Cruelty And Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature And The Unsentimental Eighteenth Century

Paperback | April 14, 2014

bySimon Dickie

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Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental—the creation of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie disputes these assumptions in Cruelty and Laughter, a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the age. Beneath the surface of Enlightenment civility, Dickie uncovers a rich vein of cruel humor that forces us to recognize just how slowly ordinary human sufferings became worthy of sympathy.

Delving into an enormous archive of comic novels, jestbooks, farces, variety shows, and cartoons, Dickie finds a vast repository of jokes about cripples, blind men, rape, and wife-beating. Epigrams about syphilis and scurvy sit alongside one-act comedies about hunchbacks in love. He shows us that everyone—rich and poor, women as well as men—laughed along. In the process, Dickie also expands our understanding of many of the century’s major authors, including Samuel Richardson, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen. He devotes particular attention to Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, a novel that reflects repeatedly on the limits of compassion and the ethical problems of laughter. Cruelty and Laughter is an engaging, far-reaching study of the other side of culture in eighteenth-century Britain.

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Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental—the creation of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie disputes these assumptions in Cruelty and Laughter, a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the age. Beneath the surface of Enlightenment civility, Dickie uncovers a ric...

Simon Dickie is associate professor of English at the University of Toronto.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:382 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:April 14, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022614254X

ISBN - 13:9780226142548

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Table of Contents

 

List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Unsentimental Eighteenth Century, 1740–70

1  Jestbooks and the Indifference to Reform      
Nasty Jokes, Polite Women      
How to Be a Wag

2  Cripples, Hunchbacks, and the Limits of Sympathy      
Deformity Genres
Dancing Cripples and the London Stage      
Streets and Coffeehouses      
Poetry and Polite Letters      
Damaged Lives      
Disabled Bodies and the Inevitability of Laughter
      

3  Delights of Privilege      
Laughing at the Lower Orders      
Contexts from Social History      
Frolics, High Jinks, and Violent Freedoms      
Lovelace at the Haberdasher   
   

Joseph Andrews and the Great Laughter Debate      
Narrative from a High Horse      
The Ethics of Ridicule      
Fielding’s Problem with Parsons 
     

5  Rape Jokes and the Law      
Laughter and Disbelief      
Modesty and the Impossibility of Consent      
Functions of an Assault      
Accusing, Making Up, and the Local Magistrate      
Humors of the Old Bailey
      

In Conclusion: The Forgotten Best-Sellers of Early English Fiction      
Ramble Novels and Slum Comedy      
Reading for the Filler      

Abbreviations     
Notes      
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Dickie has performed a valuable service by digging deep in eighteenth-century popular (and for that matter high) culture and unearthing forgotten texts and the attitudes they project that prove his point beyond any doubt. His scholarship is thorough, indeed comprehensive, and his book is richly informative. . . . Masterful scholarship. . . . I will never again speak glibly of the Age of Sensibility.”