Samuel Johnson: The Struggle

Jeffrey Meyers, Author . Basic $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-465-04571-6

Dr. Johnson was one of the most keenly observed figures in his time, and with the second book of the season anticipating the 2009 tercentenary of his birth (after Peter Martin's, published by Harvard in September), he remains a massive, grotesque genius who continues to haunt us. Popularly written by prolific biographer and literary critic Meyers (Hemingway ), this departs from a strict chronology to narrate significant events and their meaning for Johnson. A central concern involves one of Johnson's darkest secrets, which Meyers says other biographers have evaded: his masochistic sexuality at the hands of his confidante Mrs. Hester Thrale. The biography also speculates on other aspects of Johnson's sex life, both during his marriage to a much older woman and after her death. But Meyers's book is balanced and accomplishes much else. In discussing the great Dictionary that made Johnson famous (and led to a royal pension to ease his hardscrabble life), the Rambler and Idlers essays, Johnson's edition of Shakespeare and Lives of the Poets , Meyers goes to the heart of a tortured, contradictory and pessimistic sage whose self-lacerating personality, says Meyers, would come to influence modernists as disparate as Woolf, Beckett and Nabokov. 19 illus. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 09/22/2008
Release date: 12/01/2008
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