by Christopher Herbert
University of Chicago Press, 1987
Cloth: 978-0-226-32741-9
Library of Congress Classification PR5688.C56H47 1987
Dewey Decimal Classification 823.8

Challenging the sentimentalized and moralized view of comedy that prevails in modern criticism, Christopher Herbert outlines a theory of comedy as a mode whose dominant motive and function is the glorification of pleasure. Using this model, he presents a detailed study of Anthony Trollope that sharply contradicts the persistent image of this novelist as a conventional writer and complacent spokesman for middle-class pieties.

The comic mode as Herbert describes it was antagonistic to the repressive moral ethos widely prevalent in Victorian England. Herbert shows how Trollope, under a mask of self-proclaimed conventionality, employed this mode in a steady, sometimes scandalous critique of the Victorian subversion of pleasure. Drawing on Trollope's unpublished notes on seventeenth-century drama and bringing to light many instances in the novels of direct borrowings from old plays, Herbert demonstrates the inventiveness and subtlety of Trollope's deployment of comic materials. Thematically organized around such subjects as Trollope's investigations of sex, his formal structures, and his principles of "realism," Herbert's study includes detailed readings of two of the nineteenth century's most ambitious exercises in comedy: The Way We Live Now and Trollope's neglected masterpiece, Ayala's Angel.

Of primary importance for readers of Trollope and students of comedy, Herbert's study will also prove valuable to those interested more generally in Victorian and modern fiction and the cultural history of the Victorian age.