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Smile of Discontent

Humor, Gender, and Nineteenth-Century British Fiction

Like sex, Eileen Gillooly argues, humor has long been viewed as a repressed feature of nineteenth-century femininity. However, in the works of writers such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, and Henry James, Gillooly finds an understated, wryly amusing perspective that differs subtly but significantly in rhetoric, affect, and politics from traditional forms of comic expression.

Gillooly shows how such humor became, for mostly female writers at the time, an unobtrusive and prudent means of expressing discontent with a culture that was ideologically committed to restricting female agency and identity. If the aggression and emotional distance of irony and satire mark them as "masculine," then for Gillooly, the passivity, indirection, and sympathy of the humor she discusses render it "feminine." She goes on to disclose how the humorous tactics employed by writers from Burney to Wharton persist in the work of Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner, and Penelope Fitzgerald.

The book won the Barbara Perkins and George Perkins Award given by the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature.

316 pages | 7 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1999

Women in Culture and Society

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Women's Studies

Table of Contents

Foreword by Catharine R. Stimpson
Introduction: Positioning the Feminine, 1778-1913
Part One: Theory and Praxis
1. The Poetics of Feminine Humor
Humor and Rhetoric
Humor and Affect
Surviving the Feminine: Humor and Pathology
2. The Feminine Difference: Three Paradigms
Captain Mirvan and Mrs. Selwyn
The Case of Anthony Trollope
Sadomasochism and the Humor Relationship: Henry James and Edith Wharton
Part Two: Readings
3. Humor as Maternal Aggression: Mansfield Park and Persuasion
The Example of Fanny Price
Undermining Patriarchy
The Relief of "Throwing Ridicule": Mary Crawford and the Narrator
Laughable Lovers: Fanny as Romantic Heroine
Laughable Lovers Again: Anne Elliot’s "Eternal Constancy"
4. Humor as Daughterly Defense: Cranford
Locating the Narrator
Amazons and Patriarchs
The Dutiful Daughter in Drag: Mary Smith and Peter Jenkyns
Narrative Structure, Humorous Tropes, and Cultural Text
5. Humor as Maternal Protection: The Mill on the Floss
Parental Failures
Preoedipal Longing and the Objects of Displaced Desire
Narrative Mothering
Recapitulating the Maternal Bond
Bonds of Suffering and the Ties that Bind
Coda: Feminine Humor in the Twentieth Century


International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN): George and Barbara Perkins Prize

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