Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Carolyn Betensky

Abstract

Female comic authors during the nineteenth century have received little attention from twentieth and twenty-first century literary critics. As Regina Barreca observes, major studies of the role of comedy in British literature do not deal with women writers (Barrecca 1988 11). Several anthologies which focus on humor in nineteenth-century literature begin with Jane Austen and then ignore every other female comedic writer. Similarly, studies of the comic grotesque in nineteenth century literature focus primarily on how it is employed by male authors such as Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and Anthony Trollope. My dissertation will address this imbalance by examining the employment of the female comic grotesque in humorous novels by three non-canonical, female authors, Emily Eden, Catherine Gore and Frances Trollope.

Humorous texts often challenge oppressive ideas and socio-cultural norms through the use of satirical wit. Nineteenth-century female authors employ humor to disguise their attacks on contemporary values and thus avoid retribution. One comedic method they utilize is inversion which involves an unexpected and humorous switching of normal roles so that, for example, the master obeys his servant and wife rules her husband. Through these reversals of normal roles, the rules and prohibitions of culture are suspended so that readers can view their social and political relationships with more clarity; inversions may, therefore, act subversively by demonstrating possibilities for a different societal structure. These comic inversions are very often located in comic grotesque characters. In this dissertation, I analyze female comic grotesque characters in female-authored novels that challenge upperclass and male authorities by inverting class and gender hierarchies. In these humorous novels, overweight female characters, grotesque by virtue of their body size, rise from their middle-class origins to achieve upper class status. Similarly, loquacious grotesque women challenge gender role norms by ruling over their husbands and male relatives.

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