Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental-the product of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie contests these assumptions in Cruelty and Laughter, a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the age. Beneath the veneer of Enlightenment civility, Dickie uncovers a rich strain of cruel humor that forces us to recognize just how slowly human sufferings became worthy of sympathy.
Delving into an enormous archive of jestbooks, comic periodicals, farces, variety shows, and minor comic novels, Dickie discovers a bottomless repository of jokes about cripples, blind men, rape, and wife-beating. He also finds epigrams about scurvy and one-act farces about hunchbacks in love, powerful proofs o the limits of compassion of the period. Everyone-rich and poor, women as well as men-laughed along. In the process, Dickie expands our understanding of many of the century's major authors, including Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen. Cruelty and Laughteris an engaging, far-reaching study of the other side of culture in eighteenth-century Britain.
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