Emotional Economies of Pleasure Among the Gentry of Eighteenth Century England

Mark Rothery*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


This article analyses familial cultures and exchanges of pleasure among eleven eighteenth century gentry families. The research is based on a substantial collection of family correspondence and emotion words within these letters have been analysed to understand familial conversations about pleasure and the various purposes that pleasure was put to. Here pleasure is problematised and studied as an emotion in contrast to most studies where it has been assumed to have been ‘mere feeling’ and simply ‘pleasurable.’ On the basis of this approach there are two main arguments. Firstly, the letters reveal a previously hidden world of family pleasure, connected to but in some ways remote from the public and sensory pleasures of the urban renaissance that most previous studies have focused on. The letters reveal an emotional economy of pleasure, where feelings materialised as currencies underlying the building and breaking of family relationships. Secondly, pleasure underpinned the process by which family alliances and narratives of family belonging and apartness were forged and reproduced. These uses of pleasure were vital in keeping good order among the gentry and between the gentry and their subordinates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)294-315
Number of pages22
JournalSocial History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2024


  • Emotions
  • Pleasure
  • Gentry
  • Family
  • Consumer Revolution
  • Urban
  • Country House


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