The Books of My Numberless Dreams

A short question

Posted on: June 26, 2007

I’ve occasionally come across news articles or blog posts in which classic authors, traditionally seen as humorous, are deemed not so. Or the person may find the author funny, but not literally, laugh out loud, slap your knee funny. The two who get this more than others (that I’ve seen) are Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen.

The question: am I the only person who finds these two literally, laugh out loud, slap your knee funny? They don’t write slapstick it’s true but come on, who can do the mock-and-take-down more neatly than Austen? Whose characters can be as outrageous and arch and ridiculous as Wilde’s? Let me know I’m not the only one who throws her head back and cackles at the dead fogeys. (Other authors to consider: Blaise Cendrars (for Moravagine anyway), Miguel de Cervantes, Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court).)


17 Responses to "A short question"

Miguel, Mark and Jane – I’m with you on the knee slapping. I’ve never mentioned it to anyone as I wasn’t sure it was appropriate! hehe

Sorry I haven’t been around in awhile!!

I’ve only read Wilde’s children’s stories and they’re usually tear-jerkers. And I’ve never read Austen. But I usually end up finding something funny in everything I read and if I don’t I usually put it down.

For some reason I laugh a lot reading The Bible and a lot of twentieth century theology. And not in a, “who believes this garbage?” kind of way. There’s just a lot of funny stuff in there.

Cervantes and Twain are definitely laugh out loud funny. I think future electronic editions of their work should include smileys and “LOL!” marks. You know, so the kids know what to do.

You know, I just don’t laugh out loud very often when I’m reading. But I do laugh inside, I suppose — I mean, I do appreciate humor. And Austen is funny, definitely. Cervantes actually did make me laugh, quietly. That’s saying something.

Like Dorothy, I rarely laugh aloud while reading. I might think to myself, “Oh, now that’s funny,” and snicker quietly but cracking up is strictly done in company. Even better when it’s at the company’s expense…

You’re definitely not the only one. In fact, I was planning on making my Thursday Thirteen post a list of Wilde quotes. I’ll try to find the funniest quotes possible, just for you!

I LOLed frequently while reading Don Quixote, and Wilde certainly has that effect. My all time laugher is Ulysses.

Add Proust and Beckett to the list of modernist mirth-meisters.

I have laughed out loud to Austen and Wilde. Cervantes had some LOL moments too. And when I read Three Men in a Boat, a comic novel meant to make you laugh, I indeed laughed my way through it quite heartily. Twain is great for a laugh too.

I find Wilde and Austen deliciously funny, and I am quite verbal in my appreciation! About 10 pages into Ulysses, so we’ll see how that goes!

HEATHER!! I’m just glad that you’re ok and that you took the time to check in. It’s so great to hear from you. Can’t wait ’till you start blogging again. Fellow knee-slappers, unite!

Ian the Bible? Actually I can think of two funny Bible stories right off the bat, although part of the humour is kind of a “Wtf!? Seriously.” I know the Wilde stories you’re referring to — truth be told I always considered them kind of lame, although I read them dutifully. They’re very sentimental to an almost intolerable degree, although maybe not for kids. Did you read them to your son?

Dorothy I know what you mean. Your reaction mirrors mine for most fiction: I appreciate the humour silently, although I might smirk or snort a lot.

Mary not even at Don Quixote? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Ted, Ulysses? Really? Hmmm. I remember reading in the Borges interview that a lot of his fiction is written with humour and he said a lot of the critics don’t pick it up — they read it too seriously. I think I may be one of those “serious” readers, or maybe I haven’t reached the funny stuff yet.

Dew hooray, I’m looking forward to the Wilde quotes.

Tim yes, I forgot Proust but I’m afraid a terrible high school experience may have ruined Beckett permanently for me.

Stefanie I’ve never heard of that comic novel. I’ll have to look it up.

Siew you’re reading Ulysses? Good for you — I’ll have to pop on over to your blog and see how that’s going.

I too can’t say that I laugh out loud a lot while reading. I don’t usually like the strange looks I get when I do ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I do agree that Austen, Wilde, Twain and Cervantes are funny. They all seem to have that very tongue-in-cheek wit/sarcasm that can go over some people’s heads. Maybe that’s why such people don’t find them funny? It’s one of the attributes I love about all those authors. And I guess I should be looking up Blaise Cendrars because I’ve never heard of that writer!

Stephen Leacock cracks me up, and I have found myself laughing at Shakespeare. The only Wilde I’ve ever read was The Picture of Dorian Gray. While I remember enjoying it, I don’t remember it being particularly funny.

At the risk of biasing my results (there seems to be a lot of Austen fans here), On my blog, I just posted another Great Wednesday Compare, pitting Austen against Poe. (Sorry Imani, hope you don’t mind the plug- but seeing you had just mentioned her, I had to bring it up!)

Heather I’ve grown oblivious to the strange looks. Blaise Cendrars’ humour is decidedly darker and vicious than any of the authors I’ve mentioned, but it intrigues me anyway. Just figured I should give you advanced warning. ๐Ÿ™‚

John Mutford not Dorian Gray? I thought that one had funny lines from the start once Lord Henry Wotton enters the scene, admonishing Basil’s intimate connection with his painting.

Lord Henry stretched himself out on the divan and laughed….

“Too much of yourself in it! Upon my word, Basil, I didn’t know you were so vain; and I really can’t see any resemblance between you, with your rugged strong face and your coal-black hair, and this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose-leaves.”

“Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you– well, of course you have an intellectual expression and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.”

“The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don’t think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful.”

That’s classic Wilde humour. I love it.

Cheeky yes, but I didn’t laugh out loud.

Ah well, I like jokes about bishops. I forgot to reassure that you should have no worries about plugging your site. I’m all for site plugs (besides spam of course).

I’m not surprised that people don’t “get” Austen. The social world she describes is so unlike our own that it takes time to understand what she’s talking about. Sure, she said something about a character that would be cutting nowadays, but was that an insult back then? What about that thing she said that didn’t seem insulting at all, but all the characters were horrified? It’s particularly hard to tell when a character is being declassee because what was boorish to Austen is everyday manners to us. I had to see a film based on one of Austen’s books before I could understand what she was saying. (Fortunately, once you understand her voice, you’re set.)

But… people don’t laugh at Oscar Wilde? His style of wit is very modern–very fashionable, even. He’s snarky. How on earth can someone miss how funny he is?

I’ve been reading classics since I was a child so I forget sometimes that a lot of people don’t meet any substantial form of pre-20th C literature until high school or thereabouts. Thank goodness for film adaptations. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Yes, the Oscar Wilde mention was probably the more mystifying of the two. The humour practically oozes off the page.

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