Before Depression
1660 - 1800

'Revisiting the Boswells: Work, Politeness, and Melancholy in the Scottish Enlightenment'

Professor Anthony J. LaVopa (North Carolina State University):

What does James Boswell’s experience of “melancholia” or “hypochondria” tell us about a larger field of social and cultural meanings in the Scottish Enlightenment? The paper explores this question by reexamining the conflict between Boswell and his father Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, using unpublished correspondence. Approached from the angle of the father-son conflict, Boswell’s psychological affliction becomes a site for the tension-ridden relationship between the culture of politeness and the work ethic, rooted in the Protestant concept of the calling. The tension between these two cultural lineages helps us understand the complexity and instability of the concept of “character” in the Scottish Enlightenment and beyond.

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