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James T. Nardin is a Professor of F.nglish in Colorado State College of Education at Greeley. A specialist in American literature, he has carried on extensive research on certain aspects of comedy in the theater of the United States. Civil War Humor: The War in Vanity Fair JAMES T. NARDIN the early YEARS of a war and the period immediately preceding a war tend to produce some of the best war humor. When things look blackest, we hunt for something to laugh at and frequently find it in what worries us most; when things are going well, we do not feel the same need. Thus in World War II, Private Hargrove's problems of military assimilation appeared early in the war; Mauldin's cartoons of GI's were, in the opinion of many people, at their best when the war was not going strongly in our favor. Similarly, in the Revolutionary War, some of Franklin's best humorous pieces — "An Edict by the King of Prussia," "Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One," the letter to the Hessian Troops — appeared before the war and during the period before the tide of battle turned for us. In the Civil War, the same trends of humor appeared. And in this connection , one particular publication offers an interesting case for study. Vanity Fair, a magazine patterned after Punch and Charivari, appeared for the first time on December 31, 1859, and ended its brief career on July 4, 1863.x This was the period of the most intense anxiety for the Union cause; thereafter, the prospect seemed better. Whether Vanity Fair expired because its humor was no longer necessary seems doubtful, This magazine was published weekly in America from December 31, 1859, until the end of 1862. In January and February of 1863, it appeared once a month. On May 2, 1863, it resumed publication again as a weekly magazine, and continued until July 4, 1863, when it ceased publication entirely. It is not to be confused with the magazine of the same name published in England from 1868 to 1928 or with the magazine for the hearth and home which was published in America from 1913 to 1936. 67 68JAMEST. NARDlN but the material it published in its few years gives us a chance to see what Unionists made humor of in their darkest period. One of the commonest activities in any war is making light of the enemy. If we can make our opponents look ridiculous, evil, and futile, then our cause becomes lighter and nobler; laughing at an enemy has long been one method of trying to make them look so. The small-arms fire at the Southern cause ran from the beginning to the end of this magazine. Some of the firing was occasionally done with big guns, but for the most part, there seems to have been a conviction that for little people sniping was adequately destructive. This humorous sniping at the South fell into two periods, the one before the outbreak of hostilities and the one after. If we recall the overworked joke of World War II about the Russians' Irish general Tim O'Shenko, we should feel right at home when we encounter this item in Vanity Fair in May of 1860: AU Afloat The Southern Delegates, at Charleston, rather than Wave their rights in the Convention, have determined to try a IitÜe Sea Session.2 In February of the following year, the patronizing pun was coupled with an attack on another enemy of Vanity Fair, President James Buchanan (always ridiculed as stupid, ineffectual, and dishonest): Hurry Up SILENUS says that if the Secessionists are going to break into the U.S. Treasury, they must hurry up, for after the Fourth of March they won't have any Jimmy to help 'em.s In the same issue, referring to two representatives of South Carolina at the Montgomery Convention, Vanity Fair called the South Carolina argument purely "Rhett-Orr-ical."4 It gave the message of the South to England as "Cotton to us."5 It suggested that the Border States should remain in the Union because "Missouri Loves Company...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 67-85
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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