Limits of comedy in eighteenth-century prose fiction: a study of 3 works
Black, John David
McKillop, Alan D.
Master of Arts
This thesis explores the nature of Comedy, concentrating on the work of three eighteenth-century writers, Fielding, Sterne, and Swift. It is concerned with what might be called the centrifugal movement of comedy (there is also centripetal comedy), with heavy emphasis on the endings of three works. The first section, on Joseph Andrews, investigates that moral comedy which removes the masks from the self-deceived in society, the second section, on A Sentimental Journey, investigates comedy through the self-deception of the narrator, and the third, on Gulliver's Travels, the comedy of "the discrepancy between man's true nature and his pridefully self-deceived affectations of grandeur." The purpose of this examination is to test the limits of comedy, that is, to see at what points given comic works tend to go over into mere purposeless laughter or, in another direction, into non-humorous criticism. These are the lower limits of farce and invective. As an upper limit to comedy, there is joy or ecstasy. In another scale, or continuum, the limits are the breakdown of communication with the reader and the movement into tragedy. It is hoped that through the empirical analysis of three quite different comic works, one may arrive at a clearer conception of the nature of comedy itself. If one can mark the points at which the comic becomes clearly something else, one may hope to delimit the mode, to set up the geometrical points (as it were) that establish its boundaries, its configuration.