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Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing Paperback – April 17, 1986

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039330258X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393302585
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,291,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Henry Miller on February 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
In this study of Samuel Johnson’s work as an author, Paul Fussell notes the “curious neglect of Johnson by what might be called the intellectual community” of the late 20th and 21st centuries (p. 146). The reasons for this are complex, but not least is a clichéd conception of “Dr. Johnson” as a “combination of Mr. Punch, John Bull, and a sort of Lord North of criticism,” full of “brutal literary ‘prejudices’” and standing as an emblem of 18th century “reaction and ‘Toryism’” (p. 40). In fact, the John Bull, high Tory “Dr. Johnson” is largely a fictive creation of those, such as his friend Boswell or his posthumous detractor Macaulay, who had their own peculiar reasons for shaping the legacy of a once indisputably powerful author in this way (pp. 39-41). Scholars such as W.J. Bate, whose biography of Johnson is itself a psychologically profound and moving work, or Donald Greene have done much to remedy these misperceptions. Fussell makes his own valuable contribution to this work by demonstrating how subtle and profound was Johnson’s work as an author.

The touchstone of Fussell’s analysis might be called “anti-romanticism” (a theme that also runs through his later study of Kingsley Amis), an exasperation with the cult of individual genius, the “all-powerful unique personality” that transcends conventions and dictates its art to the world on its own terms (pp. 64-65). To the contrary, Fussell argues that literature necessarily takes place through genres, i.e., through literary forms that perform the same task no matter who is handling them. The desuetude of genres in contempory high literature is more apparent than real, as Fussell shows through an amusing mock catalog of late 20th century poetic genres (e.g.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MGKAL on April 22, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Boswell's book on Samuel Johnson stands on its own. Fussell's book is beautifully written, acutely observant, and gives a felt sense of the times and the person of his subject. One can read either book independent of the other. But to read them both is a fuller literary experience.
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