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By Glen Cavaliero
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Extra resources for The Alchemy of Laughter: Comedy in English Fiction
9 In making fun of the insufferable, Benson's sequence, in its own genteel, addictive way, partakes of that sense of conjoined light and darkness, ugliness and beauty, which issues in the restrained hysteria of gallows humour. But the laughter has something reprehensible about it, a kind of fallen humanity's fou rire, only to remain intelligible this side of paradise. Wit: the good h u m o u r of Auberon Quin The distillation of incongruities is experienced as wit. The connotations of this word have dwindled from its original signification of intelligence and intellectual capacity, and of an ability to know accurately, to its current association with the recognition of similarities and a deft connecting of ideas.
She] felt no difficulty in discerning the leadings of Providence, and she could not but appreciate the readiness with which her desires were attended to, and the prompt clearing-up of her difficulties. There are people whose inclinations Providence does not seem to superintend with such painstaking watchfulness; but then, no doubt, that must be their own fault. (Chapter li) That substitution of 'are' for 'were' in the second sentence, by separating the author's voice from that of Lucilla, only serves to press home still further the satire on comfortable religious self-assurance, through widening its application from a purely personal example to the human condition as a whole.
And where parody questions literary stereotypes, farce makes hay with social ones: the delighted realisation that there are limits to the ability of human beings to restrict each other's energies is a vitalising element in novelists as different as Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Iris Murdoch. Farce also makes use of private fantasy for public ends. This is nicely if ambiguously illustrated in one of the most enduringly popular English 26 Alchemy of Laughter comic novels, The History of Mr Polly (1910).
The Alchemy of Laughter: Comedy in English Fiction by Glen Cavaliero