Abyssinias Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author

Abyssinias Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author by Wendy Laura Belcher

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As a young man, Samuel Johnson, one of the most celebrated English authors of the eighteenth century, translated A Voyage to Abyssinia by Jeronimo Lobo, a tome by a Portuguese missionary about the country now known as Ethiopia. Far from being a potboiler, this translation left an indelible imprint on Johnson. Demonstrating its importance through a range of research and attentive close readings, Abyssinias Samuel Johnson highlights the lasting influence of an African people on Johnsons oeuvre. Wendy Laura Belcher uncovers traces of African discourse in Johnsons only work conceived for the stage, Irene; several of his short stories; and, of course, his most famous fiction, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Throughout, Belcher provides a much needed perspective on the power of the discourse of the other to infuse European texts. Most pointedly, she illuminates how the Western literary canon is globally produced, developing the powerful metaphor of spirit possession to suggest that some texts in the European canon are best understood as energumens--texts that are spoken through. Her model of discursive possession offers a new way of theorizing transcultural intertextuality, in particular how Europes others have co-constituted European representations. Drawing on sources in English, French, Portuguese, and Geez, this study challenges the conventional wisdom on Johnsons work, from the inspiration for the name Rasselas and the nature of Johnsons religious beliefs to what makes Rasselas so strange. A rich monograph that fuses eighteenth-century studies, comparative literature, and postcolonial theory, Abyssinias Samuel Johnson adds a fresh perspective on and a wealth of insights into the great, enigmatic man of letters.
Publication Date:
03 / 05 / 2012

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