The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia

Horace Walpole and Samuel Johnson, Champions of Women’s Rights College

Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia both make excellent examples of the roles of women in the eighteenth century, including what those roles were supposed to be and what they actually were. Both texts treat women as generally fearful or timid with some acts of bravery or intelligence. However, of the two, Otranto treats women as incapable and depicts them without any rights while Rasselas treats women as intellectual equals for much of the book. However, when reading fictional tales such as these, one must remember that everything the characters do is a reflection on the author’s thoughts, feelings or intentions. Unlike real life, things are not said or done by chance. Every action is a deliberate intention of the author. Therefore it is possible that Johnson’s female characters were exemplifying to their female readers how beneficial it is to use their intelligence in life. Walpole’s work, although it presents a stereotypical view of women on the surface, could have an ulterior motive as well. Perhaps it was excessively stereotypical so as to satirize society’s expectations for women in the eighteenth century. It was at a...

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