Our weekday preachers': humor in Victorian literature (1828-1868)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date07/12/2021
Cox, Glynnis R.
This thesis investigates the use of humor in realist Victorian novels published between 1828– 1868. The main hypothesis of this project is that the novelists of this time period rely on humor as a powerful tool not just to divert and amuse, but often as a central rhetorical device to create complex stories, to evoke compelling characters, to depict social problems, and to persuade. The ideas that my work explores are illustrated by analyses of texts by: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Meredith, Margaret Oliphant, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, and Frances Trollope. My research aims have been to answer the following questions: (1) where does humor appear in these texts and how is it employed in the techniques of these narratives? And (2) why is humor used or in relation to which themes is humor employed? In order to answer these questions my first chapter discusses theories of humor and proposes that a version of incongruity theory is the fittest definition to use to understand humor’s presence and role in the texts of the Victorian period. Incongruity theory suggests that the essential, if not sufficient, condition for humor is the presence of the juxtaposition between an incongruity and present or implied congruity. To discuss the technical aspects of humor as incongruity and its role in narrative, this thesis also utilizes some of the vocabulary and theories of Narratology, Structuralism, and Formalism. Chapters two and three seek to use the theories discussed in chapter one to answer (1): where does humor appear in these texts and how is it employed? In chapter two, I demonstrate how different authors of this period introduce humor in their texts and frame incongruity through the focalization of narrators. In chapter three, I discuss the role of humor, both its presence and absence, in texts in relation to central versus peripheral characters and in character development. This chapter particularly highlights the orienting role that humor plays in texts: for or against characters and causes. In chapters four and five, I address question (2): why do authors use humor or what is humor in these texts about? In chapter four, I look at how humor was used to depict conflict within and confused expectations between different social groups. In chapter five, I focus on the use of humor in narrative to critique and persuade. First, I look at various examples of critiques of contemporary ecclesiastical controversy. Second, I compare an example of a critique of Utilitarianism and a critique of the use of literature to persuade. Finally, in my conclusion, I briefly highlight the limits of humor’s role and usefulness in humor-dominated narratives by comparing the presence and absence of humor in scenes depicting death and suffering.