Starting from a detailed consideration of jestbook humor, this article explores the cruel everyday laughter of mid-eighteenth-century England. Jestbooks were an enormously profitable part of the mid-century print market. They offer not just the usual jokes about scolds and cuckolds, but pitiless jokes about cripples and hunchbacks; nasty stories about leading blind women into walls; and oddly cheerful jests about rape and wife-beating. This malicious humor was produced not for "low" or "popular" readers, but for the middle and upper-classes—and for women as well as men. And it reflects a prevalent comic style, a set of almost habitual attitudes and pleasures. Contrary to current assumptions about the dominance of "sensibility" and "politeness" in mid-century culture, English people continued to delight—at all levels of society—in the afflictions and misfortunes of others.


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pp. 1-22
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