Very Serious Thing: Women's Humor and American Culture

Very Serious Thing: Women's Humor and American Culture

by Nancy A. Walker
     
 

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A Very Serious Thing was first published in 1988. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

"It is a very serious thing to be a funny woman." –Frances Miriam Berry Whitcher

A Very Serious Thing

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Overview

A Very Serious Thing was first published in 1988. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

"It is a very serious thing to be a funny woman." –Frances Miriam Berry Whitcher

A Very Serious Thing is the first book-length study of a part of American literature that has been consistently neglected by scholars and underrepresented in anthologies—American women's humorous writing. Nancy Walker proposes that the American humorous tradition to be redefined to include women's humor as well as men's, because, contrary to popular opinion, women do have a sense of humor.

Her book draws on history, sociology, anthropology, literature, and psychology to posit that the reasons for neglect of women's humorous expression are rooted in a male-dominated culture that has officially denied women the freedom and self-confidence essential to the humorist. Rather than a study of individual writers, the book is an exploration of relationships between cultural realities—including expectations of "true womanhood"—and women's humorous response to those realities.

Humorous expression, Walker maintains, is at odds with the culturally sanctioned ideal of the "lady," and much of women's humor seems to accept, while actually denying, this ideal. In fact, most of American women's humorous writing has been a feminist critique of American culture and its attitudes toward women, according to the author.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Why do collections of American humor so rarely include works by women? It is not due to a dearth of writings by women or because they lack a sense of humor, says Walker of Stephens College, pk Columbia, Mo. Rather, she demonstrates, a culture dominated by men bars women from the authority and power central to writing humor, save that of the more generally minor mode of the underdog. Besides, women use humor as a vehicle for protest, to reject impossible societal demands and mock their oppressors. Noting the pseudonymous humorous works of so pk established a literary figure as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walker contends that cultural ideals of the female sex inhibit women from expressing their wit publicly. However, frequent repetition of the same examples weakens Walker's argument for the richness of women's humor, and the lay reader may grow impatient with the jargon-laced prose. Curiously, in a study of popular culture, comics with household names (Joan Rivers, Bette Midler) are ignored in favor of less familiar contemporaries (Deanne Stillman). Nevertheless, Walker is to be praised for uncovering neglected female humorists, and for her convincing thesis that allies i prefer allies/pk female humor with feminist critique. (Nov.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780816617036
Publisher:
University of Minnesota Press
Publication date:
06/01/2009
Series:
American Culture
Edition description:
Minnesota Archive Editions
Pages:
248
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Walker taught American literature and American studies and was the chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri. With Zita Dresner, she is co-editor of Redressing the Balance: American Women’s Humor from the Colonies to the 1980’s, published by the University Press of Mississippi.

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