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The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

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3.43  ·  Rating Details ·  4,089 Ratings  ·  188 Reviews
Rasselas--regarded as Johnson's most creative work--presents the story of the journey of Rasselas and his companions in search of "the choice of life." Its charm lies not in its plot, but rather in its wise and humane look at man's constant search for happiness. The text is based on the second edition as Samuel Johnson revised it.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 22nd 1999 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1759)
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(showing 1-30)
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Bill  Kerwin
Sep 28, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it

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 work in both wit and humor, but then Voltaire's task was much easier. He merely wished to demolish another man's philosophy, whereas Johnson wished to persuade his readers how to be happy.

Being happy wasn
...more
Paul
Aug 29, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it
Shelves: 18th-novels
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 ill and Johnson needed money to support her and pay her medical bills. He wrote Rasselas in a week, in the evenings. He received one hundred pounds for it and it ended up paying for his mother’s funeral
...more
Wayne
Jul 14, 2015 Wayne rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Wayne by: no one
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" and "Marriage has many pains but celibacy has no pleasures." See where Jane tapped into that conciseness, wit and wisdom now ?
And both of these sentences are to be found in the enchanting philosophic
...more
Bettie☯



http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vsyz1

Description: An intriguing, contemporary take on Samuel Johnson's classic tale of an African prince in search of happiness.

A star cast is led by Ashley Zhangazha as Rasselas, Jeff Rawle as Samuel Johnson and Lucian Msamati - the RSC's first black Iago - as the poet Imlac. Singer and actor Cynthia Erivo makes her BBC radio drama debut as Princess Nekayah.

Recorded on location at Dr Johnson's House, 17 Gough Square, in the City of London - the very place wher
...more
Tony
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 has often been cited as the author’s most creative work – aside from his ground-breaking dictionary – and I’d have to agree. It is a cautionary or moral tale about choices in life. It is very much like V
...more
James
Sep 06, 2015 James rated it really liked it
Great little morality tale indicative of the frustrated stoicism of Johnson's age, a stoicism that faced a language of scientific precision and a resurgence of epicureanism as concepts of good-living and self-determination were democratized and plucked from a waning aristocracy fragmented by the revolutions of the preceding century.

Johnson's prose is marvellous, very crisp, very exact: always preparing another cutting aphorism on the demented tendencies of human 'fancy'. Definitely a cautionary
...more
Laura
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

From BBC Radio 4 - Drama:
An intriguing, contemporary take on Samuel Johnson's classic tale of an African prince in search of happiness.

A star cast is led by Ashley Zhangazha as Rasselas, Jeff Rawle as Samuel Johnson and Lucian Msamati - the RSC's first black Iago - as the poet Imlac. Singer and actor Cynthia Erivo makes her BBC radio drama debut as Princess Nekayah.

Recorded on location at Dr Johnson's House, 17 Gough Square, in the City of London - th
...more
Randolph Carter
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 our condition on this mortal coil.

Hence, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia a moral tale if there ever was one. One of the things one has to keep in mind when reading Rasselas is that Johnson is
...more
Frankie
Apr 10, 2012 Frankie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british
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 complain about it in this novel.

A few of my favorites: At the tail of Chapter 13, Imlac warns Rasselas about belief in omens, "Do not disturb your mind with other hopes and fears than reason may suggest. If
...more
Madeline
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 maid. The group travels around for a while and meets a lot of different people, none of whom are really happy. This is all an excuse for Johnson to ramble philosophically and repeat the same points over and ...more
Gary
Sep 14, 2009 Gary rated it it was amazing
I was on the road this weekend and picked up a copy of the WSJ weekend edition. It had an article about Samuel Johnson's Rasselas. My second semester in graduate school, I took a Johnson seminar from O. M. "Skip" Brack, who eventually directed my PhD thesis. He believed that the world would be a better place if everyone read Rasselas at least once a year. I haven't followed that regime, but I'm inclined to agree. Johnson is largely forgotten now by most readers (even though he is the most ...more
Nicole
Dec 24, 2011 Nicole rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who read classics just to say they've read them.
Recommended to Nicole by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: 1001-list-books, 2011
I'd seen several reviews and/or comments placing Rasselas in the same vein as Candide, and while I agree that they're both tales about young men going out into the world to discover themselves I can't take the comparison any further. Overall I found Rasselas a slow and rather disappointing read.

