Interest and Connection in the Eighteenth Century: Hervey, Johnson, Smith, Equiano
Can a single word explain the world? In the British eighteenth century, interest comes close: it lies at the foundation of the period's thinking about finance, economics, politics, psychology, and aesthetics. Interest and Connection in the Eighteenth Century provides the first comprehensive account of interest in an era when a growing national debt created a new class of rentiers who lived off of interest, the emerging discipline of economics made self-interest an axiom of human behavior, and booksellers began for the first time to market books by calling them "interesting." Sider Jost reveals how the multiple meanings of interest allowed writers to make connections--from witty puns to deep structural analogies--among different spheres of eighteenth-century life.
Challenging a long and influential tradition that reads the eighteenth century in terms of individualism, atomization, abstraction, and the hegemony of market-based thinking, this innovative study emphasizes the importance of interest as an idiom for thinking about concrete social ties, at court and in families, universities, theaters, boroughs, churches, and beyond. To "be in the interest of" or "have an interest with" another was a crucial relationship, one that supplied metaphors and habits of thought across the culture. Interest and Connection in the Eighteenth Century recovers the small, densely networked world of Hanoverian Britain and its self-consciously inventive language for talking about human connection.