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Hypocrisy and the Politics of Politeness: Manners and Morals from Locke to Austen Paperback – November 12, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"Davidson has thoroughly absorbed, and carefully selects from, contemporary theoretical writings on literature, language, and society... Summing Up: Recommended." G. Shivel, University of Miami, Choice

Book Description

Jenny Davidson considers the arguments that define hypocrisy as a moral and political virtue in its own right. She shows that these were arguments that thrived in eighteenth-century Britain's culture of politeness. In the debate about the balance between truthfulness and politeness, Davidson argues that eighteenth-century writers from Locke to Austen come down firmly on the side of politeness. These writers argue that the open profession of vice is far more dangerous for society than discrepancies between what people say in public and what they do in private.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (November 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521047382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521047388
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,255,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jenny Davidson is the author of four novels and two nonfiction books about eighteenth-century British literature. She has an insatiable lifelong appetite for novels and a more recent obsession with endurance sport; she is currently training for Ironman Wisconsin. She lives in New York City, where she teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her next book, Notes on Style: A Life in Sentences, will be published by Columbia University Press in 2014.

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Format: Paperback
It addresses the concern with manners and civility that arose in Great Britain in the 18th century, as addressed by Edmund Burke, Lord Chesterfield, John Locke, Mary Wollstonecraft and others, and in the novels Pamela and Mansfield Park. The concern over civility led inevitably to a discussion of hypocrisy. At what point does politeness become hypocrisy or does it? The author looks at different viewpoints. In the end, she seems to take the position that politeness is necessarily dishonest.

Samuel Johnson once wrote something like this: "One says to a friend I am sorry you got wet (that is, caught in the rain). Actually, one does not really care if he got wet." Johnson then went on to explain why the expression of regret was polite and proper and necessary for people to get along although not necessarily truly felt. Johnson did not think such sentiments were totally dishonest. Although you were not sorry that he got wet, you feel that you must express sorrow. The need to express sorrow brings about the feeling, that, yes, I am sorry for my friend. The author does not discuss Johnson but she gets into the difference between what is said and what is really felt.

Civility became an issue in the western world when deference died. For most of history and still today in most places, deference is a way of life. There is deference to governments and to rulers, to religious authorities, to parents, to one's social superiors. At one time, in the west, when the system of authority was considered legitimate and proper and the ruled and rulers shared a common ideology, deference was not an issue. It was not resented as a concept, although individual rulers might be resented. There might be rebellions but the rebellion was to displace the ruler and rule in his place.
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Hypocrisy and the Politics of Politeness: Manners and Morals from Locke to Austen
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