Book Review: Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

Book Review Rasselas

As much as I love my course it doesn’t normally churn up books on the reading list that I would willingly read again, but as a wonderful change this week it did just that! Rasselas by Samuel Johnson wouldn’t normally be something that I would turn to, as surprising or not, even English Literature students don’t generally look to the classic writers for a pleasurable read. That being said, I actually found Rasselas quite compelling and incredibly thought-provoking and as it is only 100 pages long (compared to the usual 400 page books that I have to read) I sped through it incredibly fast.

Book Review Rasselas

Rasselas and his companions escape the pleasures of the “happy valley” in order to make their “choice of life.” By witnessing the misfortunes and miseries of others they come to understand the nature of happiness, and value it more highly. Their travels and enquiries raise important practical and philosophical questions concerning many aspects of the human condition, including the business of a poet, the stability of reason, the immortality of the soul, and how to find contentment. Johnson’s adaptation of the popular oriental tale displays his usual wit and perceptiveness; skeptical and probing, his tale nevertheless suggests that wisdom and self-knowledge need not be entirely beyond reach.

The story does have that ‘fairytale’ feel about it, with its Princes and adventures, but beneath that there is actually a breadth of insightful comments about life and its meaning. It definitely raised questions that I hadn’t really considered beforehand and it really made me question what is truly important in life. And overall having a mix of adventure and meaning was definitely something that I enjoyed as it made it both pleasurable and insightful to read! But above all else it is perhaps most important to note that despite Rasselas being an 18th century novel the language is incredibly easy to get through and really doesn’t differ that much from a modern day read, so don’t let that put you off adding it to your reading list!

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