‘Licence to tease’: satire and apology in the twentieth-century middlebrow

Buckingham, Daniel Adrian (2022). ‘Licence to tease’: satire and apology in the twentieth-century middlebrow. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis examines the under-studied manifestations of satire and the satiric apologia in middlebrow literature. In particular, the project considers Nancy Mitford’s novels and journalism, G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves saga as sites for the dissemination of a persuasive and efficacious form of defensible satire. The central argument of the thesis is that middlebrow satirists are ideally situated to enact and defend their satire, even when their censure is directed in politically incorrect or downright bigoted directions and despite the inherently transgressive nature of the mode. I argue that my subjects are capable of satirically attacking concrete figures such as women and Jewish people while successfully negotiating any readerly discomfort that might be incurred by this especially unpalatable wielding of satire’s already transgressive power. Consequently, my analysis runs counter to a recent trend in the scholarship of literary satire which insists upon the mode’s indeterminacy, instability, ambiguity, and ambivalence. Instead, I propose that the commercial forces and pleasant characteristics that respectively animate and define middlebrow works form a counter-intuitively powerful motive and means to defend the satire of Mitford, Chesterton, and Wodehouse, not only against the traditional accusations of impropriety and aggression associated with satire, but against the subtler objections raised by those theorists who insist upon the mode’s paradoxical and self-undoing qualities. In so doing, I make the case for taking middlebrow literature seriously in satire studies, an area of research which often relegates middlebrow mainstays like Mitford and Wodehouse to the borders or fringes of the field. Discussing one author per chapter, I observe how each writer defends their satire while invoking idealised conceptions of the satirist as a heroic, morally upstanding figure, culminating in a final chapter which sees these invocations borne out in recent biographical fictions in which each middlebrow satirist is transmuted into a fictional hero, demonstrating the endurance and efficacy of these apologetic self-constructions. By extension, I argue that these remarkably upstanding depictions of my subjects constitute evidence that their apologias were successful—and that, consequently, their satire should be considered in terms of its capacity to persuade, reform, and possibly even inflict damage or harm through its charming influence.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/12223


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