Lecture Notes: Happiness within the Nineteenth Century

Lecture Notes: Happiness in the Nineteenth Century

By Joe Linstroth / Illustration by Mäité Franchi

The previous couple of years have been disturbing, to say the least. Heading into this tutorial 12 months, Professor Juliette Rogers acknowledged the necessity for a course dedicated to positivity and the way folks discover happiness and which means in life. So the professor of French and Francophone research created one, turning to the time and place she is aware of greatest: nineteenth-century France. Dr. Rogers explains what we will study in regards to the pursuit of happiness from French thinkers, writers, and artists who hailed from an ancient times of nice change.

Why is it instructive to take a look at how the French seek for happiness?

Typically talking, I feel the French are seen as form of a dark group. In surveys about happiness, the French persistently rank decrease than their European neighbors, and even worldwide neighbors. The way in which that the French have considered happiness for the reason that revolution—and sure, it’s a generalization—could be very completely different from what we take into account the norm in the US.

Why deal with the nineteenth century?

With loads of issues occurring in the present day, we will discover roots within the nineteenth century. Like now, it was additionally a time of nice change in French thought. The French Revolution ended up an actual deception and letdown. There have been nice beliefs in 1789, however they have been adopted up by the Reign of Terror after which Napoleon’s empire. By the 1820s, folks have been sad with what they’d thought was going to be an important new world. In consequence, there was this shift in nineteenth-century France towards on the lookout for utopian societies and a greater world. That’s when the seek for happiness—and likewise loads of the gloom and doom—started and remains to be mirrored in the present day, 200 years later. The French nonetheless have this concept that life might be higher and it’s not, however they’re going to maintain on the lookout for methods to make it higher.

What does the story of Cyrano de Bergerac train in regards to the pursuit of happiness?

Most of the movie variations have joyful endings, so the scholars have been stunned that the unique story ends tragically. However Cyrano’s choice was out of want to make Roxane and Christian joyful, not himself. It was a approach of adjusting his life for the higher, but additionally making life for others round him higher too.

Clearly the story speaks to folks everywhere in the world to today. They learn about Cyrano de Bergerac as a result of they’ll see themselves feeling insecure and but nonetheless looking for a spot and a few happiness on this planet. It’s a kind of French tales that has common attraction.

What radical concepts have been the French Socialist Utopians exploring that may make folks happier?

There was a bunch of thinkers who wished to create intentional communities that may deal with social well-being moderately than particular person liberties. For instance, Étienne Cabet wished to get rid of all personal property, and this was within the 1830s earlier than Marx and Engels. Charles Fourier eradicated all gender roles in his utopian mannequin, so ladies and men might be married, however they didn’t need to be. There might be same-sex marriages. There might be ladies and men in energy. Many concepts, nonetheless, have been flawed with racist, sexist, and colonialist concepts of the time.

There have been intentional communities constructed on these theories in France, and likewise a number of essential ones in the US, together with the Icarian communities in Iowa and California. They didn’t final that lengthy, however they have been extremely highly effective to readers throughout that point.

That is the primary time you’ve taught this course. How have the scholars responded?

They have been fascinated to review artwork from this angle, particularly Impressionist work. The scholars found there have been two sorts of Impressionists. Some who have been targeted on social gatherings within the countryside and leaving the town to search out happiness. Then there have been others who discovered happiness in a really city, nearly fashionable approach, by going to cabarets and nightclubs. The scholars have been impressed that the French might search out happiness in several methods by these various sorts of inventive expression. I used to be impressed that they noticed that.

How do you encourage college students to attach all this to what’s related of their lives in the present day?

The scholars write recurrently of their “gratitude journals’’ about three issues that day for which they’re grateful. It’s an train in slowing down and enthusiastic about the small, constructive issues in life that make them joyful.

What can we study from nineteenth-century French thinkers which may apply to our personal pursuit of happiness?

I feel nineteenth-century French thought encourages us to strive to not focus a lot on the person, on issues like “making it” or being “profitable.” As an alternative, maybe we must always focus extra on happiness for others like Cyrano did, or happiness for bigger society, as in a play we learn by Pierre Faubert in regards to the Haitian revolution the place the primary character sacrifices his private happiness for the nice of the trigger.

We are able to additionally take into consideration the Impressionists like Berthe Moristo who left their studios in Paris and went out to the nation and located magnificence in on a regular basis issues like going to the seaside with their children. It’s not in regards to the grand successes. These extra day-to-day, mundane actions make you happier than you’d assume.

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