Release Date: May 31st 2012
Published by: Oxford University Press, USA
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, Abyssinia's Samuel Johnson highlights the lasting influence of an African people on Johnson's oeuvre.
Wendy Laura Belcher uncovers traces of African discourse in Johnson's 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 Europe's others have co-constituted European representations. Drawing on sources in English, French, Portuguese, and Ge'ez, this study challenges the conventional wisdom on Johnson's work, from the inspiration for the name Rasselas and the nature of Johnson's religious beliefs to what makes Rasselas so strange.
A rich monograph that fuses eighteenth-century studies, comparative literature, and postcolonial theory, Abyssinia's Samuel Johnson adds a fresh perspective on and a wealth of insights into the great, enigmatic man of letters.