Loneliness is a much more modern phenomenon than you might think
The breakdown of family and community structures contributes to internal feelings of isolation.
My current book project, "Lonely Poets and their Publics," charts the development of the concept of loneliness in British literature of the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Loneliness was a new term in the 17th century, and is distinct from solitude, because it describes an experience that can take place amidst other people, as well as apart from them. The invention of the concept therefore signals a revolution in developing notions of selfhood, individuality, and interiority. I am interested the question of why poets, as opposed to novelists or journalists, were particularly drawn to loneliness as a mode of self-fashioning. In a series of case studies of literary loneliness on Mary Robinson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Smith, William Wordsworth and British Poetry of Abolition, I trace representations of loneliness in this period, and argue that it paradoxically emerges as a strategy by which Romantic writers create community with each other and with their increasingly lonely reading publics.