Invisible Riot of the Mind: Samuel Johnson's Psychological Theory

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In This Invisible Riot of the Mind, Gloria Sybil Gross contends that Samuel Johnson was a pioneer in the development of modern psychological thought, challenging the timeworn, stilted typecasting of Samuel Johnson as the pious Christian moralist. Instead, she argues that Johnson was a daring, at times irreverent, explorer of human nature, who strenuously rejected old relics of sanctimony and repressive authority. To make her case, Gross draws on a wide range of materials from Johnson's life and works, as well as from eighteenth-century medical psychology. Throughout, she is scrupulous in analyzing Johnson's psychological thought within the cultural idiom that would have been available to him. At the same time, she employs a classical psychoanalytic approach, that seeks to establish a coherent relationship among Johnson's life, his fantasies, and his creative work.

This reading of Johnson reveals the radical direction of his investigations of mental experience, which put him in clear prospect of the basic premises underlying Freudian psychoanalysis. Gross argues that these premises--the principle of psychological determinism, the view of the mind as dictated by forces in conflict, the concept of the dynamic unconscious, and the submerged power of desire in all human activity--pervade Johnson's writings. Gross demonstrates not only that Johnson can profitably be read in psychoanalytic terms, but that Johnson is a psychological theorist of primary importance.

This original and insightful work will be of interest to students and scholars of English literature, eighteenth-century studies, and literature and psychology.