Before the global pandemic of Covid-19 arrived, public health experts in the U.S. and U.K. were warning of the epidemic of loneliness.
Loneliness steals more years of life than obesity. Loneliness is as much of a risk as smoking. Loneliness shortens a lifespan as much as poverty. It is associated with addiction, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and even suicide. And more and more of us report feeling lonely.
Nevertheless, despite our 21st-century fears of an epidemic of loneliness, we know very little about it clinically, or historically. So Fay Bound Alberti’s new book, A Biography of Loneliness: The History of an Emotion
(Oxford University Press, 2019) has appeared at just the right time.
Alberti offers a radically new interpretation of loneliness as an emotional language and experience. Using letters and diaries, philosophical tracts, political discussions, and medical literature from the eighteenth century to the present, historian of the emotions Fay Bound Alberti argues that loneliness is not an ahistorical, universal phenomenon. It is, in fact, a modern emotion: before 1800, its language did not exist. And where loneliness is identified, it is not always bad, but a complex emotional state that differs according to class, gender, ethnicity and experience.
Looking at informative case studies such as Sylvia Plath, Queen Victoria, and Virginia Woolf, A Biography of Loneliness
charts the emergence of loneliness as a modern and embodied emotional state.
Dr Fay Bound Alberti
is a Reader in History and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at the University of York.
Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, and Middle East commentator for the nationally syndicated TV program, The Armstrong Williams Show. Write her at email@example.com or tweet @embracingwisdom.