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Kallel, Raoudha, «Ennui et tædium vitæ chez la femme au Siècle des lumières», Halifax, Dalhousie University, 2007, xi/271 p.

In the eighteenth century people look for happiness but they can only feel «ennui». If happiness is proven to be an illusion, «ennui» is undoubtedly a reality. «Ennui» is not only a feeling which appears on the individual level, it is a real psychosocial phenomenon that is felt, analyzed and described. This study examines one aspect of «ennui»: women’s «ennui» in Enlightenment France

If «ennui» is a true moral disease in the eighteenth century, what is its place in the society of women? Is there a specifically feminine boredom in the eighteenth century? If so, what are the symptoms, causes and consequences? Moreover, who are more likely to suffer from «ennui»: lovers, libertines or «vaporeuses»? To answer these questions, I have used not only literary fiction but also correspondence and diaries from the eighteenth century.

This study shows that «ennui» overwhelms the world of women (of the «bourgeoisie» of course). First of all, it is present in the lovers who suffer «ennui» caused by the absence of the beloved, by the company of others and by the delay of the beloved’s letters, as in the example of Madame Riccoboni’s heroine Fanni Butlerd. «Ennui», then, attacks the soul of the libertine who, ironically, chooses libertinism as a remedy to her «ennui». My analysis shows that libertinism is not able to bring happiness; the pursuit of happiness becomes itself a routine among others. The libertine suffers from two kinds of «ennui»: moral emptiness and emptiness of feelings. Finally, there is specificity of feminine «ennui» which is known as «vapeurs.» The «vapeurs» are the physiological expression of «ennui».

«Ennui» is even present among the most famous women of the Enlightenment, such as Madame du Deffand, Julie de Lespinasse, Madame de Graffigny and Madame D’Épinay. This study shows that these women are continually subject to «ennui» which takes away their peace of mind. The strength of their «ennui» is obvious: it is defined, on the one hand, as a sickness of the soul; it is nourished, on the other hand, by the tædium vitæ of antiquity, encouraging all forms of disgust (disgust of the self, disgust of life, disgust of others, disgust of humanity, disgust of everything).

Source : ProQuest.

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