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Title: Humour and Representation in British Literature of the First World War (1914–18)
Authors: Anderson, Emily
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Great War literature, most famously the conflict’s poetry, is known for its gravity, for emotive evocations of suffering, yet an abundance of humorous writing about experiences of the war was published in the 1914–18 period. This thesis addresses the question of what humour adds to the depiction of the war. Previous studies have often either overlooked humorous First World War literature or discussed it for its role as a coping mechanism, emphasising its psychological importance and ways in which it boosted morale. Such approaches diverge from the treatment that the most celebrated, solemn texts of the war have received, these having been the subject of extensive formal and historical analysis. I bring together a range of humorous Great War texts by a mixture of celebrated and lesser-known authors, showing the pervasiveness of humour across a variety of genres – poetry, trench newspapers, short stories, and theatre – and drawing on a range of theories of humour, from Kantian incongruity to Freudian relief, to elucidate how these texts invite amusement and the effects this has. Such theorisation and close attention to humorous Great War texts and the contexts in which they arose reveals, first, that humour frequently creates nuanced and moving pictures of war experience, capturing diverse aspects of wartime life, from disruptions to the domestic sphere to fighting on the front line. Second, I demonstrate the robustness of humour: the war was portrayed using types of humorous writing that had been popular before 1914. More than this, in fact, at times well-established styles of humour seem to be particularly apt for evoking certain elements of war experience. This thesis thus presents a substantial intervention into understandings of the literary representation of the First World War, highlighting humour as a central part of how writers across multiple genres created complex, varied impressions of the conflict.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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