Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Robert Ward, Nancy Davis, George McCelvey

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Many critics have discovered striking similarities between Samuel Johnson's Rasselas and Voltaire's Candide. Yet, most have failed to describe the links that exist between the works which indicate that similar forces may have spurred the authors to write so similar tales, one quickly following the other into publication.

Source studies of the two tales indicate that very little, if any, evidence is available to prove that the works were inspired by the same written sources that Johnson and Voltaire may have relied upon. While source studies of the tales do not reveal any shocking information, they do inform the reader that both men used great effort in writing their tales.

Nevertheless, the similarities of Rasselas and Candide are so great that one must turn elsewhere to find explanations. One possible explanation is that both men vehemently hated the popular philosophy of their day, a philosophy advocated by Gottfried von Liebniz under the name of optimism. This philosophy and the concept of the Chain of Being play an important role in the two works since each tale ridicules the ideas. Eighteenth -century optimism allows for no hope. Rasselas and Candide try to answer this dilemma the philosophy proposes.

The joint attack on optimism and the Chain of Being cannot be the only reason that the two tales are similar. By examining certain aspects of each man's life, one finds that contrary to popular belief Johnson and Voltaire shared many resemblances. Both were very bright as children, as they were as adults. Both writers had powerful emotions and a strong sexuality. Both were gentle and caring people. These human characteristics can be seen in their works, helping explain some of the mystery surrounding the novels' similarities.


Arts and Humanities | Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | French and Francophone Language and Literature | French and Francophone Literature | Literature in English, British Isles