Necessary Madness: The Humor of Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Necessary Madness: The Humor of Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

by Gregg Camfield

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In this rich, exciting new book, Gregg Camfield explores nineteenth-century American humor from the perspective of gender and domestic ideology, challenging recent theory asserting a broad gulf between men's and women's humor during the period and contributing vital new insights to the study of humor in general. Capturing in part I a vision of humor unique to the era, Camfield examines the period's faith in what was called "amiable humor," a genial and supple comic mode whose non- aggression makes it resist easy assimilation to theories stressing humor's basis in hostility, negation, rage, and other combative or displaced energies. Seeking to illuminate this distinct comedy, Camfield probes a related, central cultural strand--the domesticity ideal--that so often is a subject of this humor, carefully tracking contact between the two discourses and identifying their common social and intellectual roots. Turning next to four literary case-studies powerfully revealing of this contact, Camfield in part II pairs male and female humorists--Washington Irving and Fanny Fern; Harriet Beecher Stowe and Herman Melville; Mark Twain and Marietta Holley; and George Washington Harris and Mary Wilkins Freeman--not only to demonstrate the way these influential writers approach domesticity with genial humor, but also to support his claim that gender difference does not always correlate to differences in viewpoint and practice within this common style. Where many argue nineteenth- century women's humor constitutes a genre unto itself, Camfield finds that like women, men filtered reaction to the constraints and opportunities of home life through genial comedy, and that women, like their male counterparts, wrote humor marked by extravagance, expansion, caricature, fantasy, and posturing. Broadening out to an intriguing consideration of humor theory in part III, Camfield draws on recent work in psychology, culture studies, neo-pragmatist philosophy, and neuroscience to model a compelling alternative view of humor capable of negotiating both the complexities of nineteenth-century American humor and the comic art of periods before and since. Students and scholars of humor, nineteenth-century American literature and culture, and women's writing, will find Necessary Madness to be a provocative, essential achievement.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780195356595
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 09/25/1997
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Lexile: 1460L (what's this?)
File size: 895 KB

Table of Contents

ONE Humor in a Heartless Haven
I. "Sudden Glory Is the Passion Which Maketh Those Grimaces Called Laughter"
II. "Haven in a Heartless World"
III. "The Follies of Love Are Remedial"
TWO Home in a Rage
I. Washington Irving: Laughing All the Way to the Bank
II. Fanny Fern: "It's a Way I Have When I Can't Find a Razor Handy to Cut My Throat"
THREE Tending the Home Fires
I. Harriet Beecher Stowe: "They ... Must Be Allowed Their Laugh and Their Joke"
II. Herman Melville: "A Little Out of My Mind"
FOUR Home, Sweat Home
I. Mark Twain: "I Couldn't Do Nothing But Sweat and Sweat, and Feel All Cramped Up"
II. Marietta Holley: "That Sweat Was the Best Thing They Could Have Done. It Kinder Opened the Pours, and Took My Mind Offen My Troubles"
FIVE Madness Runs in Families
I. George Washington Harris: Howl in the Family
II. Mary Wilkins Freeman: Inherit the Will
SIX Humorneutics
I. Truth versus Laughter
II. Comic Arousal
III. The Mind's Jubilee
IV. Ideology versus Humor
V. The Manners of Comedy
VI. Humor as Haven
Appendix 187(6)
Notes 193(20)
Bibliography 213(14)
Index 227

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