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Title: Samuel Johnson's diminutive histories
Author: Johnston, F.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2000
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"The greater part of readers [...] will wonder that on mere trifles so much labour is expended, with such importance of debate, and such solemnity of diction. To these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with their ignorance, nor promise that they would become in general, by learning criticism, more useful, happier or wiser" (Yale, VII, 108-9). There is an ethics of attention deep in the conduct of this extract, hostile to mockery of trifles but somewhat ashamed of elevating minutiae. It is typically honest about the dubious value of heeding the little. Chapter 1 examines Johnson's double attitude to minutiae, and argues that the border category of diminutives allows him to challenge assumptions about the proper domain of literature. By rehearsing a conflict between great and little, Johnson calibrated the opposing claims of pagan and Christian values. Ancient criticism stated that each subject merited a corresponding style: little matters calls for the low, lofty matters for the high. Gospel writers, however, repeatedly stress Christ's Incarnation in a person of humble station as a positive descent to the humanly little. There is, on Christian terms, no definitively low subject. Nor should everyday occurrences, if they assume the significance of epoch-making events, be expressed in a correspondingly base manner. A double attachment to pagan and Christian tradition accounts for Johnson's simultaneous contempt and regard for trifles. Chapter 2 examines his paternal relation to a sub-genre of nonhuman adventures. These stories are referred to as 'little lives', a phrase taken from Johnson's description of his biographies.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available