- Don Quixote in England: The Aesthetics of Laughter, and: British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832
Laughter provoked by satire can be a deadly scourge and cause fierce humiliation, acting as a type of punishment and a form of social control. It may be ill informed, but it is rarely innocent. While the books considered here present different premises in approaching the question of laughter and satire in their titles—aesthetics and politics, respectively—both move toward a common ground in which the aesthetic and the political collide. Each study explores the ideological subtexts of formal authorial choices and documents the cultural confrontation over the control of laughter.
Don Quixote, the quintessential anachronism, never loses his topicality or popularity in the British eighteenth century. From Butler’s burlesque Hudibras to Smollett’s caustic Sir Launcelot Greaves, many authors self-consciously declare their Cervantic imitation. According to Paulson, Don Quixote was particularly adaptable to British purposes, due to the spread of empiricism and the relative “decentralizing of power in a wavering economy of Crown, Parliament, and the rights of the English People” (xi). This study’s strength comes not just from the focus on literary adaptations of the Quixote ethos-analyzed in expected texts such as Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and Lennox’s The Female Quixote, as well as in works as disparate as Robinson Crusoe and Northanger Abbey—but in its concentration on the theories of satire and comedy which underlie its variations. Paulson argues that many of the translations and adaptations of Quixote can be understood through authorial position; for example, he invokes Swift and Addison as opposite sides of the satiric coin, not just politically (Tory/Whig) but also aesthetically (Juvenal/Horace). Their differences are manifest in their contrasting readings of Don Quixote. Swift sees the novel as “a Tory-Ancient satire on reading the wrong books (that is, modern books with Whig values),” while Addison interprets Don Quixote as “a blueprint for Whig-Modern politics...freeing them from the contamination of Puritan-Dissenter-heterodox associations on the one hand, and from Tory-Jacobite-High Church associations on the other” (29). [End Page 575] Paulson also contextualizes the uses of Quixote not just through Addison’s aesthetic of the novel and uncommon, which recuperates imagination as a positive category and allows comic containment of the transgressive (invigorating the development of comic romance), but also in relation to other highly influential theories of humor by Shaftesbury and Corbyn Morris. Paulson’s strong suit here comes from an interdisciplinary critical sense which draws parallels not immediately apparent from individual texts. This is particularly true in a chapter on Hogarth and other Quixote illustrators, which relates verbal and visual representation and focuses on Sancho Panza as a model of imitation. In other chapters, Paulson extends arguments he has made elsewhere about the satire/comedy nexus, the history/politics/art connection, the female subject, the theatricality of presentation, and the subjectivity of reception.
Like Paulson, Gary Dyer emphasizes the political dimension of aesthetic choice. He focuses on satire from the beginning of the French Revolution to the 1832 Reform Bill, a tumultuous period not often acknowledged for great satire. Through a meticulous overview, Dyer shows that, far from antithetical to the age, satire is a pulse beat by which to recognize the tone of public life and the concerns of the age. His chronological bibliography of British satirical verse, while listed as “select,” runs forty pages and seven hundred entries, and offers a wonderful opportunity to follow changing foci of subject and method, authorship and readership. Throughout his book, Dyer pays attention to the political implications of representation, delineating a wide spectrum of beliefs and approaches. By his account, reactionary satire in general tends to be monological, a reflection of perceived superiority, like Anti-Jacobin poetry, or Polwhele’s The Unsex’d Females (1798), which attacks Mary Wollstonecraft and other...