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Jonas Ross Kjærgård

Reimagining Society in 18th Century French Literature: Happiness and Human Rights

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The French revolutionary shift from monarchical to popular sovereignty came clothed in a new political language, a significant part of which was a strange coupling of happiness and rights. In Old Regime ideology, Frenchmen were considered subjects who had no need of understanding why what was prescribed to them would be in the interest of their happiness. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen equipped the French with a list of inalienable rights and if society would respect those rights, the happiness of all would materialize. 

This volume explores the authors of fictional literature who contributed alongside pamphleteers, politicians, and philosophers to the establishment of this new political arena, filled with sometimes vague, yet insisting notions of happiness and rights. The shift from monarchical to popular sovereignty and the corollary transition from subjects to citizens culminated in the summer of 1789 but it was preceded by an immense piece of imaginative work. Because of their medium, authors of fictional literature were well placed to help imagine society anew. New political bodies and conceptions of sovereignty, alternative codes of civil conduct and forms of interpersonal interaction flourished in the rich generic landscape of late eighteenth century French literature. These works of literature, the forgotten as well as the canonized ones, continuously intervened in that burgeoning social imaginary within which the struggle to define the happiness of all took place.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherRoutledge
ISBN (Print)9781138611740
ISBN (Electronic)9780429465260
Publication statusPublished - 2018
SeriesRoutledge Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature
Number18

    Research areas

  • Happiness, Human Rights, French Revolution, Social Imaginaries, Politics of literature

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