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Title: Humour in the novel 1800-1850 : the moral vision and the autonomous imagination
Author: Fairclough, Peter
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1976
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This thesis attempts to trace the development of two kinds of humorous sensibility in the fiction of the period 1800-1850, and to analyse the tensions between them. Humour as inherited from the eighteenth century contained diverse and sometimes contradictory elements which were strongly developed in the Romantic period, so nineteenth century humour could recommend an ideal individual morality, express social optimism, and hold out the hope of social reconciliation; yet at the same time it could subversively celebrate individual autonomy at the expense of social and moral concerns, and transform reality through ironic perspectives or grotesque forms. Edgeworth used the humorous character for didactic social purposes in her Irish novels; Scott, however, made his humorous characters the main imaginative embodiments of the social themes of his Scottish novels, maintaining a balance between didactic function and individual idiosyncrasy, a balance sustained by Galt in his novels about local history. But sceptical tendencies appeared: Austen warned that the humorous character was a threat to social order; Peacock's humorous characters were finally overwhelmed by a rancorous satirical spirit; and in Don Ju an, Byron used a version of Romantic Irony to undermine moral assertion. Romantic theories of humour were untouched by any taint of scepticism; such theories stressed the moral function of the humorous sensibility, seeing it as a genial and reconciling force based on love for mankind (the subversive power of the grotesque mode was viewed with suspicion); and Sartor Resartus embodied the highest moral and metaphysical possibilities of the humorous imagination. Beyond this, however, Thackeray's development of ironical perspectives further undermiined humour's positive and optimistic tendencies; and in Dickens's early novels there is a profound tension between the moral and social tendencies of the humour, and the increasingly anarchic, grotesque directions it takes. Eliot rejected the egotistical, ironic . and grotesque possibilities of humour, instead seeing moral improvement and social reconciliation as a matter of coming to terms with unattractive reality.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature