Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#2: Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson

Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
by Samuel Johnson
-born in England, 1709
-192 Pages
-more about Johnson (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Samuel Johnson was born above his father's bookshop.
- He was a sickly child, scarred by smallpox & probably had Tourettes.
- He dropped out of Oxford due to lack of funds.
- At 25 he married a widow 21 years his senior.
- He lost his wife's wealth in a failed attempt to start a school.
- His major accomplishment was A Dictionary of the English Language, but he wrote many different types of fiction and nonfiction.
- He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
The other great book by the man who wrote the dictionary: This is Dr. Johnson's beautiful, engaging, and ultimately inspiring story of a royal brother and sister who escape the castle and, travelling in disguise, search for a way to make themselves more useful to society.

It leads to a years-long adventure amongst poor people and rich men, great intellectuals and merchants, holy men and ruthless warriors. It is an eye-opening experience that shakes the siblings to their core and ultimately turns from a biting satire into one of the most sublimely wise and moving works that Johnson ever wrote, not to mention a masterpiece of English Literature.

My Impressions:
I have fond memories of Aesop's Fables, but apart from that, it seems that fables just aren't my thing.  Even when done well, as in Rasseslas, Prince of Abyssinia. I enjoyed the writing, and was fascinated by the peak into Egypt's Pyramids, but overall I had a hard time staying focused. It's like my brain recognizes the self-help-y qualities and emotionally disconnects.  Which is sad, because there are a lot of worthwhile topics discussed and a lot of interesting characters met.  This is a book that you could really re-read, slowly, and spend time contemplating everything.  Instead, I kept hearing an exchange from Dialogue of the Dogs run through my head:
Berganza: All that is sermonizing, friend Scipio.
Scipio: OK, you caught me. Shutting up now.
Those lines weren't running through Samuel Johnson's head, I think we can safely assume.  He seemed to be big on logic and reason.  The characters are rather stilted, favoring logical discourses over realistic conversations.  I only made two small notations, from which the tone (completely different from Cervantes') should be apparent.
Both conditions may be bad, but they cannot both be worst.
That you have been deprived of one pleasure is no very good reason for rejection of the rest.
I'm not too upset about not loving this one.  It just means that now I don't have to feel like I have to read his dictionary.  Most of his other works were nonfiction, if I'm not mistaken, which I can't help but think was probably just more his thing.


  1. I enjoyed this review, Melody.

    I had a similar reaction to The Alchemist. Pleasant to read, but the self help-ish tone turns me off some.

  2. Oh The Alchemist and I did not get on at all. I get all rebellious when I feel like someone is telling me what to do. :/

    Good to see you around, btw, hope the writing is going well!

  3. Hmm, guess I won't be adding this to my small challenge list ;-)
    The Alchemist wasn't for me, either...


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