The Most Likeable of All Our Literary Heroes

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 17, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Most Likeable of All Our Literary Heroes


Byline: NICHOLAS LEZARD

SAMUEL JOHNSON: A LIFE by David Nokes (Faber, [pounds sterling]25) FROM the definition in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary for the word "Superfluous": "More than enough; unnecessary; offensive by being more than sufficient." We don't, it has to be said, really need another biography of Johnson. Not even Boswell's was the first. Then again, it is the great man's 300th birthday tomorrow so you can't blame David Nokes, who has previously written biographies of Jonathan Swift and Jane Austen, for having a go at Johnson. As Boswell said, and as Nokes reminds us, the more we think about Johnson, "the more he will be regarded ... with admiration and reverence".

There is plenty to admire and revere about Johnson's character. In some ways, he suits our times almost as much as he suited his own. Or more: he was considered freakishly eccentric, which constitutes a large part of the pleasure we take in contemplating his life and, indeed, why we still want to read about it. He was, by the standards of the day, slovenly, either being mistaken for a burglar in his own home or greeting visitors well after noon in what were effectively his bedclothes (one shocked postulant commenting, as he turned to show her inside, that she was glad his milliner had not cheated him as badly at the front as he had cheated him at the back), and possessed by what we would now recognise as a variant of Tourette's syndrome.

The problem for Nokes, or indeed for any biographer, is finding some new angle to justify another biography, and sometimes it seems as though Nokes is anxious to find as many flaws as he can in the man, or to search for ignoble motives behind what may look, to the unpractised eye, like generous sentiments. So when Johnson writes to his wife anxiously after an accident to her leg, Nokes says: "Here, and throughout the letter, he is not only solicitous for her health; he is most anxious that she should recognize his solicitude. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Most Likeable of All Our Literary Heroes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.