A Response to Samuel Johnson (2/15/10)

30 Sep

It seems as though Samuel Johnson has a tendency to prefer realistic elements with nature included, but only with sufficient study. He viewed that the Romantic period was all but dead in Rambler No. 4; that if imagination and flowery language are taken away from these writers, then they are left with nothing. He states that prose should be based in observation and root itself in the nature of mankind and the psychology thereof. He criticizes Shakespeare in that, among several other critiques he was too flowery with his language and abandoned his plots near the end of his plays for money. He also states mainly that Shakespeare disregarded and played with times and places to create his own poetic law, which furthermore, Samuels feels is inexcusable.

            It’s difficult to demonstrate how Samuels would react to Oroonoko by Behn, but I’m not sure that he would be delighted in it. He’d criticize the drama of it and relate some fault to its play with time and place, as well. The story’s violence, he would construe, as a play against the audience and a chief effort in plot. As Johnson praises Milton so highly, the “epic” aspect of this story would certainly raise his delighted brow, but the minimal characterization and multiple points of view would have him reeling. However, I think there are underlying beginnings of Feminist theory in Johnson’s work, and that he would appreciate that equality of women writers, especially in the sense of Oroonoko with a female narrator. In his essay on Milton, that seemed to be what Johnson was getting at; that new and challenging ideas are essential to great works of art. Yet, he contradicts himself at points when he creates the sense that poetry should be compared to the Greats in how “estimated powers are measured by an author’s worst work” and “excellence is achieved through comparison”. So, in that right, I’m not exactly sure where Johnson would side on Oroonoko, but I view that he would approve of the originality of narrator even though it plays with time and mythology instead of sticking to realistic elements.

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Scholarly Essays/Responses


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