Category: Daily Life | Type: Glossary Word | Title: Emma (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Vol: Volume I | Ch: Chapter II

Samuel Johnson defines "ennui" as mental "wearisomeness, disgust." "Ennui" appears in English for the first time in 1671. The concept becomes prevalent when there is sufficient leisure time for a critical mass of the more affluent population, especially the women, to become bored. They have servants and there are changing expectations for how gentry women are to spend their time. The OED cites this use in 1801 by Austen's sister author Maria Edgeworth: "She felt insupportable ennui from the want of books and conversation suited to her taste." In part it's ennui that provokes Emma's vicarious interest in managing other lives. That other Emma, Flaubert's Mme. Bovary, bored by her doctor husband and village life, goes on to fantasize a different life, based on what she has read, and then to live her fantasies.

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