The Influence Of The History Of Rasselas On A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman

2196 words - 9 pages

The Influence of The History of Rasselas on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman   

 
   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)

Wollstonecraft further displays her knowledge of Johnson's works by referring to them in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In her argument for the merging of reason and sensibility she writes: "And what is sensibility? 'Quickness of sensation; quickness of perception; delicacy.' Thus is it defined by Dr. Johnson" (63). She further states that Johnson's definition of sensibility found in his Dictionary of 1755 is inadequate. She complains that "the definition gives me no other idea than of the most exquisitely polished instinct" (63). Although Wollstonecraft admires Johnson, his works are subject to the same scrutiny as Rousseau's.

Wollstonecraft also refers to Johnson's Rambler essay "The Mischiefs of Total Idleness" when she comments on the vanities of the rich. She writes:

What can be a more melancholy sight to a thinking mind, than to look into the numerous carriages that drive helter-skelter about this metropolis in a morning full of pale-faced creatures who are flying from themselves. I have often wished, with Dr. Johnson, to place some of them in a little shop with half a dozen children looking up to their languid countenances for support. (146)

In this instance, Wollstonecraft states her agreement...

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