Humor's Place in the 20th Century Novel
In her essay, “The Beautiful and Sublime Revisited,” Iris Murdoch says:
The modern novel, the serious novel, does tend toward either two extremes: either it is a tight metaphysical object, which wishes it were a poem, and which attempts to convey, often in mythical form, some central truth about the human condition or else it is a loose journalistic epic, documentary or possibly even didactic in inspiration, offering a commentary on current institutions or on some matter out of history (264).
Murdoch’s words do hold some truth in them. Certainly, her words can be applied to many of the most well-known modern novels from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. However, her descriptions can just as easily be applied to the post modern novel. Though seriousness has generally been associated with modern literature, it is an aspect of post modern literature, as well. However, unlike most works of modern literature, the post modern novel does not focus solely on this seriousness, or on passing along a message of some sort. Rather, it strikes a delicate balance between humor and seriousness; between laughter and conveying “some central truth about the human condition” or “offering a commentary on…some matter out of history.”
Before I elaborate further, perhaps it is necessary to make a distinction between the terms “modern” and “post modern” as they will be used in this study. In the most general sense of the word, “modern” refers to those writings published before and during World War II, while “post modern” refers to the works that came after this time period.
Now that this distinction has been made, the issue of humor in modern and post modern l...
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...h serious subjects, it also isn’t accurate to say that there is no humor in modern literature. Many modern novels have humor in them. Ulysses is a good example of such a modern novel. However, in general, humor seems to be more prevalent in post modern literature.
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