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The Story of Joy


  • Page extent: 320 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.64 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521879118)

Joy is an experience of reunion or fulfilment, of desire at least temporarily laid to rest, of a good thing that comes to pass or seems sure to happen soon. In this wide-ranging and highly original book Adam Potkay explores the concept of joy, distinguishing it from related concepts such as happiness and ecstasy. He goes on to trace the literary and intellectual history of joy in the Western tradition, from Aristotle, the Bible and Provencal troubadours through contemporary culture, centring on British and German works from the Reformation through Romanticism. Describing the complex interconnections between literary art, ethics, and religion, Potkay offers fresh readings of Spenser, Shakespeare, Fielding, Schiller, English Romantic poets, Wilde and Yeats. Winner of the 2009 Harry Levin prize, The Story of Joy will be of special interest to scholars of the Renaissance to the late Romantic period, but will also appeal to readers interested in the changing perceptions of joy over time.

• An intriguing study charting the cultural history of an emotion • Combines intellectual history with fresh readings of Shakespeare, the Romantics, Wilde, and many more • Extensively researched and engagingly written


Preface; Introduction: what is a joy?; 1. Religious joy: the ethics of oneness from the Bible to Aquinas; 2. Erotic joy: the Troubadour tradition; 3. The theology of joy and joylessness: Luther to Crusoe; 4. Ethical joy in the Age of Enlightenment; 5. The joys of doing and of being: Wordsworth and his Victorian legacy; 6. Joy and aesthetics: Coleridge to Wilde; 7. Post-Christian prophesies of forgiveness and exaltation; 8. Tragic joy and the spirit of music: Wagner, Nietzsche, Yeats; Conclusion: the career of joy in the twentieth century; Bibliography; Index.

Prize Winner

The Harry Levin Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association, for best book in literary history and criticism published 2006–8 2009 - Winner


Review of the hardback: 'With The Story of Joy, Adam Potkay has written a deep and humane book, work of impressive learning and intellectual agility that is at once challenging, sophisticated and a pleasure to read.' The Review of English Studies

Review of the hardback: 'Beautifully written, with verve as well as precision, Adam Potkay's The Story of Joy examines the changing meanings and fortunes of the concept of joy in history, literature, and film. Offering a substantial and scholarly treatment of a neglected topic, this book is also quirky, interesting, and a real pleasure to read. Its arguments are clear and cogent, and it makes very helpful discriminations between related affective states. The author deserves to be congratulated for an important, genuinely illuminating contribution to the study of emotion as well as literary history.' Jonathan Culler, Professor of English, Cornell University

Review of the hardback: '… a well written, literature-oriented, history of ideas study quite accessible to the non-specialist.' Christianity and Literature

'The Story of Joy … makes a crucial contribution to the study of the relationship of Romanticism and religion, and to the growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship devoted to challenging historical narratives of the inevitable march of secularism.' European Romantic Review

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