Johnson and Boswell


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A Biography of Friendship

John B. Radner

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In this book John Radner examines the fluctuating, close, and complex friendship enjoyed by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, from the day they met in 1763 to the day when Boswell published his monumental Life of Johnson.

Drawing on everything Johnson and Boswell wrote to and about the other, this book charts the psychological currents that flowed between them as they scripted and directed their time together, questioned and advised, confided and held back. It explores the key longings and shifting tensions that distinguished this from each man's other long-term friendships, while it tracks in detail how Johnson and Boswell brought each other to life, challenged and confirmed each other, and used their deepening friendship to define and assess themselves. It tells a story that reaches through its specificity into the dynamics of most sustained friendships, with their breaks and reconnections, their silences and fresh intimacies, their continuities and transformations.

John B. Radner is associate professor of English emeritus at George Mason University.

John Radner's book is a necessary, fine-grained "Biography of the Johnson-Boswell Friendship." There are numerous biographies of Johnson and of Boswell, some excellent, but none comes near to this work in investigating a friendship which, mythic in several senses of the word, has never been adequately examined. This is a careful and important book for the study and understanding both of Johnson and of Boswell.--Robert Folkenflik, Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of English, University of California, Irvine.

 John Radner’s meticulous, exhaustive examination of the friendship between Samuel Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell, reveals sexual and literary competition between them and mutual impatience, fear, and neediness—as well as tenderness, supportiveness, and understanding on both sides. Boswell seems a more substantial figure and Johnson more volatile than their standard versions. Analyzing the vicissitudes of a relationship long taken for granted by critics and general readers alike, this compelling study makes familiar facts fresh and discovers new truths as it records the biography of a complex human connection.--Patricia Meyer Spacks, author of On Rereading.

 "John Radner handsomely demonstrates that the Johnson-Boswell relationship was both a partnership and a competition that extended from their first meeting in 1763 to the publication of the Life in 1791. The book is original, persuasive, elegantly written, and an important contribution to Johnsonian,biographical and eighteenth-century studies."--Howard D. Weinbrot, Vilas and Quintana Research Professor Emeritus, the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

John Radner has emerged from a lengthy and deep immersion in the manuscript and printed documents that allow us to assess the complex friendship of Johnson and Boswell, a unique and probably unrepeatable literary coalition that forever remade the entire field of biography, to show how that friendship itself shaped that literary outcome. Patiently and in methodical detail, Radner charts the association synchronically and diachronically, surveying both the copious documentation that was, for the most part, recovered only in our own time, as well as its sometimes enigmatic but sometimes revealing gaps and silences. Pivoting on the decisive sequence in which the two men exchanged journals during their famous journey together to the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides in 1773, Radner's account argues for the ways in which Johnson, having absorbed the knowledge that Boswell was recording him, began to be aware of how others saw and might see him. Radner contends that in subtle and potent ways, Johnson, having internalized the knowledge that his posthumous future would depend in great measure on the Boswellian record, set about the work of shaping it.--Gordon Turnbull, general editor of the Yale Boswell Editions.

       “In this exhaustive study, the labour of years, John B. Radner rehearses the many occasions on which Boswell interrogated his friend (and others) about happiness and free will.”


        “In between those extremes of consummate union and supreme irritation, the happiness of real friendship suddenly heaves into view. Such moments are delicately restaged and painstakingly analysed by Radner.”


—Freya Johnston, Times Literary Supplement, 19th July 2013

“Radner’s richly textured argument. . . . Is a must read for anyone interested in Johnson, Boswell, eighteenth-century friendship, or the theory and practice of biography.”—Thomas F. Bonnell, The Historian

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in the English American Category.

Winner of the 2015 Annibel Jenkins Biography Prize given by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
ISBN: 9780300178753
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
432 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
5 b/w illus.