36. Samuel Johnsson - The Full History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (1759)
You might think I've abandoned this but really, I haven't. Even if it's been about a year since my last update... it only means I have 12 books that I need to update but haven't. I promise to try to get up to date here in the next few weeks... particularly because some of these books are slowly fading from memory... specially those which I didn't find particularly interesting as was the case here.
The plot strangely mirrors that of Voltaire's Candide, Rasselas leaves home with a philosopher... Panglo... Imlac and a girl Cune... Nekayah. Only here Nekayah is his sister and not love interest. The travels of Rasselas serve a different purpose than those of Candide, however, and Rasselas seeks the path to happiness only to find that it is not easily achieved and returns home.
Johnsson's style of prose is not particularly attractive and the novel, even if quite short ends up being quite dull as well. Johnsson is a bit too up his own ass to be a good storyteller and in comparison to Voltaire he seems almost reactionary in his ideas. There are none of the fascinating tableaux of Candide, you end up not really caring particularly for any of the characters... it really has not stood the test of time very well, and coming right after a much superior novel in the same style does not help as well. You can't stop comparing Johnsson to Voltaire and he loses in almost every point.
While the story is thematically similar to Candide by Voltaire — both concern young men traveling in the company of honored teachers, encountering and examining human suffering in an attempt to determine the root of happiness — their root concerns are distinctly different. Voltaire was very directly satirizing the widely-read philosophical work by Gottfried Leibniz, particularly the Theodicee, in which Leibniz asserts that the world, no matter how we may perceive it, is necessarily the "best of all possible worlds", whereas the question Rasselas confronts most directly is whether or not humanity is essentially capable of attaining happiness. Writing as a devout Christian, Johnson makes through his characters no blanket attacks on the viability of a religious response to this question, as Voltaire does, and while the story is in places light and humorous, it is not a piece of satire, as is Candide.
Some Ethiopian Hip-Hop by Rasselas: