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The History Of Rasselas Prince Of Abissinia
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The History Of Rasselas Prince Of Abissinia

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  2,969 ratings  ·  155 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, 183 pages
Published January 12th 1989 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1759)
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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
Oct 30, 2008 Wayne rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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
Dec 24, 2011 Nicole rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
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,
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
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 import ...more
Quentin S.
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
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
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
"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
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 traditi ...more
Wicked Incognito Now
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
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
Jun 06, 2012 Sunny marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1305-to-read
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'.

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.
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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.
Maan Kawas
A beautiful book by Samuel Johnson, which is concerned with the search for happiness! The protagonists, Rasselas, son of the king of Abyssinia and his sister Nekayah flee – accompanied with the poet Imlac and Nekayah’s favorite Pekuah - from the Happy Valley, where they were imprisoned (till the order of succession should call him to the throne"), in order to search for happiness. The prince said “I have already enjoyed too much; give me something to desire”; hence, he felt unhappy and started t ...more
Melody Nechum
It was one of those books I had to read for my Literature of Loss and Learning class, and I can't pretend to say that it was anything like what I normally read. However, I could not judge the book so harshly upon learning that Johnson wrote this book in the space of a week to pay for the funeral of his mother (only one of several deaths that he would experience). I find that if I think of this book not as the "life's work" of an old man, but rather as the haphazard thoughts of a confused man, I ...more
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.
Peter Mottola
A delightful series of philosophical reflections on the question of which state of life is the happiest and best (spoiler alert: the last chapter is titled "The Conclusion, in which nothing is concluded."). It treats domestic life, public service, the intellectual life, and even gives a not wholly unfair consideration of monasticism, one much more positive than I would have expected from an eighteenth-century Anglican. While this is perhaps not a work I'd recommend very widely, the high quality ...more
Timothy Bartel
A deceptively simple, viciously skeptical exploration of the limits of human pleasure and the endless search for the good life. Every kid should read this in high school.
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.
Chris S
I liked the quasi totalitarian set-yp - reminded me of the 1960s tv series The Prisoner!
Joana Valadez
In the book The Rasselas by Samuel Johnson the prince was born in Abyssinianis. In a castle. that is very well protected. He is in prison and can’t leave the castle. He was rich and had everything. His life sounds like it’s perfect but in reality its not. One thing prince Rasselas didn’t have was happiness. He discovers that happiness isn’t pleasure nor materialistic things.So he decided to try to escape where he can discover happiness. I think this is a good book because its mainly about findin ...more
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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.” 74 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.” 44 likes
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