E 379S • Samuel Johnson and His Circle (Senior Seminar)
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
The group of writers and thinkers who gathered with and around Samuel Johnson from the 1750s until his death in 1784 was a remarkable one, for it represented some of the most distinguished literary talent of the age. In this course, we will read a selection of works by Johnson, who was one of the 18th century's greatest writers. But alongside Johnson's works, we will also read works by other writers of the time who happened to be Johnson's friends.
In this course, we will examine Johnson's work as both personally unique (like Johnson himself) and as closely reacting to and influencing the works of his contemporaries. Most broadly, we will examine Johnson's relations with other writers, relations that were variously literary and intellectual, personal and social, financial, or even domestic. Where Johnson's quasi-paternal relationship with Boswell, for example, helped inspire one of the first great modern biographies--Boswell's Life of Johnson--his status as a long-term and sometimes troublesome houseguest inspired a much slighter and much more conflicted memoir by his friend Hester Piozzi (Mrs. Thrale.) Where Johnson served as a kind of literary patron to numerous writers of his day, including Oliver Goldsmith and Charlotte Lennox, he served alternately as teacher, admirer, and (perhaps slightly envious) scold to his famous friend Garrick, with whom he came to London when they were both young men seeking their fortunes. The social and the literary were deeply interwoven in Johnson's life and his various relations with the writers around him offer a vivid picture of the moral, intellectual, financial, and social challenges posed by the life of a scholar in the mid-eighteenth century.
One research paper (15-20 pages), plus draft 40%
Two shorter (3-page) papers 20% each
Class participation 20%
Selected works by Johnson
James Boswell, Life of Johnson (unabridged)
Hester Piozzi, Anecdotes