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Samuel Johnson: The Arc of the Pendulumoffers unique insight into the works of Samuel Johnson by re-considering William Hazlitt's oft-cited comparison between Johnson's prose and a pendulum. In 1819, William Hazlitt condemned Samuel Johnson's prose style as 'a species of rhyming' in which 'the close of the period follows as mechanically as the oscillation of a pendulum, the sense is balanced with the sound'. Predictable, formulaic, and unresponsive, Hazlitt's Johnson was 'incapable of latitude and compromise, a mere automaton who rebounded from one position to its opposite extreme'. This collection of essays focuses on Johnson's works, rather than perceptions of his personality, and argues that Johnson's perceived erratic opinions reflect an understanding of the complexity, instability, and contradictions of the world in which he lived. The volume challenges Hazlitt's influential reading of the Johnsonian pendulum, focusing on the uses and enjoyments of inconsistency, and the varieties of instability, irresolution, and active change which are revealed by and within Johnson. Chapters from a strong team of contributors present new perspectives on Johnson's work, life, and reception. The chapters address questions of style, authority, language, lexicography, and biography across a range of Johnson's writings from the early poetry to the late prose. Johnson emerges from these chapters not as a writer trapped within a set of oppositions, but as one who engages imaginatively and vigorously with flux, dynamism, and inconclusiveness. From the late eighteenth century onwards, to be 'Johnsonian' has typically been made synonymous with firm resolution and trenchant opinion, with polysyllabic excess and a style removed from the exigencies and accidents of ordinary existence. And yet, as this volume suggests, Johnson's life and writings embody the critical and creative play of ideas, a form of interaction with the world which is shaped by instability, contradiction, and combat.
Freya Johnston is University Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow in English Language and Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford. She is the author of Samuel Johnson and the Art of Sinking, 1709-1791 (Oxford University Press, 2005) and of various articles and chapters in books on Johnson, Austen, and their contemporaries. She is general co-editor, with Matthew Bevis, of The Cambridge Edition of the Novels of Thomas Love Peacock (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Lynda Mugglestone is Professor of the History of English at Oxford University, and Fellow and Tutor in English at Pembroke College, Oxford. She has published widely on language (including the history and social and cultural roles of dictionaries), with a particular focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Recent work includes: Lexicography and the OED: Pioneers in the Untrodden Forest (Oxford University Press, 2000); Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary (Yale University Press, 2005); 'Talking Proper': The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol (Oxford University Press 2nd edn. 2003; revised paperback edn, 2007) and Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011). She is editor of The Oxford History of English (Oxford University Press, 2006, 2007).
Table of Contents
1. Introduction, Freya Johnston and Lynda Mugglestone 2. Johnson and Time, Philip Smallwood 3. Johnson and Change, Robert DeMaria, Jr. 4. Johnson's Assertions and Concessions: Moral Irresolution and Rhetorical Performance, John Richetti 5. Johnson: Sanity and Syntax, Philip Davis 6. Johnson's Freud, Adam Phillips 7. Fault finding in Johnson's Lives of the Poets, John Mullan 8. Johnson and Genius, Lawrence Lipking 9. Johnson Personified, Freya Johnston 10. The Creation of Character, Jane Steen 11. 'Goose-quill or Ganders?': Female writers in Johnson's Dictionary?, Charlotte Brewer 12. The Battle of the Word-Books: Competition, the Common Reader, and Johnson's Dictionary, Lynda Mugglestone 13. Fixity and Instability in the Text of Johnson's Poems, James McLaverty 14. What is it about Johnson?, Isobel Grundy 15. Johnson and the Warton Brothers, David Fairer 16. Johnson Rebalanced: The Happy Man, The Supportive Family, and his Social Religion, Howard D. Weinbrot