This essay examines the theory of leisure that Samuel Johnson presents in his Idler series and that Jane Austen engages in her novel Mansfield Park. Just as productivity and vigilance are becoming unassailable values, Johnson and Austen publish popular works designed to insert breaks into the culture of ceaseless striving. Their theory of leisure revalues idling as a state of beneficial, albeit transient, mindlessness and develops forms of representation that, instead of cultivating an edifying point of view—of refined knowledge, judgment, or feeling—promotes an occasional letting go. Johnson uses the proliferation and Austen the suspension of points of view to defend the value of reading materials that solicit relaxation and afford cheap pleasures for the many, or at least the many more. Both the Idler and Mansfield Park advocate for the redistribution of leisure in time rather than across classes of persons, thus transforming idling from a characterological deficiency into a periodic respite that is necessary for all and that all are entitled to.

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