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Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia

Samuel Johnson

Book Overview: 

In this enchanting fable, Rasselas and his retinue burrow their way out of the totalitarian paradise of the Happy Valley in search of that triad of eighteenth-century aspiration – life, liberty and happiness.
According to that quirky authority, James Boswell, Johnson penned his only work of prose fiction in a handful of days to cover the cost of his mother’s funeral. The stylistic elegance of the book and its wide-ranging philosophical concerns give no hint of haste or superficiality.
Among other still burning issues Johnson’s characters pursue questions of education, colonialism, the nature of the soul and even climate alteration.
Johnson’s profoundest concern, however, is with the alternating attractions of solitude and social participation, seen not only as the ultimate life-choice but as the arena in which are played out the deepest fears of the individual: “Of the uncertainties of our present state, the most dreadful and alarming is the uncertain continuance of Reason.”

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .But the exercise of swimming,” said the Prince, “is very laborious; the strongest limbs are soon wearied.  I am afraid the act of flying will be yet more violent; and wings will be of no great use unless we can fly further than we can swim.”

“The labour of rising from the ground,” said the artist, “will be great, as we see it in the heavier domestic fowls; but as we mount higher the earth’s attraction and the body’s gravity will be gradually diminished, till we shall arrive at a region where the man shall float in the air without any tendency to fall; no care will then be necessary but to move forward, which the gentlest impulse will effect.  You, sir, whose curiosity is so extensive, will easily conceive with what pleasure a philosopher, furnished with wings and hovering in the sky, would see the earth and all its inhabitants rolling beneath him, and presenting to him successively, by its diurnal motion, all the countrie. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Nobody reads Johnson anymore except english majors. Which is a shame since while Johnson is disdained for his lack of political correctness in his conservative particulars, his wisdom in generalization is unassailable. Much can be gleaned from his philosophy and general opinions about life and ou...more

If you think this is too ,too old hat for you then perhaps the fact that Jane Austen was a BIG fan may break down your prejudices. And pride? She loved and inherited Johnson's neoclassical balance of style exemplified in such of his sentences as:"Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience...more

THE HISTORY OF RASSELAS PRINCE OF ABISSINIA. (1759). Samuel Johnson. ***.
This was one of those books that I’ve been avoiding for years; it had to be dull...right? When I found a copy in Oxford’s “World’s Classics” edition, I felt that the time had come. I was most pleasantly surprised. Rasselas...more

This was recommended by a reading friend on one of the Amazon forums that I frequent. Agree with other reviewers of the novella that it is a little "gem" of a book. This review is for the kindle version.

Rasselas is a Prince who has all his needs and wants catered for but he is dissatisfied with h...more

A bored rich prince gets tired of his boring rich life, and decides to escape the so-called Happy Valley where he lives/is imprisoned to learn about real life and what it means to be happy. Along for the ride are a poet who's lived outside the Happy Valley before, the prince's sister, and her mai...more

Written in one week to defray the cost of his mother's funeral, Johnson's moral tale is a superior example of the prose of its era, and its era—the Age of Enlightenment—is renowned for the quality of its prose. It is true that Candide—written in 1759, the same year as Rasselas--excels Johnson's w...more

I'm giving this five stars, because it's right up my alley style-wise (the Eastern pilgrimage tale), and I can't stop thinking about some clever points made even early on. It's sort of Gibran's The Prophet meets Candide, but with a more plausible outcome than either. I cannot find anything to com...more

Dr Johnson’s foray into fiction is an oddity. The themes are similar to Candide and they were written at pretty much the same time. For different reasons.
Johnson famously said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money”. His only novel was no exception. In January 1759 his mother became...more

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