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Parody, Scriblerian Wit and the Rise of the Novel

Parodic Textuality from Pope to Sterne


Przemysław Uściński

Parody was a crucial technique for the satirists and novelists associated with the Scriblerus Club. The great eighteenth-century wits (Alexander Pope, John Gay, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne) often explored the limits of the ugly, the droll, the grotesque and the insane by mocking, distorting and deconstructing multiple discourses, genres, modes and methods of representation. This book traces the continuity and difference in parodic textuality from Pope to Sterne. It focuses on polyphony, intertextuality and deconstruction in parodic genres and examines the uses of parody in such texts as «The Beggar’s Opera», «The Dunciad», «Joseph Andrews» and «Tristram Shandy». The book demonstrates how parody helped the modern novel to emerge as a critical and artistically self-conscious form.

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The present book discusses parody as a flexible and widespread technique, a method that combines mimicry with incongruity and ironic inversion, hence a dialectic game with the device, a playful dialogue with code or convention. Rather than being merely negative or destructive, parodied styles, devices and conventions might (and often do) prove productive and innovative. Arguably, parodic treatment of canonical literary styles and other discourses has provided the basic impulse for many comic, playful or bitterly satiric forms since times immemorial: mock epic poems, humorous dialogues, Menippean satires, travesties, tragicomic plays, burlesque romances. The most important manifestations of parodic technique in literature include: (1) parodic treatment of the established “classical” or popular literary genres, styles, images, motifs as well as authors and traditions; and (2) parodies of diverse non-literary forms and discourses (philosophical, learned, formal, everyday), often exposed as carriers of a limited reasoning, a monological worldview or as manifestations of misguided ideology. Parody may change a non-literary discourse into a literary one (because it is an artistic presentation of discourse), or may add extra levels of duplicity, irony and ambiguity to the literary discourse or style it appropriates.

In all cases, such parodies make it possible to achieve a certain distance from official and received discourses and to playfully contradict or question the predominant patterns of representation. In this manner, parody combines creativity with criticism and tradition with innovation. This combination, however, is far from peaceful, for parody typically foregrounds contrast and contradiction – unlike in...

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