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Title: A study of political humour in British literature in the 1790s
Author: Chen, Chi-Fang
ISNI:       0000 0004 6423 6581
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2016
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British responses to the French Revolution are characterised by humorous expression in the literature of the 1790s. Yet political humour is often not readily harnessed to an immediate political agenda. ‘Political humour’ as an idea appears to be a contradiction and elicits a contradictory set of epithets, which falls into two distinct categories: ideological commitment and disinterested amusement. This thesis argues that it is this tension that contributes to the redrawing of the ambit of politics. This thesis continues the recent scholarly approach to the British response to the Revolution less as a formal ‘debate’ than as a ‘controversy’, which involves a diversity of cultural practices and experimentation of expression and social organisation. I argue that the employment of humour in the political literature of the 1790s provides extended or alternative means of political engagement. The political humour goes beyond topical political agendas and alludes to the eighteenth-century comic theory, which instructs ethical questions about social relation or ways of life. I demonstrate that the claim to autotelic innocence of humour in the comic discourse of the eighteenth century was predicated on contradictory social tendencies: laughing either reinforces individual boundary or facilitates transmissive and collective conviviality. ‘Common life’, which denotes a social relation in settlement, is the existential horizon that enacts this contradiction. With ‘common life’ in crisis or contestation in the 1790s, and with social organisation under political controversy, humour as political disclaimer is thereby reworked into a particular political language. I read the comic discourses of Burke and the popular radicals, the satire of Peter Pindar, and the comic rhetoric of the anti-Jacobin novels to explore this political language. In doing so, this thesis seeks to suggest ways of reading the literary culture of the 1790s in terms of the circumscription or expansion of the scope of political life, so as to examine how humour contributed and responded to changes in political culture.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature