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Dissertation Abstracts

Herron, Shane. 'Ludicrous Solemnity': Satire's Aesthetic Turn. State University of New York at Buffalo, 2011.

This dissertation studies the shift in eighteenth-century satire away from formal models and toward informal or non-generic satires. Similar to Menippean satire but broader in scope, informal satires employ hyperbolic parody and mimicry to disguise their nature and appear in the guise of innumerable other forms and genres. Unlike formal verse satire, they focus less on targeting specific individuals or standard types and concentrate instead on attacking the reader's sense of reality, aggressively pushing her toward encountering the unconscious ideological, emotional, and aesthetic aspects of a seemingly ordinary text or document. Informal satire is thus an important component of literary experimentation, contributing a ludic and ironic tinge to otherwise serious artistic works, and I argue that the early novel represents one of many sites of the proliferation of informal satires. While most scholars have long discarded the notion of a rigid dichotomy between satire and the novel, both empirical and theoretical accounts have not yet fully accounted for the Tory, conservative, and royalist element in the early novel, as well as the important role of satire in the emergence of the novel and related progressive cultural and philosophical developments.

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.

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 and final 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.
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