Fiction and the Philosophy of Happiness explores the novel's
participation in eighteenth-century "inquiries after happiness," an
ancient ethical project that acquired new urgency with the rise of
subjective models of wellbeing in early modern and Enlightenment
Europe. Combining archival research on treatises on happiness with
illuminating readings of Samuel Johnson, Laurence Sterne, Denis
Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Godwin and Mary Hays, Brian
Michael Norton's innovative study asks us to see the novel itself
as a key instrument of Enlightenment ethics. His centralargument is
that the novel form provided a uniquely valuable tool for thinking
about the nature and challenges of modern happiness: whereas
treatises sought to theorize the conditions that made happiness
possible in general, eighteenth-century fiction excelled at
interrogating the problem on the level of the particular, in the
details of a single individual's psychology and unique
circumstances. Fiction and the Philosophy of Happiness demonstrates
further that through their fine-tuned attention to subjectivity and
social context these writers called into question some cherished
and time-honored assumptions about the good life: happiness is in
one's power; virtue is the exclusive path to happiness; only vice
can make us miserable. This elegant and richly interdisciplinary
book offers a new understanding of the cultural work the
eighteenth-century novel performed as well as an original
interpretation of the Enlightenment's ethical legacy.
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