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Chapter 6 - Johnson and Fiction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2022

Greg Clingham
Affiliation:
Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
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Summary

The chapter opens by considering Johnson’s seemingly hostile attitude to the eighteenth-century novel and its realistic portrayals of human life, as contrasted with that of his contemporary Henry Fielding. It places The Rambler’s theoretical strictures on such writing alongside Johnson’s views on biography and practice as a writer of fiction in Rasselas, eliciting his various contradictory opinions on representing bad characters and negative examples in literature. The chapter shows how, for Johnson, human imagination is both dangerous – competing with truth for control of the human psyche – and a positive source of creative energy. Fiction is sometimes therefore synonymous, in his mind, with falsehood and unreality. But it is also synonymous with literature of all kinds, and with the human endeavor to depict the world and other people in strikingly new and powerful ways that may, paradoxically, “awaken us to things as they are.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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  • Johnson and Fiction
  • 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/10.1017/9781108966108.007
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  • Johnson and Fiction
  • 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/10.1017/9781108966108.007
Available formats
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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 Fiction
  • 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/10.1017/9781108966108.007
Available formats
×