Rivalry in Literary Biography: Boswell’s Life of Johnson and Holmes’ Dr Johnson and Mr Savage
AbstractThis study aims to discuss the complicated nature of literary biography by focusing on the intertextual relations and anxiety of influence among biographers of a single subject. Taking Samuel Johnson’s life and outlook on literary biography as a starting point, the article examines two influential works that are separated by a significant amount of time, Life of Johnson (1791) by James Boswell and Dr Johnson and Mr Savage (1993, 2005) by Richard Holmes, suggesting that in both there is a strong sense of rivalry with their subject and an anxiety about the influence of their predecessors. Both authors exhibit love for or interest in their subject while they strive for superiority in literary biography with their distinctive narrative technique and commentaries on Johnson’s character and life. In this study, I utilise Harold Bloom’s theory of influence in an attempt to show how anxiety and rivalry function as part of a creative process and driving force that leads to original contributions to the field.
anxiety of influence; rivalry; James Boswell; Samuel Johnson; literary biography; Dr Johnson and Mr Savage
Benton, Michael. 2015. Towards a Poetics of Literary Biography. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bloom, Harold. 1973. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bloom, Harold. 1994. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Hancourt Brace.
Bloom, Harold. 2011. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life. USA: Yale University Press.
Boswell, James. 1791 . The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. London: Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly. https://archive.org/details/journaloftourtoh00bosw
Boswell, James. 1946 . The Life of Samuel Johnson. London: Oxford University Press.
Christianson, Gale E. 1995. Review. Richard Holmes, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage. A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies. 27. 1: 131-133.
Clifford, James. (ed.) 1970. Boswell’s Life of Johnson: A Collection of Critical Essay. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
David, Nokes. 2009. Samuel Johnson: A Life. London: Faber.
Havelka, Jaroslav. 1968. The Nature of the Creative Process in Art. Netherlands: Mantinus Nijhoff, The Hague.
Holmes, Richard. 2005 . Dr Johnson & Mr Savage. London: Harper Perennial.
Johnson, Samuel. 1750. Rambler. No 60. https://www.samueljohnson.com/ram60.html
Johnson, Samuel. 1968 . The Life of Mr Richard Savage. In: George Birkbeck Hill (ed.), Lives of the English Poets. Hildesheim: G. Olms. https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/savage.html
Mulgan, Roderick. 2007. The Advocate as Biographer: James Boswell and the Life of Samuel Johnson. BA essay. Victorian University of Wellington.
Rogers, Pat. 1980. Introduction. In: James Boswell, Life of Johnson. R.W., Chapman (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Rollyson, Carl. 2001. Samuel Johnson: Dean of Contemporary Biographers. Bibliography 24.2: 442-447.
Schwalm, David E. 1985. Johnson’s Life of Savage: Biography as Argument. Biography 8.2: 130-144.
Sisman, Adam. 2000. Boswell’s Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Johnson. London: Hamish Hamilton.
Vance, John A. 1985. Boswell’s Life of Johnson: New Questions, New Answers. Athens: University of Georgia Press.