[Msa-discuss] Virginia Woolf and laughter/comedy

Jessica Burstein jb2 at uw.edu
Thu Jan 19 11:04:13 EST 2017

Dear Jodi Gasson, Great topic. I would love to know what she found funny 
(besides the Dreadnaught hoax), ergo my reply all. There are no happy 
marriages in Henry James (Robert Pippin); what moments of laughter are 
there in her literature and what are their tones (mirthless laughter 
seems a modernist specialty, alongside satire--as Jonathan Greenberg 
among others well know)? Well, that's part of your diss. Life and art 
are different, duh, and I'm personally more interested in the 
former--which is to say sensibility-- but you're asking about the 
latter. "The Value of Laughter" is an exit strategy from the world of 

I'm sure specialised Woolfians will have better recs, but as someone who 
thinks about where yr topic wd fit, you should read Bergson's Laughter: 
On the Meaning of the Comic--he was a rock star (sic), and in the air 
she breathed (I'd guess unwillingly; I'm not saying she would have liked 
it/him): the contemporary translation (1911/1914) is currently free on 
Google books.

My little brain can only think of the wonderful moment I first 
encountered in Banfield's PHANTOM TABLE: the double limerick by Ronald 
Knox coined for when the OxBridge boys were debating little things like 
God, the nature of existence and perception and "the world seen without 
a self", the latter of which she would take up--

> /There was a young man who said, "God
> Must think it exceedingly odd
> If he finds that this tree
> Continues to be
> When there's no one about in the Quad." /

> Dear Sir:
> Your astonishment's odd:
> I am always about in the Quad.
> And that's why the tree
> Will continue to be,
> Since observed by
> Yours faithfully,
> GOD. /
Actually that's why I'm hitting reply all. It's just so 
good--penultimate enjambment and all.

But as you know, there's a difference between being funny and being what 
your people call clever. Americans don't do "clever." Or we won't for a 
while--I'm guessing 4 years and a day. Ahem. Yours faithfully, Jessica 

On 1/19/17 7:10 AM, Jodi Gasson (Student) wrote:
> Hello,
> I am currently researching for my dissertation, and I would like to 
> look at Virginia Woolf and the way she uses laughter/comedy in her 
> texts. I am already going to look at /Freshwater /by her, "The Value 
> of Laughter" and '/A Society': An Aristophanic Comedy. /
> /
> /
> If anyone has any other ideas, I'll be very grateful!
> Thank you in advance,
> Jodi Gasson
> University of Roehampton
> _______________________________________________
> Msa-discuss mailing list
> Msa-discuss at chaos.press.jhu.edu
> http://chaos.press.jhu.edu/mailman/listinfo/msa-discuss

Jessica Burstein
Associate Professor
Department of English
Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies
University of Washington
A101 Padelford Hall
Seattle, WA 98195-4330

Winter Office hours: Padelford A502, Wedn 11-1, and by appt.

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