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Chapter 15 - Johnson and Disability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2022

Greg Clingham
Affiliation:
Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
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Summary

This chapter considers how Samuel Johnson’s various disabilities shaped perceptions of him during his lifetime and continue to influence critical and biographical assessments of his personality, conversational prowess, and literary style. Given that modern conceptions of disability formed in the nineteenth century, I discuss why interpretations of Johnson’s mental and physical impairments might be better served by focusing on terms that were current in the eighteenth century, such as melancholy and peculiarity. Johnson’s friends and associates frequently commented on the “peculiarity” of his bodily movements. I examine episodes in which these peculiarities inspired people to stare at Johnson or to imitate him. These episodes reveal the deeper significance that eighteenth-century men and women ascribed to unusual and surprising forms of embodiment. I conclude by exploring the intriguing connections critics have made between Johnson’s “peculiar” body and his distinctive prose style.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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  • Johnson and Disability
  • Edited by Greg Clingham, Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
  • Book: The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson
  • Online publication: 22 September 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108966108.016
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  • Johnson and Disability
  • Edited by Greg Clingham, Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
  • Book: The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson
  • Online publication: 22 September 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108966108.016
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Johnson and Disability
  • Edited by Greg Clingham, Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
  • Book: The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson
  • Online publication: 22 September 2022
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108966108.016
Available formats
×