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Laurence Sterne's Ethic of Happiness: As Exemplified in his Sermons, in Tristram Shandy and in Early Sterneana

Hayward, Sharon (2022) Laurence Sterne's Ethic of Happiness: As Exemplified in his Sermons, in Tristram Shandy and in Early Sterneana. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.97515) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:97515)

Language: English

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In a period where the eighteenth-century ethical worldview represented radically different and incompatible ways of conceiving of happiness in one and the same perspective, this thesis examines the key role played by the writing of Laurence Sterne in understanding happiness as it evolved from the eudaemonist happiness of classical theism, to the subjectivist, psychological concept of happiness advocated by Enlightenment philosophers. It demonstrates how enquires into the nature of happiness, and how to attain it, form a cornerstone of Sterne’s sermons, a prominent theme in his novel Tristram Shandy and a preoccupation in much Sterneana. Its central argument is that, unlike most of his contemporaries, Sterne grasped the flawed logic and the worrying implications of the century’s new subjectivist ethical impulse which became a defining characteristic of the Enlightenment. It examines how Sterne elaborates happiness within the framework of Christian eudaemonism in his sermons and articulates the ethical shortcomings of its rival, subjectivist concept of happiness. It examines how Sterne interrogates the new subjectivist happiness in Tristram Shandy and argues that he ultimately reconciles happiness and virtue by accommodating the subjectivist concept of happiness within the moral framework of Christian eudaemonism. It examines how Sterne refutes the notion that hedonism can be verified as an ethical principle, and that experiential happiness can ever be a criterion for guiding our actions. The novel’s joyful portrayal of its characters’ hobby-horsical pursuits means that the entelechy which gives the novel its ethical direction can, at times, appear ambiguous. In its examination of Sterneana, this thesis

demonstrates that the two ways of conceptualizing happiness, (the subjectivist and the ethical) are often played out in the social and sexual sphere. The scribblers censure what they perceive to be the immoral and irreligious conduct of Sterne and his fictional creations or, alternatively, embrace him as a fellow rake, hedonist or sexual libertine. By utilizing parody, satire and the signifiers of erotica, the scribbling fraternity connect Sterne, and his alter-egos Yorick and Tristram, to a larger pattern of clerical and sexual misconduct. Sterneana also employ various iterations of the narrative of seduction in order to articulate conflicts that arise, not from the sum of shared values or a shared definition of happiness but conflicts arising from unshared values, unshared conceptions of happiness and therefore unshared ends.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.97515
Uncontrolled keywords: Tristram Shandy; Laurence Sterne
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2022 08:10 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Oct 2022 08:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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