E 392M • Johnson, Boswell, Piozzi: Writing Life
11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Boswell's Life of Johnson, with its emphasis on the minute, the psychological, and the personal, has long been regarded as a distinctly modern biography and as the first and most memorable example of its kind. It has also served as a rich if occasionally vexed source of information about the life and work of its subject. In this course we will read Boswell's Life as an exemplar of biographical writing. But we will also read it in light of textual and other issues surrounding notions of literary and historical truth, as well as in the context of Johnson's own views on daily living, on biography as a genre, and on the life of the professional writer in the mid-eighteenth century. Most broadly, we will investigate the question of how Johnson's (and Boswell's) recurring ethical preoccupations shape their writing about their own lives and the lives of others: how to find a sense of daily purpose in the face of illness, poverty, and moral distraction; how to negotiate the demands of piety and the needs of ego and appetite; and, simply, how to make a living as a writer at a time when traditional forms of patronage were crumbling and the commercial press failed to provide gainful employment for the large numbers who came to London in search of literary fame and/or fiscal competence. Finally, we will explore the ways in which Hester Piozzi's Anecdotes--a recollection of Johnson that is darker and more conflicted than Boswell's--critiques the perspectives offered on all these issues by Piozzi's more famous, male contemporaries. The course is intended as an introduction to the lives and work of Johnson, Boswell, and Piozzi. Students need no special preparation in either the period or the authors covered in order to take it.
Johnson: selections from The Rambler and The Idler selected poems Rasselas The Life of Savage Preface to Shakespeare Preface to the Dictionary
Boswell: The Life of Samuel Johnson The London Journal
Secondary works by Redford, Bate, Korshin, Lustig, Bowers, Reichard, Greene, Venturo, Schwartz, Folkenflik, Macaulay, McCarthy, Clifford, and others