"Ludicrous Solemnity": Satire's Aesthetic Turn
Herron, Shane Michael
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This dissertation studies the shift in eighteenth-century satire away from verse and toward parody-driven forms. I argue that there is no need to posit a rigid dichotomy between satire and the novel, because the trend toward increasingly undetectable satiric mimicry, already underway before the emergence of the novel proper, actually mirrors and reproduces many features supposedly exclusive to the novel. The first chapter, "‘Written By One of the Fair Sex: Irony’, Sovereignty, and Sexual Difference," examines the gender politics related to these changes in satiric irony. I argue that the early novels of Aphra Behn were not just earnest documents but also part of a satirical strategy to expand women's access to public culture. Much of the early novel continues the satire on men that writers like Behn had developed earlier in her engagement with Restoration Comedy. In the second chapter, "Keeping up Appearances: Burke and Swift on the Ethics of Revolution," I argue that the concept of parody helps clarify why the most conservative satirists initiated significant advances in satiric irony in the period: because parody is a technique that preserves and recycles major aspects of the satirized object, it presented a mechanism for deftly combining limited positive changes and the appearance of reserved moderation with a palpable ethical or reformatory power. In the third chapter, "Toward an Aesthetics of Repulsion: Disgust, Black Humor, Satire," I discuss how this earnest irony can effectively satirize the most extreme forms of vice simply by presenting it on its own terms. I argue that such satire works not by undermining evil but rather by raising it to a negative standard of excellence so extreme that it essentially cannot exist outside of fictional representations. In the fourth chapter, "Gratitude for the Ordinary: Defoe's Calvinist Parody" I show how, by the same token, a type of satirical negativity exists within the most earnest and seemingly unironic works from the period: those of Daniel Defoe.