Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Happy Valley

Happy Valley. Imaginary place in Africa, vaguely located in the mountains of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), a country that interested Samuel Johnson because his first published work had been a translation of a travel book about it. This fantastical and ideal location contains flora, fauna, human government, and even architecture that are all meant to represent nature as it should be. The valley is an advanced and highly civilized Eden. A key feature in the valley is a palace, or huge house, of many mysterious rooms; the valley also contains rugged and various natural phenomena. Despite its complexity and variety, however, the valley is boring to the main characters who decide they must move on in order to see the rest of the world. Once they have done this traveling, most of them return to the valley.


*Cairo. Egyptian city that for Johnson is meant to represent the actual metropolis but is far from a realistic depiction. Rather it represents the exotic and wise East. This is a key theme in the literature of the European Enlightenment. For Johnson’s readers, stories set in the Middle East or the far East carry with them wise and reliable philosophic information. The underlying principle seems to have been that since the dominant religions came from the East and since the institution of self-confident monarchy seemed to be so strong in the lush and exotic courts of the East, fiction set in the East...

(The entire section is 513 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Burke, John J., Jr., and Donald Kay, eds. The Unknown Samuel Johnson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983. Offers new interpretations of Rasselas’ theme and meaning in light of Johnson’s private life.

Curley, Thomas. “The Spiritual Journey Moralized in Rasselas.” Anglia 91 (1973): 35-55. Generally positive review, focusing on the moral overtones of Johnson’s choice-of-life ideology as it relates to the circumstances and actions of the travelers in Rasselas.

Ehrenpreis, Irvin. “Rasselas and Some Meanings of ‘Structure’ in Literary Criticism.” Novel 14, no. 2 (Winter, 1981): 101-117. A rather disparaging view of Johnson’s artistic abilities, noting the shallowness of his characters and the inconsistencies within the structure of Rasselas.

Nath, Prem, ed. Fresh Reflections on Samuel Johnson: Essays in Criticism. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1987. Contains a broad range of critical essays dealing with Johnson’s writings, with particular emphasis on its artistic nature. Useful for its opposing interpretations of theme and meaning in Rasselas.

Wahba, Magdi, comp. Bicentenary Essays on “Rasselas.” Cairo: Société Orientale de Publicité Press, 1959. Focuses on Rasselas as a positive message of hope and call from despair, offering a counterargument to the pessimistic interpretation in force since its publication in the eighteenth century.