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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Satire in the novels of Thomas Love Peacock Ferguson, Byron Laird

Abstract

Two main problems are investigated: Peacock's technique, his aims and method, as a satirical novelist; and his personal opinions, which, often obscured.by irony, can be determined only by reference to biography, and to his letters, memoirs, and serious essays. He aimed to satirize "public conduct and public opinion" and not private life. His characters, in the "humours" tradition, are abstractions of topical ideas, fads, and theories; others are caricatures of contemporary philosophers, politicians, and men of letters. All expose the folly of their opinion while indulging in after-dinner wine, song, and controversy. Peacock believed that pretentiousness and folly pervaded upper middle-class English society. As a satirist, he is a jester, not a reformer. His attack, diffuse and generally superficial, is governed by laughter rather than bitterness. His irony is discernible in his treatment of character and setting, in his scornful attitude towards his reader, and in his divided position as a humorist who sometimes poses as a serious critic. He is a stylist, a creator of witty and pedantic dialogue who is content merely to air disparate and extreme ideas, to pursue folly without attempting to slay it. Peacock's personal opinions and prejudices are determined, thus to interpret his satire, in these broad areas: society, politics, religion, education and science, and men of letters. He ridicules the current doctrines of primitivism and progress. He generally avoids comment on the upper and lower classes, and on the moral and humanitarian problems of the times. His most successful attack is against Tory anti-reform policy; but he also distrusts the political masses and the early Utilitarian appeal for a wide extension of the franchise. He accepts the idea of laisser-faire, particularly the assertion of man's right to personal opinion and religious belief. His religious satire changes with the times: in his early work, some unpublished, he attacks directly the drunkenness and ignorance of certain Anglican clergy; his religious attitude, more pagan than Christian, probably remains, but his later clergymen voice his opinions of classical literature and the "progress" of the times. His view of education is classical and aristocratic: he objects to education for the masses, to the training offered by the universities, and to the founding of Mechanics' Institutes. His real enemy is not "progress" but Lord Brougham, the Minister and educator whom he disliked personally. His attack on Southey and Wordsworth also grows from personal enmity. He respects their poetry but he despises their politics. Both are charged as Tory hirelings. His caricatures of Coleridge, the Kantian philosopher and the lay preacher, are merely facetious. His most successful caricature exposes Shelley's folly as a youthful reformer and lover. He objects to Byron's misanthropical pose in Childe Harold, but he admires him as a fellow-satirist.

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