Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Hilarious Novel

While studying literature - and, admittedly, film and drama - one thing always struck me. This is an awful generalisation, but rarely did I have have a chance to study a text that was funny. You would get the occasional break. Jane Austen is funny. Indeed, so is Charlotte Brontë - as when Jane calls Rochester a Vulcan, albeit, not the alien sort with pointy ears and a lack of emotional maturity. By and large though, there were a lot of serious books, films and plays. Indeed, even when, on my own, I discovered Byron and how funny he is, I found that most academic writing about him was... well... serious. I mean, Byron found a way to use a phrase like 'very spacious breeches' in a poem! That remains my favourite line of poetry to quote. So perhaps it isn't simply the texts, but the way we study them?

I was disappointed, though, when I read in The Guardian a piece about the lack of women authors on a funniest novelist list in the New York Times. As pointed out, even the comments section of the original article largely cites male authors.

I do agree with those who offered Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, though. If you haven't read it, you really should consider it. It is Jane Austen meets Emily Brontë - and Jane comes off best. Plus there's Seth.

And one comment-maker also remarked that children's literature is the real mine of hilarity in terms of the novel. Indeed - have a look at picture books like Emily Gravett's Spells (naked prince with interesting tatoo) and Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (very funny sibling squabbling combined with a very unobservant father).

I wish I could teach an entire unit on picture books...

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