English | Topics in English and American Literature and Culture
L208 | 29971 | Richard Nash

Richard Nash

Second eight-weeks only.

5:45p-8:15p MW (30 students) 3 CR. Satisfies A&H Distribution Requirement

TOPIC: “BritWit”

The French have farce, Americans have comedy; the British have wit. It can be dry, wry, and sometimes sly; it can be caustic, biting, sardonic or malicious; it can be pregnant, poignant, painful, or delicious; it can make you laugh or make you smile; it is, above all, a matter of style. And always, in all its forms, wit is about language; about the play inherent in language, and frequently about the awareness of the profound difference that separates language from what it hopes to represent. Often wit is about style and personality--those markers of individual character--and in England as nowhere else it has come to be identified with a national character: a widely adopted pose as various as it is distinctive. What is it that we mean when we invoke the idea of "British Wit"? In deference to the nature of our subject, this course is designed not to exhaust the topic, but to stimulate the student; not to plumb the depths, but (like an accomplished dairy-maid) to skim the surface; our goal will be not a detailed portrait, but a quick caricature; we will be unabashedly more concerned with brilliant observations, than with profound examinations. But out of respect to our subject, always we will strive to be correct. Anyone can be glib, who is willing to be wrong; wit combines rapidity with accuracy. Our readings will be drawn from the past 350 years, and include a variety of genres: poetry, essay, fiction and drama. No period of British literature is more closely identified with wit than the eighteenth century, and we are likely to read Addison and Locke, as well as Pope and Swift. We will pay attention to Restoration comedy of wit and its various descendants, including playwrights such as Congreve, Wycherly, Sheridan, and Wilde. Among novelists, we are likely to encounter such figures as Sterne, Austen, Forster, Joyce Cary or David Lodge. Our discussions of these works will, inevitably, direct our attention from language to issues of class, for the highly stratified class structure at the heart of British culture produces much of the energy of British wit. Students will write two brief papers (4-6 pages) and take three exams.

Readings will be drawn from the following list:
The Country Wife
The Man of Mode
Pride and Prejudice
The Importance of Being Earnest
Room With a View
Travels With My Aunt or Our Man in Havana
Changing Places or Nice Work