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The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – April 22, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0192839138 ISBN-10: 0192839136 Edition: Revised

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised edition (April 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192839136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192839138
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.6 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,675,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A relatively inexpensive, attractively designed edition with useful introduction and notes. For classroom use I prefer the Oxford World's Classics edition to any of the others available."--John Kandl, Walsh University

"Very good edition of an excellent work. My student response has been overwhelmingly positive. A valuable work for the 18-22 year old set."--Winfield J.C. Myers, University of Georgia

"Provides a wonderful intro. to Johnson's thought, and few works have more to say to our age and to our students. The response was overwhelmingly positive."--Winfield J.C. Myers, University of Georgia

About the Author

J. P. Hardy is Professor of Humanities at Bond University, Queensland. He has edited many editions of Johnson's works, including Johnson's Lives of the Poets: A Selection (OPET, 1971)

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Customer Reviews

This profound and wise insight is written with the usual Johnsonian artistic and literary brilliance.
Random Bimms
Rasselas provides an opportunity for a person of learning to contrast his life with those who seek to find something without that is truly within.
Lonnie E. Holder
It's always a sign of a good book when it inspires you to read something else by the author, so I recommend "Rasselas."

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Frank Lynch on March 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
Johnson brings together a wide variety of his favorite themes in this brief book, as he follows a small band of travelers as they interact with the world around them.
"Rasselas" of the title is a prince who has led a sheltered life in the Happy Valley. Over time he becomes discontented with always being contented, and decides to escape his boredom by leaving. He is led by his guide Imlac, a court counselor and poet; accompanying them is Rasselas's sister and her maid.
Rasselas's goal is to make a "choice of life," something he has great difficulty doing once outside the confines of the Happy Valley. Repeatedly, the quartet encounters arguments and counterarguments for one way of life or another. Ultimately, they realize that it's not what they choose to do in this life that matters, as long as it doesn't impede on their after-life. That is the major conclusion they reach, in a final chapter which Johnson calls "The conclusion, in which nothing is concluded."
The book and its writing is fairly simple, and could be read by anyone in high school. Unlike a lot of Johnson's essays, the syntax is not tangled, and it is easy to get through. However, while the writing is fairly simple (Hemingway some times comes to my mind!), the themes are big. And a young reader must be patient: what sounds like a final opinion on one page frequently gets an "on the other hand" on the next.
This is important, because some of the lines which characters speak are easily taken out of context, and misintepreted. A reader who is not careful may find a line which seems to resonate, and draw the wrong conclusion.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lonnie E. Holder HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Rasselas was a prince of Abyssinia, doomed to spend his life in "Happy Valley," unless he is chosen to be the King. In Happy Valley Rasselas' every need is met. He is fed and cared for and protected. However, Rasselas is unhappy in Happy Valley. Eventually he finds a man of the world who has come to Happy Valley and by the rules of entry, is now unable to leave. Eventually Prince Rasselas, the poet Imlac, Princess Nekayah and her handmaid Pekuah find a way to leave Happy Valley to journey into the world.

The travelers leave with a quantity of jewels so that they might find their way made easier, as poor travelers typically find their travels harsh. They begin to visit many different kinds of people in an effort to find happiness and thus be helped in deciding their "choice of life." The group visit common people, shepherds, an astronomer, teachers, a wealthy man, and many others. However, the group encounters an unexpected problem; they are unable to find a person who is happy. Even people who appear happy often turn out to have complaints regarding their life. The apparently happy wealthy man complains that others want his wealth. The shepherds turn out to want to live somewhere else. Everyone is dissatisfied with their lot in life.

Adding to the complexity of their search is that people take advantage of the seekers. Some people scam them out of their money. The Princess and Pekuah are kidnapped by desert raiders seeking to ransom them. It seems as though the world is a harsh place compared to Happy Valley. The seekers wonder how anyone can be happy in such a harsh and unforgiving world.

Rasselas is a philosophical tale that wonders about the nature of happiness.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Buster on March 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
Dr. Johnson's "The History of Rasselas Prince of Abissinia" offers a philosophical journey for our modern era--a search for the secret of what choice of life to make.

I highly recommend the Oxford World's Classic edition, edited by J.P. Hardy. The introductory material is quite helpful, and the extensive footnotes, further explaining the text, are a valuable gateway to many of Dr. Johnson's writings in Rambler and Adventurer, writings where he further pursued topics raised in this book.

Rasselas lives in a garden paradise--his every need is provided for by his father, the King, who has sent his four children to live in Happy Valley, a beautiful valley, a Garden of Eden, from which there is no known escape, until they are called to rule through the line of succession.

After years of having his every wish fulfilled, Rasselas grows dissatisfied--there is no challenge or deep satisfaction in merely waiting for others to die so he can be King. Rasselas wants more. He doesn't know life beyond the mountain. The Prince recruits his teacher, his sister, and her companion. Rasselas sets his goal to leave Happy Valley, and then he discovers his means of escape.

He plans to travel the world; to seek out the wise and the learned; to study humanity. Along the way Rasselas and his friends enquire and learn about the human condition: misfortune, desire, corruption, curiosity, loneliness, insanity and the loss of reason.
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