Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

Clare Bucknell at Literary Review:

The 18th century can seem like a boys’ club at the best of times, so writing a book about an actual all-male club requires delicate handling if it’s to offer something other than the usual narrative. Damrosch’s approach is to show that what makes the Club’s members worth revisiting is the fact that they weren’t always the ‘great men’ we picture them as being. In several cases they were dogged by anxieties or neuroses; often their cultivation of the intellect went hand in hand with an indulgence of powerful physical appetites.

Johnson suffered from depression (which he called ‘hypochondria’ or ‘indolence’) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Damrosch also diagnoses, on the basis of rather thin evidence, ‘psychosexual needs’ involving domination and restraint. Boswell’s diarised mood swings indicate bipolar disorder and narcissistic tendencies, and his alcoholism caused memory blanks, self-injury and violent episodes. His fondness for prostitutes (‘I ranged an hour in the street and dallied with ten strumpets’) brought on bouts of venereal disease that would eventually kill him. 

more here.

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