Enlightenment Virtue, 1680-1794

BookEnlightenment Virtue, 1680-1794

Enlightenment Virtue, 1680-1794

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2020:03


March 9th, 2020

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In a speech delivered in 1794, roughly one year after the execution of Louis XVI, Robespierre boldly declared Terror to be an ‘emanation of virtue’. In adapting the concept of virtue to Republican ends, Robespierre was drawing on traditions associated with ancient Greece and Rome. But Republican tradition formed only one of many strands in debates concerning virtue in France and elsewhere in Europe, from 1680 to the Revolution.

This collection focuses on moral-philosophical and classical-republican uses of ‘virtue’ in this period – one that is often associated with a ‘crisis of the European mind’. It also considers in what ways debates concerning virtue involved gendered perspectives. The texts discussed are drawn from a range of genres, from plays and novels to treatises, memoirs, and libertine literature. They include texts by authors such as Diderot, Laclos, and Madame de Staël, plus other, lesser-known texts that broaden the volume’s perspective.

Collectively, the contributors to the volume highlight the central importance of virtue for an understanding of an era in which, as Daniel Brewer argues in the closing chapter, ‘the political could not be thought outside its moral dimension, and morality could not be separated from inevitable political consequences’.

Author Information

James Fowler is currently Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Department of French, King's College, London. Publications include Voicing desire: family and sexuality in Diderot's narrative (Oxford, 2000); The Libertine's Nemesis: The Prude in 'Clarissa' and the Roman libertin (Oxford, 2011); Richardson and the Philosophes (Oxford, 2014); and New Essays on Diderot (ed., Cambridge, 2011; 2014). Marine Ganofsky est maître de conférences en littérature française à l’Université de St Andrews. Ses recherches portent sur le dix-huitième siècle et sa quête de bonheur qu’elle étudie depuis la perspective de la littérature, de l’esthétique, de la philosophie et de l’histoire socio-culturelle. Son premier livre explore le sujet des nuits libertines et elle travaille actuellement sur le concept d’illusion au siècle des Lumières. Marine Ganofsky is a lecturer in French literature at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on the eighteenth century and its quest for happiness. She approaches the topic through the lens of literature, aesthetics, philosophy and socio-cultural history. Her first book looked at libertine nights and she is now working on the concept of illusion in the Age of Enlightenment.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of figures9
List of abbreviations13
Introduction: virtue and the secular turn, 1680-179415
Virtue before the Enlightenment51
Vertu et Lumières: Bayle's 'virtuous atheist' and its afterlives73
Secular virtue: echoes of Shaftesbury in Diderot91
From the religious virtues to the Enlightenment virtue107
Bernard-Joseph Saurin, the comédie de mœurs and the civic function of plays123
Acting honnête: effeminacy, masculinity and the ethos of social virtue in Enlightenment comedy137
The softness of the petit-maître and the decay of virtus153
‘La vera nobiltà non consiste in altro che nella virtù’: a woman’s view on virtue, or Henriette de Marans's nobility169
Virtue and invisibility: libertine variations on the myth of Gyges183
Female virtue and bliss in the eighteenth century201
The politics of virtue: Réflexions sur le procès de la reine by Mme de Staël 213
Robespierre's virtue in Marx and Tocqueville225
Virtue and the ethics of the virtual249
List of works cited271