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Fall 2022

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New in The Spectator
A Review of Cheerfulness: A Literary and Cultural History

In a recent review for The Spectator, Boyd Tonkin discusses Timothy Hampton’s Cheerfulness: A Literary and Cultural History. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:

“For sound reasons, the prospect of cheerfulness fails to gladden many modern hearts. When that epic grouch Theodor Adorno asked ‘Is Art Cheerful?’, his answer was no surprise. In Adorno’s stricken 20th century, ‘any gaiety in art’ implied ‘an avoidance of the pain of history’. Good cheer had withered into a fake fix peddled by self-improvement merchants, ‘an affective tool that can reconcile you to drudgery’ – or even a breakfast cereal with, aptly, a hole in the middle (General Mills launched Cheerios in 1941).

Jane Austen’s heroines, as Hampton shows, chafe against the elevation of cheerfulness into a ‘social norm’ So Hampton, a professor of literature at Berkeley, has serious work to do when he sets out to rescue the legacy of cheerfulness from beaming charlatans and genial thugs. His study spans more than half a millennium of literary, philosophical and theological examples, from Julian of Norwich to Scott Fitzgerald, with a closing tribute to the genius who redeemed cheerfulness from kitsch: Louis Armstrong.”