Killing Time. Ennui in Eighteenth-Century English Culture

Marjo Kaartinen


The article explores the meanings of ennui in eighteenth-century England. Based on text searches, it proposes that the French term ennui was adopted into everyday usage in England around the mid-century, and was from the 1770s onwards used to signify especially the temporal aspects of the word, that is, boredom. Ennui was closely tied to social rank: it was thought to plague the wealthy if they had too much time on their hands. Interestingly, ennui was not particularly gendered, but plagued both men and women. It was intrinsically related to lifestyles. A multitude of activities were proposed to avoid ennui, from reading to physical exercise. Avoidance was a question of life and death: ennui could lead to moral collapse and ultimately to suicide, killing not only the body but also the soul.

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