Sociable Bodies, Solitary Minds

As part of our 2021/22 seminar series, Michael Rowland from the University of Sussex gave a paper examining solitude and social life in 18th century ideals of masculinity.

This paper, entitled ‘Sociable Bodies, Solitary Minds: Men and Belonging in Eighteenth-Century Culture’, looks at the much-articulated public sphere of the eighteenth century in Britain, and argues that its ideals of masculine personhood revolved around a necessary duality of external sociability and internal solitude. Examining the shift from Hobbesian ideas of individualism to notions of man as a necessarily social animal, articulated in the works of Shaftesbury, Smith and Hume among others, I examine how these ideas play out in the lived experiences of men of the time. What are the pressures of the social worlds of friendship, love, professional and material success, on their internal lives? In works by philosophers but also private individuals, I explore how both lives and societal ideals are shaped by a conflict between the sociable exterior and an interior where men are sometimes strikingly alone. The paper is introduced by Solitudes researcher, James Morland.


Michael Rowland (@MikeRowland84) is a researcher based at the University of Sussex working on 18th century literature, masculinity, affect & queer theory.

James Morland is a postdoctoral research fellow on the ‘Pathologies of Solitude’ project at Queen Mary University of London.