Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Tour of the Hebrides, and Tour to Corsica are controlled, argues William Dowling, by “a single conception of the heroic character, one that reaches beyond the particular narrative situation to a final vision of man’s dilemma in the modern world.” Samuel Johnson and Pascal Paoli, the great protagonists of the three major narratives Boswell published during his lifetime, are heroic spirits who manage to survive in an age of spiritual disintegration only by dwelling within imperiled private worlds of coherence and belief. The Boswellian Hero, the first comprehensive thematic study of Boswellian narrative, is also a work with strong theoretical implications for students of biography as a genre. Biography exists as literature, according to Dowling, only in relation to formal or objective interpretations of its meaning—to read the Life of Johnson as a literary work is to dissociate its biographical hero from any “real” or “historical” Samuel Johnson in the same way one dissociates Shakespeare’s Richard III from Richard III of England. Although The Boswellian Hero promises to establish its importance in Boswell studies immediately, it will also be of significant interest to readers concerned with the hero in literature, with biography as a narrative form, and with the complex theoretical problem of “factual” or “historical” literature.
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