The Afterlife of Samuel Johnson, LLD: Literature and Immortality in Britain, 1709-1791


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




British conceptions of literary immortality—how creative works and their authors can endure beyond death—changed fundamentally in the eighteenth century. Earlier writers such as Shakespeare and Milton appealed to poetic immortality, relying on short lyric verses to preserve themselves and the subjects they celebrated. Eighteenth-century authors such as Richardson and Boswell, in contrast, developed a model of prose immortality, in which exhaustive documentary detail gives authors and characters a vivid existence beyond death. This project describes and explains this changing conception of literary immortality between 1709-1791, drawing on the essay, long poem, novel, memoir, and biography while connecting this development to contemporaneous intellectual and religious history.