A surprising commonality found between Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia and Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is their shared views on women’s issues. This commonality is surprising since the two authors had different political viewpoints. While Johnson was a conservative Tory, Wollstonecraft was a social nonconformist and feminist. Although Wollstonecraft and Johnson adhered to different political agendas, Wollstonecraft revered many of Johnson’s literary works.
One example of Wollstonecraft’s admiration of Johnson is found in her uncompleted short story “Cave of Fancy”. Wollstonecraft began writing “Cave of Fancy” in 1786 and based it on Johnson’s Rasselas. Like Rasselas, the setting of “Cave of Fancy” is “an unnamed fairy-tale realm where characters remain untouched by everyday concerns” (Conger 61). The similarities between the two works are apparent in their opening lines. Johnson addresses the reader of Rasselas with the following statement:
Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and persue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas prince of Abissinia. (1)
The influence of Johnson is apparent in Wollstonecraft’s opening lines:
Ye who expect constancy where every thing is changing, and peace in the midst of tumult, attend to the voice of experience, and mark in time the footsteps of disappointment; or life will be lost in desultory wishes, and death arrive before the dawn of wisdom. (Basker 43)
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Although Johnson and Wollstonecraft focus on women’s issues for different reasons in Rasselas and Vindication, the necessity for an increase in women’s education in the 18th century is apparent in both works. Both authors agree that a woman needs to be educated in order for society to progress. For Wollstonecraft, women’s education is needed for the success of the family. For Johnson, women’s education is needed for society’s progress as a whole.
Basker, James. Women Writers, Marginal Texts, and the Eighteenth-Century Canon. New York: Clarendon, 1996.
Conger, Syndy. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Language of Sensibility. New York: Associated UP, 1994.
Johnson, Samuel. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. New York: Norton, 1988.
Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades
Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades
French connoisseurs already know Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades in
Mérimée’s translation. It might appear impertinent to offer now a new
version, and I do not doubt that the earlier one will appear more elegant
than this one, which has no merit other than its scrupulous exactness.
That is its justification. A preoccupation with explaining and rounding off
induced Mérimée to blunt somewhat the crystalline peaks of the tale. We
have resisted adding anything to Pushkin’s clean and spare style, with its
slender grace, which hums like a taut string. When Pushkin writes:
Herman quivered like a tiger, Mérimée adds: … lying in wait. When he
has Lisaveta bend over a book, Mérimée says gracefully. This charming
writer thus marks his own manner, and if some criticize his dryness it is
clear here that the criticism is ill-founded, or, at least, that only by
comparison with the lush style of the writers of his period can Mérimée’s
style seem so unadorned to us. The clarity of Pushkin, on the other hand,
chafes him, and nothing shows that better than a study of this
translation. Poets, Pushkin wrote, often sin by neglect of simplicity
and truth; they pursue all manner of external effects. The pursuit of form
sweeps them toward exaggeration and bombast. He criticized in Hugo,
whom he admired, an absence of simplicity. Life is lacking in him, he
wrote. In other words, truth is absent.
The strangeness of most Russian writers, including the greatest among
them, often baffles the French reader, and indeed, sometimes repels him;
but I confess that it is the absence of strangeness in Pushkin that
confounds me. Or at least what baffles me, is to see that Dostoevsky,
that genius so prodigi…
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us geniuses like Shakespeare, Cervantes, Schiller. But show me, even one
among them all, who possesses to the same degree as Pushkin the
capacity for universal comprehension. And again: Pushkin was the only
one among the poets who succeeded in assuming the soul of other
poets. But according to Dostoevsky it is to his profoundly Russian
character that Pushkin owes his universality, for the mission of each
Russian is doubtless a universal mission. … To become truly a Russian,
he adds, to become completely Russianmeans to feel oneself brother
to all men.
The Queen of Spades, that brief masterpiece, offers us an excellent
example of the admirable poetic qualities of Pushkin and his gift for
Gide, Andre. “Preface to The Queen of Spades.” Reflections on Literature and Morality. New York: Meridian Books, 1959.