Reimagining Society in 18th Century French Literature : Happiness and Human Rights book cover
1st Edition

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

ISBN 9781138611740
Published June 8, 2018 by Routledge
238 Pages

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Figures



Happiness and the Politics of Words

The Political Anthropology of Happiness and Rights


Chapter I: The Unfinished Declaration

Debating the Declaration

Nature and Society

Rights and Duties

Enmity and Passive Citizenship


Chapter II: What Was Literature?

The Author-Politician and the Code of History

Louis-Sébastien Mercier and the Re-Awakening of Patriotic Virtue

Choderlos de Laclos’ Reinterpretation of Dulce et Utile

Marie-Joseph Chénier and the Author-Legislator


Chapter III: Louis-Sébastien Mercier and the Dream of a Happy Future

Temporality in Mercier’s Utopian Thought

The Form of Government in L’an 2440

Taxation and the Duty of Patriotism


Chapter IV: The Search for Order in Choderlos de Laclos’ Liaisons dangereuses

Laclos and the Politics of Social Forms

The Rhythm of Social Forms

The Hierarchies of Social Forms


Chapter V: The Regeneration of the State in Marie-Joseph Chénier’s Fénelon ou les religieuses de Cambrai

Convent Life and Paternal Inflexibility

The Problem of Humanness

Political Agency : From Unhappiness to Happiness

The Tableau Vivant: The Politics of the Happy Ending





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Jonas Ross Kjærgård, PhD, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Aarhus University and recipient of the EliteResearch travel grant. He acquired his PhD degree at Aarhus University, Denmark, with a dissertation on French Revolutionary rights and literature. He has published articles and book chapters on literature and the French revolution and edited the volume Discursive Framings of Human Rights: Negotiating Agency and Victimhood (with Karen-Margrethe Simonsen), published by Birkbeck Law Press. He has begun a new research project on the literary history of the Haitian revolution.