The young prince of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) becomes bored with the coddled life inside the royal compound and resolves to go out and discover the world. It sounds like it's going to be an adventure, but it
...more
Laura
Nov 13, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a nice quick little read. It is a story about a younger son of the King of Abyssinia (Modern Ethiopia: the only African nation NOT to be colonized, by the way), who is raised in a utopian valley where his every need, pleasure and whim is met uncompromisingly.

So of course he is unhappy.

He finds a way out of the valley with one of his sisters, her waiting maid, and a sage friend, Imlac who has seen the world before entering the valley.

The spend the rest of the book trying to figure out
...more
Jonathan
Mar 14, 2010 Jonathan rated it it was ok
Didactic, but this is not a bad quality, especially when the teaching is wise and good. The teaching in Rasselas is good because it shows that joy cannot be found in this life.

But the teaching is also bad for this very reason because joy can be found in this world, but not from this world. Joy is found in Christ alone. The source of joy is in living for the glory of God, who is Jesus Christ the very image of God. Rasselas, though knowing of God, never seems to find the joy that is found in God,
...more
Sandra
Lo siento, pero no me ha gustado. No soy de libros filosóficos y, a pesar de que se trata de un libro cortito, me ha costado mucho intentar continuar con la lectura. Un simple 'meh'.

No obstante, probablemente le llegue más a la gente que le guste la filosofía y tampoco me ha parecido demasiado difícil de leer –aunque tenía sus palabrejas–. Yo está claro que no he podido con él.
Andrew
Aug 05, 2009 Andrew added it
The closest thing SJ ever wrote to a novel, RASSELAS often gets compared to Voltaire's CANDIDE. But where Voltaire's novel attacks one philosophical tradition, Johnson's tries to participate in several. This is one of things I'm coming to like about Johnson - despite his reputation as a critic with highly subjective yet authoritative tastes (see, for instance, his disdain for Milton yet curious love for Pope's ILIAD), he constantly tried to build meaning out of the available intellectual ...more
Yngvild
Jan 02, 2010 Yngvild rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure
Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is an odd little set of musings on life, happiness and what it takes to connect the two. Samuel Johnson sends a mixed group of young adults out into the world to observe various theories of life in action. The result isn’t by any definition a novel, just a ragbag of thoughts.

Most importantly, Johnson wants to see who is better off: intellectuals and academics; politicians and other leaders; or those who just want a bigger chicken in the pot and a bigger SUV in the
...more
Victoria
Feb 03, 2012 Victoria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"That greatest of philosophical tales," as Warren Fleischauer calls The History of Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia in his introduction to the edition I read -- one of 112 listed at this site! -- will disappoint anyone prepared for something else, a novel, a story, an adventure. The adventure here is all in ideas, expressed by fairy-tale characters such as Prince, Princess, her Favorite (companion), and Poet, and the ideas are about How To Live, How to Be Happy. As old as these issues are, and as mu ...more
Quentin Crisp
Jul 13, 2014 Quentin Crisp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am dashing this one off, and must apologise for brevity, etc.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, considering I have long felt myself at odds with the pragmatism and general English down-to-earth-ness of Johnson's traditional image, and of the few quotes of his that I had been familiar with, such as the execrable: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Even now, that seems a pretty hateful thing to say, typical of British philistinism.

But, Johnson clearly is not a philis
...more
Wicked Incognito Now
Nov 24, 2010 Wicked Incognito Now rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that should be assigned in high school. It was written in 1759, but it's not inaccessible to the average reader. Samuel Johnson addresses humanity, and the nature of happiness by sending the Prince of Abissinia (modern day Ethiopia) on travels to meet many different types of people.

