Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History suggests a unique approach to the inner life and its ordinary pains. Francis O'Gorman charts the emergence of our contemporary idea of worry in the Victorian era and its establishment, after the First World War, as a feature of modernity. For some writers between the Wars, worry was the “disease of the age.”
Worrying examines the everyday kind of worry-the fearful, non-pathological, and usually hidden questioning about uncertain futures. It shows worry to be a natural companion in a world where we try to live by reason and believe we have the right to choose, finding in the worrier a peculiarly contemporary sufferer whose mental life is not only exceptionally familiar, but also deeply strange.
Offering an intimately personal account of an all-too-common human experience, and of a word that slips in and out of ordinary conversation so often that it has become invisible in its familiarity, Worrying explores how the modern world has shaped our everyday anxieties.
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Francis O'Gorman is from English, Irish, and Hungarian families and was educated at the University of Oxford as Organ Scholar of Lady Margaret Hall. He has written or edited twenty books, mostly on English literature, and his many essays discuss literature, mental health, music, and the state of the modern university. His most recent piece of creative non-fiction is a memoir, Forgetfulness (2016). He is a Professor in the School of English at the University of Leeds, UK.Review:
"It is 4.06 am. Francis O’Gorman is in bed. His partner and three cats lie fast asleep beside him. But he is awake, worrying. So begins this subtle, exploratory, completely original book." - John Carey, The Sunday Times (Culture Magazine)
"The best parts of this book, as you would hope from a literary critic, are the textual readings. O’Gorman doesn’t just provide illuminating discussions of worry literature ... He also reads worry per se as a literary trope, a “comedy of mental manners” in which its victims are like stage characters trapped in their humours, always enacting the same scenes and parroting the same catchphrases. He is often dryly funny himself ... While it failed to assuage any of my worries, this winning little book still made me root for and, yes, worry a little for its author. I hope this review stops him fretting for a bit, at least until the next worry arrives." - Joe Moran, The Guardian
"Francis O'Gorman offers a witty, philosophical meditation on the meaning of worry, where it comes from and how it came to be our constant companion ... Although the visual arts and music can provide temporary distraction for the worrier, we need words – fragile, unstable words – to express it. Thankfully O'Gorman has given us some more."- Liz Hoggard, The Independent
"In his highly anxious but very valuable new book Worrying: a Literary and Cultural History (Bloomsbury 2015), Francis O’Gorman, Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leeds, seeks to pin down worry as an idea and to record the stories we tell ourselves about it; he sets worrying in both its recent and its deeper cultural history, and he also contemplates the various ways writers and artists have dealt with worry as a category of experience. ... Worrying also fits into the tradition of breaking down myths and tropes into discrete units, a bit like Mircea Eliade’s Myth and Reality or C. S. Lewis’ Studies in Words. We care about these books because we need stories about the cultural past so that we might have a sense of ourselves in time. The real value of O’Gorman’s book lies, I think, in the way it flags the politics of the stories we tell ourselves." - Josephine Livingstone, New Republic
"[An] affectionate tribute to low-level fretting ... Mr O’Gorman is a pleasant and good-humoured guide, and his candid, self-effacing style helps mitigate any boredom. If there is a message, it addresses the ever-expanding cottage industry around happiness and well-being. ... Mr O’Gorman’s celebration of the wonderful eccentricity of human nature is both refreshing and necessary." - The Economist
"If ‘it takes a worried man to sing a worried song,’ then O’Gorman―by his own admission―is the perfect author for this book ... Starting by describing his own worries about Worrying, the author moves quickly to a history of the word itself and a discussion of the relationship between the concept of worrying and the actual word ... The strengths of this book are two. First, it explores a phenomenon often ignored, perhaps because of its ubiquity. Everyone worries―there’s no cure for it, so why worry about it? Second, it makes a new and unusual connection between works of art ... One of O’Gorman’s final claims (in the fourth and last chapter) is that worry is ‘an intimate associate of any act of thought.’ His book supports that claim through both its argument and its very existence. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; graduate students; professionals; general readers." - CHOICE
" In some enjoyably subversive pages, [O'Gorman] unpicks a few of modernity’s best-loved fairy tales." - The Spectator
"It is worth reading for many reasons, but surely because it treats worrying as a complex issue, that is to say, as a feeling which might have a lot of good stuff to be said about it. Worrying works because it's not all doom and gloom, it avoids self-pity, and manages to have both an intellectual and personal discussion of an emotional issue from various and surprising angles." - Charlie Pullen, The Bookbag
"Worrying is not a self-help book. In fact, it frequently pokes holes in that genre. Nor is the book spiritual in any sense. As the book’s subtitle suggests, this is a literary and cultural history, as well as a personal one (O’Gorman is a self-confessed worrier). The book is an exercise in worrying about worry." -
Karen Swallow Prior, Liberty University,
"[An] intelligent and probing study." - James Williams, The Tablet
"Keeping us up with his sleepless stresses―did I forget to lock the door downstairs?―Francis O’Gorman comes to think that such anxieties, rather than being just a niggling malfunction, might also represent a constructive aspect of the human condition. What’s the use of worrying?" - Rachel Bowlby, Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University, USA, and author of A Child of One's Own: Parental Stories
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