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Pleasure Gardens and the Use of Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century England, France, and America

Stephen Bending, University of Southampton, Fellow 2013–2014, Spring

I came to Dumbarton Oaks to work on my current project, a book on the problems of pleasure in the eighteenth-century gardens of England, France, and North America. My focus has been on what I see as a characteristic sense of unease about the experience of pleasure in pleasure gardens, a sense that pleasure must be accounted for and justified, and that in accounting for it, those who write of gardens inevitably also attempt to account for themselves. In other words, this is a project on the experience of self and of how we might recover the traces of emotion in eighteenth-century landscapes. My original plan was to spend my time at Dumbarton Oaks working on the gardens and correspondence of early American presidents (Washington, Jefferson, and Adams). But while I gathered a wealth of useful material from these sources, I have, as so often before, found women to be more interesting. Much of my time, therefore, was spent working with women’s letters and diaries from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This research will feed in to my current project in all sorts of useful ways, but, more importantly, it has provided me with the material—and the inspiration—for a new project on women’s experience of landscape in this period.