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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 Five: Parody in the Novel: Henry Fielding and “the Ludicrous instead of the Sublime”


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Chapter Five Parody in the Novel: Henry Fielding and “the Ludicrous instead of the Sublime”

The rubbish heap. The point is exactly that I come from your rubbish heap. All that you cast off through the centuries as refuse is now speaking through me. If my form is a parody of form, then my spirit is a parody of spirit and my person a parody of a person (…) It is not coincidence that precisely at the moment when we desperately need a hero, up pops a clown – a conscious and, thereby, serious clown. Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (Trans. Lillian Vallee)

Introduction: Parody in the Novel

The prominence of parody in novelistic discourse requires at least a brief introduction here. As Terry Eagleton notes in his study of the English novel, most scholars agree with the proposition that “the novel has its roots in the literary form we know as romance” and that many novels retain “their romantic heroes and villains, wish-fulfillments and fairy tale endings”. Nevertheless, novels also need to negotiate their representations with “the prosaic world of modern civilization” where “things have to be worked out in terms of sex and property, money and marriage, social mobility and nuclear family” (2005: 2). Many novels vividly highlight their comic opposition to the “elevated” and “marvellous” world of romances and epic poems, juxtaposing the heroic ethos with bourgeois morality; the lofty idealism with the dreariness of poverty, corruption and tedious work; the...

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