Humour in children's literature, 1800-1840

  • Karen Elizabeth Williams

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract


By reclaiming a wide range of comic works in key literary genres, my thesis proposes
that contrary to prevailing critical discourse, humour was a widespread, intrinsic and
valued part of children’s literature in the period 1800-1840. Histories of children’s
literature in this era are inexorably tied to an antithetical configuration of instruction
versus amusement. Although in recent criticism this binary has been challenged, the
critical discussion of amusing texts remains limited to a narrow canon of works
operating in opposition to the moral tale and other instructive texts. My thesis widens
the scope for humour in this period by interrogating juvenile works and wider print
culture in four under-researched areas: the ‘papillonnade’ poetry of the first decades
of the nineteenth century, the new phenomenon of the juvenile Christmas annuals,
chapbooks for children, and drama as related to the child. Such an approach embraces
literature that was accessible to children across the social spectrum and accordingly
reveals both synergies and tensions in attitudes towards humour and the use of the
comic across the class divide. Underpinning my analysis, is a rich heritage of
philosophical and historical approaches to laughter that reveal a complex and dialogic
relationship between comedy, the child and these wider perspectives. This critical link allows for a nuanced reading of humorous texts that cements the placement of
laughter within the history of children’s literature and anticipates the later humour of
better-known works by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear in mid-century.

















operating in opposition to the moral tale and other instructive texts. My thesis widens
the scope for humour in this period by interrogating juvenile works and wider print
culture in four under-researched areas: the ‘papillonnade’ poetry of the first decades
of the nineteenth century, the new phenomenon of the juvenile Christmas annuals,
chapbooks for children, and drama as related to the child. Such an approach embraces
literature that was accessible to children across the social spectrum and accordingly
reveals both synergies and tensions in attitudes towards humour and the use of the the
comic across the class divide. Underpinning my analysis, is a rich heritage of
philosophical and historical approaches to laughter that reveal a complex and dialogic
relationship between comedy, the child and these wider perspectives. This critical link
allows for a nuanced reading of humorous texts that cements the placement of
laughter within the history of children’s literature and anticipates the later humour of
better-known works by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear in mid-century.
Date of Award12 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorIan Haywood (Supervisor) & Lisa Sainsbury (Supervisor)

Cite this

Humour in children's literature, 1800-1840
Williams, K. E. (Author). 12 Dec 2017

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis