Eventual Laughter: Dickens and Comedy

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Alfie Bown


This thesis attempts to redress the drought of work on Dickens on comedy, which is surprising considering how often Dickens is thought of as a comic writer. The thesis uses Dickens to demonstrate problems with and resistance to existing theorizations of laughter, and attempts to develop a new way of thinking about laughter through Dickens.The thesis begins with a theoretical section, which is a discussion of existing discussions of laughter followed by an attempt to develop a new way of thinking about laughter by making use Alain Badiou's concept of the 'event.' The thesis then moves to Section Two, in which these ideas are discussed alongside Dickens's novels. Chapter Four attempts to show in a general way how Dickens and these discussions of laughter belong together, and how a certain moment in the nineteenth century that Dickens was a unique part of shows that new ways of discussing laughter are needed. Chapter Five argues that laughter in Dickens is not natural or spontaneous but part of constructing an idea of natural spontaneity. Pickwick Papers, it is argued, is the novel of retroactive causes, showing how laughter can create ideas of 'nature' which then appear to explain social behaviour such as laughter itself. Chapter Six tackles the relationship between laughter and anxiety. It argues that laughter creates order by 'dealing' with anxiety, but that this order it produces is profoundly unstable and has new anxieties. Barnaby Rudge is the novel which shows this in its particular historical context. The final chapter argues that Dickens's writing can be called 'comic' in the terms that have been established throughout the thesis. Discussing Great Expectations, it argues that laughter is a plotting force that creates narratives and structures. Finally, the conclusion discusses changes that may have happened to laughter in the nineteenth century and what it means to find ourselves laughing at Dickens's texts today.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2014