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Rasselas by Samuel Johnson
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Rasselas (1759)

by Samuel Johnson

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A book that made not a big impression on me. Not good, not bad, not very interesting. A pleasant book to listen to, but not much more. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Feb 22, 2019 |
I found many interesting ideas in this classic but overall felt it was an uneasy mixture of philosophy and satire. Rasselas is bored in the Happy Valley in which all the offspring of Abyssinian royalty were confined (along with their servants & others required for their comfort and amusement) because, as he says himself, " 'That I want nothing,' said the Prince, 'or that I know not what I want, is the cause of my complaint: if I had any known want, I should have a certain wish; that wish would excite endeavour, and I should not then repine to see the sun move so slowly towards the western mountains, or to lament when the day breaks, and sleep will no longer hide me from myself.' " One of his advisors chides him saying that he didn't know what miseries the outer world contained & the Prince decides that "I shall long to see the miseries of the world, since the sight of them is necessary to happiness."

For a while, he is happy while contemplating how he will escape the valley as that gives him an interest in life & he eventually meets a poet, Imlac, who had lived outside the boundaries of the valley & in fact had travelled widely before settling there. In telling Rasselas his story, they discuss what makes for happiness. Imlac declares that "Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed." but the Prince is unwilling to accept this verdict. He invites Imlac to help him escape the valley & become his companion and guide. At the last minute, they are joined by Rasselas's favorite sister Princess Nekayah & her favorite attendant Pekuah.

With Imlac's assistance, Rasselas & Nekayah gradually adjust to life outside the Happy Valley and begin to investigate what kind of life is best. They meet many different types of people -- city society (in Cairo), a wise guru, a hermit, an astronomer, an Arab bandit, etc. They debate the nature of marriage & whether married life is required for true happiness. Somewhat surprisingly to me, Nekayah is the one who thinks marriage does not contribute to happiness but rather causes unhappiness, which she backs up with examples of married couples she has come to know.

During all this, Rasselas is trying to find the correct "choice of life" for himself. Johnson keeps returning to the question of whether solitude or society is better. As the hermit remarks: "In solitude, if I escape the example of bad men, I want likewise the counsel and conversation of the good." ( )
  leslie.98 | Dec 15, 2017 |
I find it hard to believe that a book this good could be written in a week, but the evidence is before me and I have read it. A strange mix of fairy tale, light philosophy and speculum regis. Smooth, unobtrusive writing. He has a way of turning a thought into a phrase that really speaks to you. Don't come to this looking for plot and characterisation.

I read the OUP edition. The notes are geared towards the international market with many definitions of words. If English is your first language you won't need them. ( )
  Lukerik | Aug 2, 2017 |
Though presented as "The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia", this is not a factual history but a tale of adventure and self discovery, centered around the eponymous prince, his sister, her maid, and their wise companion Imlac. It begins with his growing up in the "Happy Valley", which is isolated from the rest of the world by mountains and a large gate, and arranged by the king to provide every entertainment and pleasure he could wish for his children and their large entourage. However as Rasselas grows up he becomes disenchanted with the shallow existence, and wants to see the outside world and experience unhappiness and worldly strife first hand. So begins his adventure to find more meaning to life.
Along the way, they meet people from various walks of life, including sages, hermits, ordinary families, mercenaries, monks, and an astronomer. They discuss the various ways of living that they come accross, with the main recurring theme throughout the book being what is the best "choice of life". They discuss their various viewpoints, with arguments for and against each mode of existence. Each time they think they have found the ideal state of being, they come to realise that the situation is more complex than first thought, and thus the search for happiness continues. As such this is quite a philosophical tale and has many moments of deep reflection. There are some good quotable sections in here too, but what lets it down somewhat is that the setting is not further elaborated - ie there is little of the exotic flavour that one might expect from a story mostly set in and around Cairo. Because the quest for a happy, fulfilling, and moral life is of at least some concern to most people, this story is still of wide appeal. However, its manner of telling is often more like a fairy tale, which somewhat undermines its more serious themes. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Apr 13, 2017 |
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.
  mrsdanaalbasha | Mar 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (253 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel Johnsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Collins, A.J. F,Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keymer, ThomasEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope, who expect that age will perform the promise of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow, -- attend to the history of Rasselas, prince of Abyssinia.
Quotations
The miseries of life would be increased beyond all human power of endurance, if we were to enter the world with the same opinions as we carry from it.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Choice of Life was the working title of the book first published as Prince of Abyssinia, a Tale, and later in variations of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssina.
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Book description
Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, leaves the easy life of the Happy Valley, accompanied by his sister Nekayah, her attendant Pekuah, and the much-travelled philosopher Imlac. Their journey takes them to Egypt, where they study the various conditions of men's lives, before returning home in a 'conclusion in which nothing is concluded'. Johnson's tale is not only a satire on optimism, but also an expression of truth about the human mind and its infinite capacity for hope.

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia in Wikipedia
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014043108X, Paperback)

Rasselas compresses everything that puts Dr Johnson among the great lions of English literature and life into this text

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:48 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

An Apologue about Happiness. Rasselas, son of the King of Abyssinia has everything he could possibly desire except his freedom. He is trapped and wants to know more about the outside world. Imlac has a plan to escape and Nekayah - Rasselas's sister - decides to join the party of expatriates in their quest to seek happiness.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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