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Humor and Revelation in American Literature: The Puritan Connection

Overview

Both the Genteel Tradition and Calvinistic Puritanism exhibited a sense of possessing inside information about the workings of the universe and the intentions of the Almighty. In Humor and Revelation in American Literature, Pascal Covici, Jr., traces this perspective from its early presence to the humorous tradition in America that has been related to the Old Southwest, showing how American Puritan thought was instrumental in the formative stages of American humor.

Covici argues...

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Overview

Both the Genteel Tradition and Calvinistic Puritanism exhibited a sense of possessing inside information about the workings of the universe and the intentions of the Almighty. In Humor and Revelation in American Literature, Pascal Covici, Jr., traces this perspective from its early presence to the humorous tradition in America that has been related to the Old Southwest, showing how American Puritan thought was instrumental in the formative stages of American humor.

Covici argues that much of American literature works as humor does, surprising readers into sudden enlightenment. The humor from which Mark Twain derived his early models had the same sort of arrogance as American Puritan thought, especially in regard to social and political truths. Twain transcended the roots of that humor, which run from works of nineteenth-century Americans back to British forms of the eighteenth century. In doing so, he helped shape American literature.

In addition to reexamining Twain's art, Humor and Revelation in American Literature considers some of the writers long regarded as among the usual suspects in any consideration of cultural hegemony, including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville. Covici explores not so much the hypocrisy as the ambivalence repeatedly displayed in American literature. He demonstrates that even though our writers have always had a strong desire to avoid the influences of the past, their independence from its cultural, theological, and psychological effects has been much slower in coming than previously thought.

Original and well-written, Humor and Revelation in American Literature will be welcomed by all scholars and critics of American literature, especially those interested in Puritanism, major nineteenth-century writers, Southwestern humor, and Mark Twain.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book is engaging, witty, often eloquent, with an impressive undercurrent of both verbal and intellectual allusion. It also has an underlying commitment to humanistic and political values with implied application to the here and now."--Louis J. Budd

Booknews
An unlikely thesis relating the Puritan tradition in literature to the formative stages of American humor. Covici (English, Southern Methodist U.) takes a giant leap and makes it to the other side of the river in this examination of 19th literature, making a convincing connection between the "transcendence" of writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville, and the equally arrogant and illuminating techniques of humor employed by Mark Twain and other humorists. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826210951
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1997
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Pascal Covici, Jr., is E. A. Lilly Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is the author or editor of several books, including Mark Twain's Humor: The Image of a World.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
I Reluctantly Independent: The Rattling of Chains 10
1 A Problem of Respect 10
2 Genteel and Vernacular: Josiah Holland and Mark Twain 13
3 Responses, and Intimations of Crossing Over 23
4 American Self-Reliance? The Case of Hawthorne's Robin 28
5 Melville, the American Difference, and Richard Chase 36
II God's Chosen People: The Anglicans Perspective 47
1 Megalomaniacal Fantasies... 47
2 Megalomania ... With a British Accent 53
3 Ossa upon Pelion Concluded: And Then? 57
4 Britain Versus the Bay Colony? Yes ... and No 68
III Certainty: Divine or Human?: Bishop Burnet and the Matter of Choice 73
1 Religiously Political, Politically Religious 73
2 Of Tolerance, Intolerance, and Bishop Fleetwood's Country Curate 75
3 Toleration, Belief, and the Power(lessness) of the Will 87
IV Voice, Country, and Class: Reapproaching the Vernacular 101
1 Mather Proposes, Wise Disposes 101
2 The Triumph of the Country: Earthy and Conservative Vulgarity 113
3 "The Simple Cobler" and the Masks of Wise, Versus Polly Baker: Or, Humor Slips in When Theology Blinks 119
4 From Wise and Franklin, Mark Twain's Triumphant Vernacular 127
V The Basis of Laughter: What's So Funny? 137
1 How Do We Read Polly and Tom? 137
2 Affectation, Again - and Certainty 143
3 Disgust and Gentility 150
4 Gentility, Ideality, and Responses to Mystery: Nick Carraway and Jim Doggett 154
5 Mystery Within 162
6 Dr. Holland Once More, and the Plight of the Humorless 167
VI The Puritan Roots of American Humor 174
1 Recognitions of the Self 174
2 The Loneliness of the Solipsist: No Laughing Matter 179
3 Emerson's Saving Rejection of the "Noble Doubt" 190
4 Thoreau's Recalcitrant Individual Fires His Pistols 197
5 At the Heart of All, The Unknowable Remains 202
6 Puritan Rejection of Puritan Reality - And What About Us? 211
Bibliography 217
Index 223
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