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Johnson, Boswell and representations of the self
Allan Ingram

Johnson and Boswell displayed, both consciously and unconsciously, two very distinctive ways of dealing with their own selves within the period in which they lived. Each reveals, through his written work, just how and where the human mind is known – and not known – by the individual. Johnson’s is a far more deliberate and methodical process, one that approaches, but nevertheless refuses to engage with, those uncertainties and terrors that are as much part of the self as are reason and control. Boswell, perhaps, comes as close as anyone to the two-mindedness of Johnson in some of his descriptions of him. Boswell himself, on the other hand, adopted a far more open and enthusiastic attitude towards his own sense of self – one approaching, at times, even enthusiasm. Suffering, like Johnson, from deep depression, he nevertheless took the opportunity for most of his life to make even his own wretched mental state the subject of scrutiny. Each man, in conclusion, represents something of the major cultural currents of their time, albeit with one looking very much to the past, and one to the future.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century

This volume of twelve essays, preceded by an introduction that succinctly frames the problematic and history of the notion of the ‘self’, examines the various ways the ‘self’ was perceived, fashioned and written in the course of the long eighteenth century in Great Britain. It highlights, in particular, the interface between literature and philosophy. The chapters include discussion of philosophers such as Locke, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Hume, Hutcheson and Smith, churchmen such as Isaac Barrow and John Tillotson, the novelists Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, the poets Anne Killigrew, Alexander Pope, William Blake and William Wordsworth, the writers and sometime diarists Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, and the radical writer Sampson Perry.

The originality of the studies lies in their focus on the varied ways of seeing and saying the self, and what Locke called personal identity. They foreground the advent of a recognisably modern, individualistic and ‘sustainable’ self, which, still today, remains plural and enigmatic. The book should appeal to a wide public, both undergraduate and graduate students working in Literature and the Humanities, in particular those interested in the Enlightenment period, as well as researchers and the general public interested in questions related to identity and consciousness and their formulation in the past and present.

The volume follows a chronological narrative which surveys the intriguing and protean nature of the ‘self’ from varied perspectives and as expressed in different genres. It assembles contributions from both confirmed and young researchers from Britain, Europe and the United States.