Smile of Discontent: Humor, Gender, and Nineteenth-century British Fiction

Like sex, Eileen Gillooly argues, humour has long been viewed as a repressed feature of 19th-century femininity. However, in the works of writers such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, and Henry James, Gillooly finds an understated, wryly amusing perspective that differs subtly but significantly in rhetoric, affect, and politics from traditional forms of comic expression. Gillooly shows how such humour became, for mostly female writers at the time, an unobtrusive and prudent means of expressing discontent with a culture that was ideologically committed to restricting female agency and identity. If the aggression and emotional distance of irony and satire mark them as masculine , then for Gillooly, the passivity, indirection, and sympathy of the humour she discusses render it feminine. She goes on to disclose how the humorous tactics employed by writers from Burney to Wharton persist in the work of Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner, and Penelope Fitzgerald.