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The words of the wise man, Of making many books, might almost be limited to editions of I asselas, and still be true. Yet the new editor as always trusts that something will be found in his little edition to make sufficient apology for its appearance. There seemed to be some reason, at least, for another attempt to edit a book that is so often read in schools. In the first place, no modern edition available for class use accurately follows the original text, and many depart in not a few particulars important for a systematic study of style. Besides, there has never been a careful study of the sources of that conception which introduces the book and gives the setting to the tale, the story of the happy valley. A gain, there seemed to be needed some interpretation of the book in relation to the thought of the time of its publication, since this alone can give it a living interest to-day. The other parts of the introduction, it is hoped, will not prove useless. In making the notes, two purposes have been prominent. First, Rasselas has been largely illustrated from references to Johnson sother
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In Samuel Johnson’s classic philosophical tale, the prince and princess of Abissinia escape their confinement in the Happy Valley and conduct an ultimately unsuccessful search for a choice of life that leads to happiness. Johnson uses the conventions of the Oriental tale to depict a universal restlessness of desire. The excesses of Orientalism―its superfluous splendours, its despotic tyrannies, its riotous pleasures―cannot satisfy us. His tale challenges us by showing the problem of finding happiness to be insoluble while still dignifying our quest for fulfillment.
The appendices to this Broadview edition include reviews and biographies, selections from the sequel Dinarbas (1790), and the complete text of Elizabeth Pope Whately’s The Second Part of the History of Rasselas (1835). Selections from Johnson’s translation of the travel narrative A Voyage to Abyssinia, as well as his Oriental tales in the Rambler, are also included, along with another popular tale, Joseph Addison’s “The Vision of Mirzah,” and selections from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters.About the Author:
Thomas Keymer is Chancellor Jackman Professor of English at the University of Toronto. He co-edited The Cambridge Companion to English Literature from 1740 to 1830.
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