The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia

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Samuel Johnson, a famous British writer of the 18th century, provides the reader with one of the brightest examples of travel narrative in his novel "Rasselas" published in 1759. Up to now the novel generates a wide range of reactions: from dissatisfaction to admiration.


However, what makes the work a really outstanding piece of travel literature is that Johnson goes beyond a mere logging of events and dates.
Perhaps the earliest example of traveling for the sake of travel and writing about it is Petrarch's (1304-1374) ascent of Mount Ventoux in 1336. The key feature that distinguishes this piece of writing from a mere record of events is the parallel Petrarch draws between climbing the mountain and his moral development as a person. In fact, it is precisely this allegory that adds literary value to the work. Although Johnson, unlike Petrarch, has not been a participant of the travel, and even the travel itself is absolutely fictitious the book still remains a travel narrative precisely for this reason: it is full of clear and hidden insights, values and deep philosophic meaning. Johnson makes a clear allegorical comparison between Rasselas' physical travel and his pursuit of happiness.
The author describes the story of Prince Rasselas of Abyssinia, the young prince who embarks on the long and difficult road to find happiness. Being unsatisfied with a cloudless life of having anything at the moment he wants it, Rasselas is inclined to leave Happy Valley, his home. But even before the prince's leave, Johnson gives us a hint to facilitate further understanding of the novel: Rasselas claims "I fancy that I should be happy if I had something to pursue" (Johnson, 1999: 8).
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