Reading Dr. Johnson: reception and representation (1750–1960)

Jones, Philip Ward (2019). Reading Dr. Johnson: reception and representation (1750–1960). University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The thesis examines the response of imaginative writers to Samuel Johnson; arguing that these authors’ refashioning of Johnson involved a profoundly creative process. Chapter 1 examines Johnson’s own self-accounting, revealing an instability of self-imaging, linked to the different textual forms employed by Johnson. Chapter 2 argues that James Boswell’s biography theatricalised the representation of Johnson, introducing Boswell into the drama of Johnson’s self-reflexivity. Chapter 3 focuses on the Romantics, arguing that William Hazlitt misread Johnson’s criticism as mechanical, while Lord Byron drew upon Johnson’s authority to challenge Romantic orthodoxies. Chapter 4 focuses on the Victorians, arguing that Thomas Carlyle focused on Johnson’s powers of self-creation, epitomised in action; while Matthew Arnold’s abridged version of The Lives of the English Poets, helped tutor a new reading public. George Birkbeck Hill’s edition of Boswell’s biography represented a turn to the encyclopaedic. Chapter 5 explores the Modern response to Johnson. T. S. Eliot’s critical revolution enlisted Johnson to support Eliot’s anti-Romantic animus. Beckett was interested in Johnson’s obsession with madness, death and numbers; themes which dominated his own writing. Jorge Luis Borges admired Rasselas, and was fascinated by Johnson’s friendship with Boswell, which mirrored his own relationship with the writer Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English


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