Charting the failure of the Romantic critique of political economy, Richard Adelman explores the changing significances and the developing concepts of idleness and aesthetic consciousness during the nineteenth century. Through careful analysis of some of the period's most influential thinkers, including John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, John Ruskin and Karl Marx, Adelman weaves together evolving ideas across a range of intellectual discourses - political economy, meditative poetry, the ideology of the 'gospel of work', cultural theory, the Gothic and psychoanalysis. In doing so, he reconstructs debates over passivity and repose and demonstrates their centrality to the cultural politics of the age. Arguing that hardened conceptions of aesthetic consciousness come into being at moments of civic unrest concerning political representation and that the fin-de-siecle witnesses the demonization of the once revolutionary category of aesthetic consciousness, the book demonstrates that late eighteenth-century positivity around human spirituality is comprehensively dismantled by the beginning of the twentieth century.
Richard Adelman is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Sussex. His previously published work includes Idleness, Contemplation and the Aesthetic, 1750-1830 (Cambridge, 2011), Political Economy, Literature and the Formation of Knowledge (2018; edited with Catherine Packham), as well as numerous essays on figures including Dante Rossetti, John Ruskin, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, John Keats and J. M. Coetzee.