Dr Johnson is often thought of as a strident, overbearing conversationalist, a man who famously asserted that 'Women have all the liberty they should wish to have'. But in this revealing book Kate Chisholm argues it is time to consider how Johnson lived his life, not just what he said. She proposes that the heart of the man, the truth of his character, can more clearly be seen via his many - close, generous, equal - relationships with women.
At one end of the spectrum were Johnson's mother Sarah; his 'painted poppet' wife Tetty; and the women, like the prostitute Poll Carmichael and the blind poetess Anna Williams, he took in when they had nowhere else to go. At the other end were Mary Wollstonecraft, who refers to Johnson in Vindication of the Rights of Woman; Hester Thrale, renowned wit and Johnson's 'dear mistress'; Elizabeth Carter, whose translation of Epictetus was an instant bestseller; and many more besides.
By looking again at this controversial figure through the eyes of this extraordinary cast of female characters, we can discover the essential and unexpected Johnson.
Kate Chisholm is the radio critic of the Spectator and a former Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Surrey. She is the author of the highly acclaimed biography Fanny Burney: Her Life, and of Hungry Hell: what it's really like to be anorexic.
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