Rivalry in Literary Biography: Boswell’s Life of Johnson and Holmes’ Dr Johnson and Mr Savage


This 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

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Published : 2018-12-30

Shah, Z. H. (2018) “Rivalry in Literary Biography: Boswell’s Life of Johnson and Holmes’ Dr Johnson and Mr Savage”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies, (23), pp. 33-45. doi: 10.15290/cr.2018.23.4.03.

Zeynep Harputlu Shah 
Siirt University, Turkey  Turkey