Rasselas (the prince) is determined to find the thing that will make him happy and he takes his sister, her maid, and a poet with him. They encounter many different types of people: philos
...more
Manuel Alfonseca
Oct 25, 2015 Manuel Alfonseca rated it liked it
Excellent summary of Samuel Johnson views about life, happiness and morals. Although I don't agree with everything he says, there are a few pearls that I decided to treasure, such as these two:

Ignorance, when it is voluntary, is criminal; and he may properly be charged with evil who refused to learn how he might prevent it.

My comment: A good lesson for our politicians.

Do not reproach yourself for your virtue, or consider that as blameable by which evil has accidentally been caused.

In other wor
...more
Travelling Sunny
Jun 06, 2012 Travelling Sunny marked it as to-read
Shelves: 1305-to-read
WHEN I FIRST HEARD ABOUT THIS BOOK, I THOUGHT:
In Jane Eyre, little Helen Burns reads this "didactic romance." (Quotes from my Barnes & Noble classics edition describing this book to me in the end notes.)

(1) If little Helen Burns can read it, why shouldn't I? (2) What the HECK is meant by didactic romance? Will the Prince learn something from some horrible affair of the heart? (3) It's one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, so, it's 'on like Donkey Kong'.

THEN I READ A FEW REVIEWS
...more
James
Jan 23, 2014 James rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy-horror
18th century fantasy is a delightful imaginary journey in search of the good life. This novel is thematically similar to Candide by Voltaire, also published early in 1759 – both concern young men travelling in the company of honored teachers, encountering and examining human suffering in an attempt to determine the root of happiness. However unlike the satirical approach of Voltaire, in Rasselas Samuel Johnson confronts the question whether or not humanity is essentially capable of attaining hap ...more
paulA neves
Nov 08, 2008 paulA neves rated it liked it
Very interesting, concise read that might just spark your interest in Neo-classicism and biography, as so much of Johnson's philosophy here seems colored by his personal life, especially the death of his mother (he wrote Rasselas to make money to pay for her funeral). One of the most significant aspects of this moral/intellectual parable/tale is how Johnson uses it to hold court on the nature of poets and poetry (see Chapter X) and, more broadly, the untenable nature of happiness.
kasia
Dec 31, 2013 kasia rated it it was amazing
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I came for the Orient-as-hypothetical-space-for-philosophizing-at, and stayed for the actual philosophy. Oriental weirdness aside (because there is some), it's actually a very interesting reflection on happiness, and definitely one of the more interesting (and successful) utopian-ish text I know of.
Pilar Erika
To me more an essay about "the choice of life"than a novel. Samuel Johnson expresses his thoughts and doubts about this theme through the characters and the third-person narrator of his "essay-novel". Everything is seen with the eyes of his century, the eyes/spirit of the Enlightment.

A conceptual and philosophical 18th century style. Not a very pleasant reading for a narrative.
Marlene  Schuler
Feb 21, 2016 Marlene Schuler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reading-for-2016
I think this will become one of those books I will read over and over again. Johnson is so brilliant... I can't believe he wrote this in a week of evenings and sent it off to the publishers WITHOUT revising it once!
Adrienne
Jan 22, 2015 Adrienne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alternately hilarious and thought-provoking. I enjoyed this as a 20 year-old. Thirty years later, it was fun all over again. This edition benefits from a terrific, comprehension introduction by Prof. Jessica Richard.
Wanda
May 19, 2015 Wanda marked it as to-read
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie☯
19 MAY 2015 -- recommended by Bettie.

Free download available at Project Gutenberg -- http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/652
Traci
Mar 30, 2008 Traci rated it liked it
Very interesting read, but written so long ago that I struggled a bit with the language differences. Chosen in a book club by a college English major.
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Samuel Johnson was an English author. Beginning as a Grub Street journalist, he made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of one of the most celebrated biographies in English, ...more
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“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” 98 likes
“Of the blessings set before you make your choice, and be content. No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of the spring: no man can, at the same time, fill his cup from the source and from the mouth of the Nile.” 62 likes
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