Quick Quotes: The Pursuit of Happiness

By Laura Vivanco on

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. I just thought these quotes were thought-provoking when juxtaposed.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (US Declaration of Independence, 1776)


pursuit of pleasure towards the goal of happiness became seen amongst Enlightenment writers as the behaviour dictated to man by Nature. 'Pleasure is now, and ought to be, your business,' Chesterfield told his son. The tendency to produce happiness was the only ultimate yardstick of right and wrong, good and evil.

If Nature was good, then erotic desire, far from being sinful, itself became desirable. And the sexual instincts were undoubtedly natural. Being pleasure-giving, such passions were thus to be approved. [...] These naturalistic and hedonistic assumptions - that Nature had made men to follow pleasure, that sex was pleasurable, and that it was natural to follow one's amorous urges - informed Enlightenment attitudes towards sexuality. (Parker and Hall, 19)

Although there is no consensus about the exact span of time that corresponds to the American Enlightenment, it is safe to say that it occurred during the eighteenth century among thinkers in British North America and the early United States and was inspired by the ideas of the British and French Enlightenments.  Based on the metaphor of bringing light to the Dark Age, the Age of the Enlightenment (Siècle des lumières in French and Aufklärung in German) shifted allegiances away from absolute authority, whether religious or political, to more skeptical and optimistic attitudes about human nature, religion and politics.  In the American context, thinkers such as Thomas Paine, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin invented and adopted revolutionary ideas about scientific rationality, religious toleration and experimental political organization—ideas that would have far-reaching effects on the development of the fledgling nation. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, emphasis added)


Founding fathers (act. 1765–1836) [...] At a minimum the roster includes the seven figures identified in 1973 by Richard B. Morris, the eminent historian of the revolution: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, links and emphasis added)


Porter, Roy & Lesley Hall. The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.


The image came from Amazon. The underpants are not currently available for sale.

Happy Families: Tolstoy vs. Mary Burchell

By Laura Vivanco on

I've not had a particularly productive week, and that goes as much for writing blog posts as it does for doing research. I have, though, been commenting at length on a thread at Dear Author about defining "romance." There may possibly be some correlation between those two statements, but it probably has more to do with being the sole adult in the house for three days this week, with sole responsibility for ensuring that my offspring was suitably fed, clothed, delivered to school on time, etc. That may not make up a large part of the "happy ever after" for Regency Dukes and Duchesses, or for billionaire tycoons and their spouses, but it's probably part of the daily routine of family life for a lot of romance readers.

It's generally agreed that part of the definition of a romance is that it must include a happy ending. Readers are supposed to believe that the protagonists will remain sentient and in love with each other for the forseeable future. Given that children are sometimes secondary characters, and authors often provide baby-filled epilogues, it seems that many of those happy endings will involve the formation of happy families. And so I suspect that a lot of romance authors would probably disagree that

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

Of course a happy family wouldn't cause the suffering which seems a prerequisite for the creation of tormented heroes and martyred heroines (there don't seem to be so many martyred heroes and tormented heroines) so perhaps it could be argued that a lot of romance authors do think that happy families are alike, inasmuch as they don't provide a lot of material for a plot?  On the other hand, other authors seem to have found that (relatively) happy families provide plenty of fodder for sequels. They can be ideal in a light-hearted, humorous romance (or series of romances), although possibly not if Mary Burchell is right in thinking that

"the kind of good-humoured nonsense which is peculiar to every happy family [...] [is]  almost entirely incomprehensible to all others" (Mary Burchell, The Other Linding Girl)

It's not going to do an author much good if her happy family's dialogue is incomprehensible to readers.

So what do you think? Are happy families less interesting and/or do they lend themselves to lighter, more humorous romances?

The image came from PDK Board Games and I hope they won't mind given that I'm linking back to them.