Added: October 19, 2013 – Last updated: September 5, 2015


Author: Simon Dickie

Title: Cruelty & Laughter

Subtitle: Forgotton Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century

Place: Chicago, IL

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Year: 2011

Pages: 384pp.

ISBN-13: 9780226146188 (cloth) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-13: 9780226142548 (paper) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-13: 9780226146201 (ebk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: 18th Century | English History | Representations: Literature; Society: Rape Culture


Link: Amazon (Limited Preview)

Link: Google Books (Limited Preview)

Link: University Press Scholarship Online (Restricted Access)


Author: Simon Dickie, Department of English, University of Toronto


  List of Illustrations (p. ix)
  Preface (p. xi)
  Acknowledgments (p. xv)
  Introduction: The Unsentimental Eighteenth Century, 1740–70 (p. 1)
  1 Jestbooks and the Indifference to Reform (p.16 )
    Nasty Jokes, Polite Women (p. 20)
    How to Be a Wag (p. 32)
  2 Cripples, Hunchbacks, and the Limits of Sympathy (p. 45)
    Deformity Genres (p. 46)
    Dancing Cripples and the London Stage (p. 59)
    Streets and Coffeehouses (p. 67)
    Poetry and Polite Letters (p. 75)
    Damaged Lives (p. 88)
    Disabled Bodies and the Inevitability of Laughter (p. 97)
  3 Delights of Privilege (p. 111)
    Laughing at the Lower Orders (p. 112)
    Contexts from Social History (p. 124)
    Frolics, High Jinks, and Violent Freedoms (p. 130)
    Lovelace at the Haberdasher (p. 142)
  4 Joseph Andrews and the Great Laughter Debate (p. 156)
    Narrative from a High Horse (p. 159)
    The Ethics of Ridicule (p. 167)
    Fielding’s Problem with Parsons (p. 175)
  5 Rape Jokes and the Law (p. 190)
    Laughter and Disbelief (p. 193)
    Modesty and the Impossibility of Consent (p. 200)
    Functions of an Assault (p. 213)
    Accusing, Making Up, and the Local Magistrate (p. 224)
    Humors of the Old Bailey (p. 235)
  In Conclusion: The Forgotten Best-Sellers of Early English Fiction (p. 250)
    Ramble Novels and Slum Comedy (p. 253)
    Reading for the Filler (p. 265)
  Abbreviations (p. 283)
  Notes (p. 285)
  Index (p. 335)


Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental—the creation of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie disputes these assumptions in Cruelty and Laughter, a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the age. Beneath the surface of Enlightenment civility, Dickie uncovers a rich vein of cruel humor that forces us to recognize just how slowly ordinary human sufferings became worthy of sympathy.
Delving into an enormous archive of comic novels, jestbooks, farces, variety shows, and cartoons, Dickie finds a vast repository of jokes about cripples, blind men, rape, and wife-beating. Epigrams about syphilis and scurvy sit alongside one-act comedies about hunchbacks in love. He shows us that everyone—rich and poor, women as well as men—laughed along. In the process, Dickie also expands our understanding of many of the century’s major authors, including Samuel Richardson, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen. He devotes particular attention to Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, a novel that reflects repeatedly on the limits of compassion and the ethical problems of laughter. Cruelty and Laughter is an engaging, far-reaching study of the other side of culture in eighteenth-century Britain.« (Source: University of Chicago Press)


Chenkin, Jennifer. Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 36(4) (December 2013): 603-604. – Full Text: Wiley Online Library (Restricted Access)

Conway, Alison. »Forgotten Laughter.« H-Albion (January 2012). – Full Text: H-Net Reviews (Free Access)

Harvey, Karen. Journal of British Studies 52(2) (April 2013): 499-500. – Full Text: Cambridge Journals (Restricted Access)

Keymer, Thomas. »Freaks, Dwarfs and Boors.« London Review of Books 34(15) (August 2, 2012): 17-18. – Full Text: London Review of Books (Restricted Access)

Lubey, Kathleen. Eighteenth-Century Fiction 26(1) (Fall 2013): 150-153. – Full Text: Project MUSE (Restricted Access)

Mack, Robert L. The Review of English Studies 65(268) (February 2014): 172-175. – Full Text: Oxford Journals (Restricted Access)

Mannheimer, Katherine. »A New Unmodern Eighteenth Century.« The Eighteenth Century 55(4) (Winter 2014): 441-449. – Full Text: Project MUSE (Restricted Access)

Martin, Cameron. The Barnes & Noble Review (December 30, 2011). – Full Text: Barnes & Noble Review (Free Access)

Mueller, Ralph. Humor 28(3) (August 2015): 507-509. – Full Text: De Gruyter Online (Restricted Access)

Noggle, James. Modern Philology 111(3) (February 2014): E355-E359. – Full Text: JSTOR (Restricted Access)

Thorne, Christian. »The Other Hannoverians.« Novel: A Forum on Fiction 47(3) (Fall 2014): 472-476. – Full Text: Duke University Press (Restricted Access)

Walker, Robert G. The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats 46(1) (Autumn 2013): 54-55. – Full Text: Project MUSE (Restricted Access)

Wilson, Frances. »Jokes of Old.« Literary Review No. 395 (February 2012): 32. – Full Text: Literary Review (Free Access)