Rebecca Barr’s project will read fiction as, and against, moral philosophy to show how eighteenth-century women writers participated in the period’s ‘Great laughter debate’. Although eighteenth-century philosophy is generally silent on the subject of women’s laughter, literature by women is frequently not merely funny but also deeply invested in the moral dimensions and gendered dynamics of risibility. Authors such as Eliza Haywood, Sarah Fielding, and Frances Sheridan deploy philosophical terminology, and use laughter’s mix of the somatic and the social to explore the paradox of power and pleasure—the ways in which mirth and morality are both embodied and relational. The project will ask how the philosophy of laughter might look differently if studied in novels by women, and how novels by women read differently when contextualised by philosophy.
Rebecca Anne Barr is a University Lecturer in English, and a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. Her research focuses on gender, sexuality, and fiction in the long eighteenth century, with occasional forays into twentieth-century and contemporary culture. She has published widely on masculinity, sexual violence, and the history of the novel. Alongside numerous articles and chapters she is also co-editor of several collections of essays including Ireland and Masculinities in History (2019), and Bellies, Bowels, and Entrails in the Eighteenth Century (2018). Her fellowship at CRASSH is part of a wider book project entitled Humouring Men.