When you’re in a library you often pass many very dull-looking books that don’t stand out to you in any way. That’s how it was for me and Walter Scott, among others. So I want to give other ones like that their day in court, because I’m sure there are many more that are “de-emphasized” for political reasons. Leapfrogging off the idea in my previous post that laughter can in a certain sense be more powerful than argumentation, I look for moderns in the tradition of Aristophanes. Henry Fielding caught flak from the government for his humor. This is definitely one of those random classics who has been too “dull-looking” for me to investigate. I’m talking about judging a book by its cover, we all do it. Fielding wrote around the time Pound says that prose begins to express the consciousness of a people more than poetry.
Comedy of the sort that ridicules the follies and vices of society to the end of laughing them out of countenance entered the English novel with Fielding.
I wouldn’t have expected that just looking at his books or hearing his name. This is someone we don’t tend to hear about.
You remember my post on the French satirist Molière? This Englishman was born a few decades after he died. I’m trying to see what humor was like in different times and places. It is absolutely lacking in ours. Were people freer to laugh in other times and places?
To give you some context, this is known as the Augustan period of literature. You remember Augustus? The emperor who ruled during the time of Virgil, Horace, Ovid. This is a sort of English Renaissance where the classics were revived. People were more “relaxed” and satire flourished.
This is another post themed around “people starving”. You want a good historian who will satiate you? That is Burckhardt. How about a good humorist? I’m looking into that now, have patience.
Ahh what is this
The Dunciad is a landmark mock-heroic narrative poem by Alexander Pope published in three different versions at different times from 1728 to 1743. The poem celebrates a goddess Dulness and the progress of her chosen agents as they bring decay, imbecility, and tastelessness to the Kingdom of Great Britain.
People, myself included, usually only know of Gulliver’s Travels from this time. All I knew about Pope was that he translated Homer. This here is a parody of Virgil apparently. Just by this description alone it looks quite timeless already, no? I just want something that makes me laugh! Is that so much to ask? “Scolds” they call em, the over-serious people of today. I’m willing to dress up in a humiliating clown outfit if you let me say what I want to say in public. In fact that’s probably already more of a reality than I want to admit.
Alright, Dunciad probably for another post, trying to stick with the even lesser-known Fielding for now. What’s nice about philosophy is it can lead you to all these other disciplines. We can examine the “records of consciousness” as portrayed in the various “media” from the high points of other times and places to see whether we might want to be more similar in our own consciousness.
Two novelists from that time
Fielding had aristocratic lineage and was educated at Eton… he differed from Richardson, a more bourgeois figure, equally suspicious of the lordly and the low, and not naturally given to urbanity or ironic finesse.
He wrote parodies of Richardson. This is another writer I’ve often passed in the library who looked too dull. Possibly Fielding will show I was right about him?
Fielding wrote plays too. These caused something known as the Licensing Act, which is a form of pre-production censorship. This Act wasn’t lifted until 1968. I like to see if someone is worth spending days reading. This fact alone might convince me. If I’m going to die some day I’m going to need some real prodding to read someone’s 800 some page chief work. And Fielding probably can’t be understood without understanding the 1600 some page chief work of Richardson he is parodying. Just showing you clues as I find them, because I want to LAUGH, and you’re probably similar. I doubt there’s any contemporary material to be found today that can do that.