If the 21st century is preoccupied with an obligation to the self, the 19th century was preoccupied with an obligation to others. In his 1954 essay “Mansfield Park,” literary critic Lionel Trilling perceptively correlates these obligations, which helps the reader to “take seriously” the incident of the amateur theatrical and the question of Edmund Bertram’s profession.
That the self may destroy the self by the very energies that define its being, that the self may be preserved by the negation of its own energies – this, whether or not we agree, makes a paradox, makes an irony, that catches our imagination. Much of the nineteenth-century preoccupation with duty was not a love of law for its own sake, but rather a concern with the hygiene of the self.
— The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Select Essays