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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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Chapter Four: Parodist as a Critic of Culture: Alexander Pope and The Dunciad


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Chapter Four Parodist as a Critic of Culture: Alexander Pope and The Dunciad

A brain of feathers, and a heart of lead Alexander Pope, The Dunciad

The genre of mock-heroic poetry was revived towards the end of the seventeenth century by two major neoclassical works: Nicholas Boileau’s Le Lutrin (1672, translated by John Ozell in 1708) and John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe (1682). Mock-heroic poems were usually humorous narrative poems that applied the “high” style of classical epic to light and trivial modern topics. Pope’s parodic masterpiece, The Rape of The Lock (1712, 1714) followed Boileau’s use of the form, while The Dunciad follows the direction indicated in Dryden’s poem, in which epic style was employed as a mock-encomium, an ironic praise of literary authors accused of intellectual and artistic mediocrity. Nevertheless, The Dunciad far exceeds the mock-heroic formula, and becomes instead a truly Menippean jumble of various travesties and parodic images of different genres, including pastoral poetry, biblical apocalypse, session poems, progress poems, translatio studii, prospect poems, prefaces, footnotes, keys, annotations, literary criticism and history, and possibly other discursive and poetic forms (Todd 1995: 193). When discussing the poem, Ulrich Broich observes, at first, that because of its numerous personal satiric references, The Dunciad gives an impression of “a gigantic lampoon, in which imitation and parody of the epic have purely secondary and decorative function” (147). After a closer observation, however, Broich concludes that parody in The Dunciad

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