rasselas and his party do not end their journey with an optimistic return to the Happy Valley. Instead, according to Sherburn, the travellers return to Abissinia only to find the Happy Valley closed to them forever.]

Since Rasselas is this year two hundred years old, it is natural for us all to write about it. But it is painful to find people misinterpreting one important fact of the work. In Philological Quarterly for January, 1959, William Kenney...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Emrys Jones (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Artistic Form of Rasselas," in The Review of English Studies, n.s., Vol. XVIII, No. 72, November, 1967, pp. 387-401.

[In the following essay, Jones argues that a three-part structure, rather than the usual division of Rasselas into two unequal parts, reflects more accurately Johnson's original intent for this work.]

Johnson's powers as a poet are more readily appreciated than they were fifty years ago. But the artistry of Rasselas is still too little recognized. The traditional reading of the book speaks of it as a species of sober discourse, and finds its unity—if it has one—in its mood or temper, that of a philosophical...

(The entire section is 7095 words.)

Arthur J. Weitzman (essay date 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "More Light on Rasselas: The Background of the Egyptian Episodes," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. XLVIII, No. 1, January, 1969, pp. 42-58.

[In the following essay, Weitzman identifies sources Johnson probably used for the Egyptian settings in Rasselas, arguing that the sources reflect Johnson's intent in incorporating Cairo, the pyramids, and other Eastern elements into his story. The critic adds that sources further support the hypothesis that Johnson did not simply compose Rasselas in seven days without any prior preparation, as is often claimed.]

Recent scholarly investigations of Johnson's Rasselas have tended to focus on the...

(The entire section is 7142 words.)

James F. Woodruff (essay date 1984)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Rasselas and the Traditions of 'Menippean Satire'," in Samuel Johnson: New Critical Essays, edited by Isobel Grundy, Vision Press and Barnes & Noble, 1984, pp. 158-85.

[In the following essay, Woodruff considers Rasselas within the context of classical satiric traditions, suggesting that such a view makes clearer Johnson's efforts to create a Christian philosophy founded on realism.]

As Carey McIntosh has pointed out, Rasselas is 'the most problematic' of Johnson's narrative works.' Disagreement exists about its genre and about the effect of its style, moral, structure, plot and characterization. My aim is to suggest a context of...

(The entire section is 10280 words.)

Marlene R. Hansen (essay date 1985)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Sex and Love, Marriage and Friendship: A Feminist Reading of the Quest for Happii;iess in Rasselas," in English Studies, Vol. 6, 1985, pp. 513-25.

[In the following essay, Hansen argues that Johnson portrays friendship as the way to happiness in Rasselas. Hansen also suggets that Johnson's depiction of friendship suggests his view that women and men share an equal humanity.]

In this article I intend to argue that happiness is not shown to be unobtainable in Rasselas, although it is not connected with any particular way of life. Happiness arises from friendship, that is, from equal and affectionate relationships, which may break down the...

(The entire section is 7012 words.)

Catherine N. Parke (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Rasselas and the Conversation of History," in The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual, Vol. 1, edited by Paul J. Korshin, AMS Press, Inc., 1987, pp. 79-109.

[In the following essay, Parke proposes that in Rasselas, Johnson elaborated on the thesis that historyas a reflection on the past and an awareness of the continuity of timeis both the antidote to life's natural boredom and a precondition for understanding the future.]

The travellers who escape from the Happy Valley to make their world tour in search of the happy choice of life experience on their trip many feelings: terror, disappointment, pleasure, curiosity, suspicion,...

(The entire section is 11685 words.)

Richard Braverman (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Narrative Architecture of Rasselas," in The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual, Vol. 3, edited by Paul J. Korshin, AMS Press, Inc., 1990, pp. 91-111.

[In the following essay, Braverman examines the significance of architectural structures as well as interior and spiritual spaces in Rasselas.]

More than twenty years ago, Paul Fussell noted the prevalence of architectural imagery in the writing of the major Augustan humanists. Writers from Swift to Burke, he observed, had found in the "architectural image-system" a way of expressing "the role of forethought, arrangement, will, and order in the self-construction of the human imagination …" Fussell...

(The entire section is 7765 words.)

Duane H. Smith (essay date 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Repetitive Patterns in Samuel Johnson's Rasselas," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 36, No. 3, Summer, 1996, pp. 623-39.

[In the following essay, Smith examines the use and function of repetitive narrative structures in Rasselas.]

Ye who would listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagemess the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas prince of Abissinia.

Thus, Samuel Johnson begins The History of Rasselas, Prince...

(The entire section is 6730 words.)