Abyssinia's Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author

ISBN : 9780199793211

Wendy Laura Belcher
304 Pages
195 x 237 mm
Pub date
Jun 2012
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As a very young man, one of the most celebrated English authors of the eighteenth century translated a tome about Ethiopia. This experience permanently marked Samuel Johnson, leaving traces of the African discourse he encountered in that text in his drama Irene; several of his short stories; and his most famous fiction, Rasselas. In this book, Wendy Laura Belcher provides a much needed perspective in comparative literature and postcolonial studies on the power of the discourse of the other to infuse European texts. Belcher illuminates how the Western literary canon is globally produced by developing the powerful metaphor of spirit possession to posit some texts in the European canon 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. Through close readings of primary and secondary sources in English, French, Portuguese, and Ge'ez, Belcher challenges 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.


Introduction 1
Chapter 1. Three Thousand Years of Habesha History and Discourse
Chapter 2: Samuel Johnson's Discursive Possession and The Voyage to Abyssinia
Chapter 3: Johnson's Reading, Beliefs, and Translation of The Voyage to Abyssinia
Chapter 4: Habesha Discourse in The Voyage To Abyssinia
Chapter 5: Habesha Discourse and Johnson's Drama Irene
Chapter 6: Habesha Discourse and Johnson's Oriental Tales
Chapter 7: Habesha Discourse in Johnson's Sources for Rasselas
Chapter 8: Habesha Discourse and Johnson's Rasselas

About the author: 

Wendy Laura Belcher is Assistant Professor of African literature at Princeton University in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Center for African American Studies. She is a winner of the Washington State Governors Writers Award and PEN Society Martha Albrand finalist for first book of nonfiction.

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