restricted access The Anxieties of Idleness: Idleness in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture by Sarah Jordan (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

191 tually ‘‘swung both ways’’with regard to gender, so that William III’s successor, Queen Anne, was villainizedinsquibsoffering steamy ‘‘lesbianizing’’ references to her favorites in exactly the mode of the attacks Mr. Hammond discusses. Both the lyric poetry and the homosexual satires need a wider frame to display the world they speak to and the future one they bring into view. Nonetheless, Figuring Sex between Men is admirable and worthwhile. It should prompt further work that will take up the satires and politics more broadly and place expressed love between men (onitswaytothemolly houses and, eventually, Fire Island) in the context of the related writing of Sapphic lyrics by women. Dianne Dugaw University of Oregon SARAH JORDAN. The Anxieties of Idleness : Idleness in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture. Lewisburg , PA: Bucknell; London: Associated University Presses, 2003. Pp. 298. $52.50. It is a good topic and a good title, although the doubling of the key word prefigures the book’s redundancy. The first page captures another: insufficiency. After quoting the first ‘‘remarkable sentence’’ of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the author claims, ‘‘This compendious sentence conveys a sense of the variety and proliferation of objects and occupations in the eighteenthcentury.Although Smith is praising this multifariousness , the very length and complexity of his sentence also seems to betray some anxiety, some attempt not only to represent but to contain this profusion.’’There follows no explanation of how such asentence better ‘‘contain[s]’’profusion than, say, a series of shorter sentencesbreaking things down into tidy digestible bits; or how the syntax betrays anxiety; or why the very length and complexity do not in fact rhetorically celebrate profusion and diversity, the pleasure in the glass windows , the shoes, the pewter plates, the interconnectedness of British trade, and industry and material comforts. At its best, this book is a very useful collection of pronouncements on and attitudestowardidlenessandindustryinthe eighteenth century. The pattern is now familiar but by no means exhausted: read a cultural phenomenon (race, class, gender , space, boredom, soap, sugar, pottery, idleness) within a literature and contextualize the literature within the cultural phenomenon. Ms. Jordan makes industry and idleness ‘‘not only central to the wealth and power of the nation, but . . . the very glue that held society together,’’ that defined ‘‘‘true’ Britishness,’’ as distinct from the indolent other, both foreign and domestic. Prevailing academic fashion dictates that we center our arguments on paradox, on the discovery that most texts simultaneously endorse and undermine a current ideology. With clever close readings and thickly textured culturalconnections, thisstrategycanbeexciting,illuminating, persuasive. Such strategy in this book best appears in the chapter on imperialism , which argues that the favorite mode of explaining away the apparent idleness of the English colonialist (he was not made to work in the tropics) clashed with a competing rhetoric that explainedracial difference through climate—which then implied that the white industrious Briton could turnintotheblackindolentAfrican. The chapter duly credits Mary Louise Pratt, Kathleen Wilson, Anne McClintock , Anthony J. Barker, Amal Chatterjee , Richard J. Popkin, and Saree Makdisi . 192 But this crediting is itself something of a problem throughout the book: too much recapitulation of the well-known work of the last three decades. The author marks her territorial difference, but the differences —as well as the markings—are small and tentative. Where the claims loom larger, they have a tendency to fall into erroneous distinctions. The differences between ‘‘retirement’’ and ‘‘leisure ’’and ‘‘idleness,’’forinstance,arenot complicated either quickly or deeply.The chapter on laborers does not quite seem to understand how class really operated: ‘‘Many eighteenth-century writers who were not by any means in favor of class equality were astonishingly willing to acknowledge that the poor worked so the rich did not have to, that the poor had not only to provide for their own needs, but also to provide surplus to meet the needs and wants of their betters.’’ That was exactly the point: you work for me because God made me better than you. The greatest strength of The Anxieties of Idleness is its careful playing out of thematic (rather than conceptual, rhetorical , or theoretical) issues and details.But in the end it does not venture far beyond the...


pdf