Crippling Optimism: Prevailing Providence in Rasselas and Persuasion

As writers of moral narratives, Jane Austen and Samuel Johnson demonstrate the value of reason and contentedness over imagination and ambition. Johnson’s influence on Austen as an author of moral purpose becomes clear in a comparison of their two works, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia and Persuasion, respectively. In his allegorical tale, Rasselas, Johnson utilizes encounters in to show how the Prince’s “hunger of imagination which preys incessantly on life” is the cause of his dissatisfaction. In Austen’s Persuasion, the Sir Walter Elliot’s vanity, ambition and refusal to give up all of the trappings of his position in society ends in his having to rent out the family estate, Kellynch.

Johnson and Austen both set out to create a moral tale, but differ in the manner of creating the tale. Interestingly, Johnson employs fantastical allegory to convey a moral with a surprisingly resonant realism. Austen follows a more believable route, creating a world mirroring the culture of her time. Both authors utilize their narratives not only to portray their characters as reformed, but to also convey a moral to their reading audience.

In Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot is a vain and stubborn baronet who values position through...

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