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«Nothing Better than Mirth and Hilarity»

Happiness, Unhappiness, Jest and Sociability in the Eighteenth Century

Abigail Williams    University of Oxford, UK    



It has been claimed that the eighteenth century invented happiness – or at least, began to entertain the notion that secular happiness could be expected as part of virtuous Christian life. Studies of the notion of happiness in this period have tended to focus on the philosophical dimensions of the concept. This essay offers a different perspective, by considering jest book culture and the idea of mirth through reading. It had long been argued that melancholy could be driven away by sociable jollity, and the eighteenth century sees the development of this literary tradition, in a glut of publications designed to ‘purge melancholy’ and drive away care. Yet, as this article will demonstrate, the idea of becoming happy through laughing together was a complex one, necessitating a balance between laughing with and laughing at others. We can also see the way in which jovial sociability complicated ideas of contentment through retirement. 

30 Giugno 2015
Copyright: © 2015 Abigail Williams. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.