Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure

Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure

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Ancient questions about the causes and nature of pleasure were revived in the eighteenth century with a new consideration of its ethical and political significance. Rowan Boyson reminds us that philosophers of the Enlightenment, unlike modern thinkers, often represented pleasure as shared rather than selfish, and she focuses particularly on this approach to the philosophy and theory of pleasure. Through close reading of Enlightenment and Romantic texts, in particular the poetry and prose of William Wordsworth, Boyson elaborates on this central theme. Covering a wide range of texts by philosophers, theorists and creative writers from over the centuries, she presents a strong defence of the Enlightenment ideal of pleasure, drawing out its rich political, as well as intellectual and aesthetic, implications.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 1139848216
  • 9781139848213

Table of contents

Introduction; Part I. Pleasure Philosophy: 1. Shaftesbury, Kant and the sensus communis; 2. Rousseau, Wollstonecraft and pleasure as power; Part II. Wordsworth's Common Pleasure: 3. Poetics of pleasure in the Lyrical Ballads; 4. Economies of affect in The Prelude and Home at Grasmere; 5. The politics of happiness in The Excursion; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
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Review quote

'... persuasively argues that theories of pleasure in the eighteenth century have been mischaracterized as conservative, normative, and stultifying ... A timely study of an important concept that offers a much needed account of the strange and heretofore somewhat baffling insistence in Wordsworth's work on the importance of pleasure.' European Romantic Review 'This study brilliantly examines the modern misreading of Enlightenment pleasure, reframing it as as communal, collective and joyous (rather than private, solipsistic and disinterested). Boyson excels at engaging the reader with an argument that is at once historical, political and philosophical, but that skillfully holds on to the literary and aesthetic ... There is no doubt that Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure offers a significant argument that I hope will both influence Wordsworth studies and open up the positive experiences his poetry offers for further critical attention. The study might even be considered as part of the 'eudaimonic turn' that currently seeks to rescue joy, ecstasy, wonder and happiness from those critics who dismiss it as ideology or neurosis in their weary roles as the defenders of literary criticism's negativity bias.' Emma Mason, BARS Bulletin and Review '... challenging, capacious [and] conceptually rich ... at once a critique and an astute extension of Wordsworth's philosophical and aesthetic commitments.' Michael Pickard, Studies in Romanticism
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About Rowan Boyson

Rowan Boyson is a Research Fellow at King's College, Cambridge. She has published review-essays in New Formations and Literature Compass and is a member of the British Association of Romantic Studies.
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