The Comic in Theory & Practice

By Elizabeth T. Forter; Alvin Whitley et al. | Go to book overview

An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit

GEORGE MEREDITH

George Meredith, from An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit [ 1877] ( New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897).

THERE ARE plain reasons why the Comic poet is not a frequent apparition; and why the great Comic poet remains without a [1] fellow. A society of cultivated men and women is required, wherein ideas are current and the perceptions quick, that he may be supplied with matter and an audience. The semi-barbarism of merely giddy communities, and feverish emotional periods, repel him; and also a state of marked social inequality of the sexes; nor can he whose business is to address the mind be understood where there is not a moderate degree of intellectual activity.

Moreover, to touch and kindle the mind through laughter, demands more than sprightliness, a most subtle delicacy. That must be a natal gift in the Comic poet. The substance he deals with will show him a startling exhibition of the dyer's hand, if he is without it. People are ready to surrender themselves to witty thumps on the back, breast, and sides; all except the head: and it is there that he aims. He must be subtle to penetrate. A corresponding acuteness must exist to welcome him. The necessity for the two conditions [2] will explain how it is that we count him during centuries in the singular number. . . . [3]

There has been fun in Bagdad. But there never will be civilization where Comedy is not possible; and that comes of some degree of social equality of the sexes. I am not quoting the Arab to exhort and disturb the somnolent East; rather for cultivated women to recognize that the Comic Muse is one of their best friends. They are blind to their interests in swelling the ranks of sentimentalists. Let them look with their clearest vision abroad and at home. They will see that where they [54] have no social freedom, Comedy is absent: where they are household drudges, the form of Comedy is primitive: where they are tolerably independent, but uncultivated, exciting melodrama takes its

-34-

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The Comic in Theory & Practice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Part I - Theory 1
  • Humour 3
  • Poetics 5
  • Author's Preface to Joseph Andrews 7
  • The Difficulty of Defining Comedy 10
  • A Comparison Between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy 12
  • On Wit and Humour 16
  • On Simple and Sentimental Poetry 22
  • On the Essence of Laughter 24
  • The Expression of the Emotions In Man and Animals 29
  • An Essay on Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit 34
  • Meredith on Comedy 38
  • Laughter 43
  • Laughter 65
  • Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious 69
  • Feeling and Form 81
  • Anatomy of Criticism 87
  • Verbal Behavior 92
  • Introduction to Joseph Andrews 100
  • Some Remarks on Humor 102
  • Notes on the Comic 109
  • The Thread of Laughter 116
  • Part II - Essays, Narratives, & Verse 123
  • My Finandal Career 125
  • On Riding 128
  • Showing Off 133
  • Dr. Arbuthnot's Academy 135
  • You Were Perfectly Fine 141
  • The Catbird Seat 145
  • Laura 154
  • Why I Live at the P.O. 159
  • A Reasonable Facsimile 171
  • A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms 192
  • The Rape of the Lock 257
  • The Cock and the Fox or, The Tale of the Nun's Priest 278
  • The Frogs Asked for a King 300
  • Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes 302
  • The Lemmings: A Philosophical Poem 304
  • Departmental or, the End of My Ant Jerry 309
  • Mehitabel Dances with Boreas 311
  • Macavity: the Mystery Cat 315
  • A Wooden Darning Egg 317
  • The Mad Gardener's Song 318
  • The Flea 320
  • Under Which Lyre 321
  • Part III - For Discussion & Themes 327
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