Jane Austen is funny, and the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness is positively hilarious


We begin to suspect that The Times is just posting stuff to mess with us now. A response to the article from last week about female comic authors, including Jane Austen, provoked a response from one Des MacHale, pointed out to us by Alert Janeite Tony A.

Over the years, many have made this claim to me but when challenged to produce a passage, a paragraph – even a sentence – of Austen’s that would evoke in me a laugh, or even the semblance of a smile, they fail miserably. Their next line of defence is usually that Austen’s alleged wit is too subtle for me to appreciate, or that all her works are pervaded with a witty essence of some undefined kind. In the many volumes of Wit I have edited, containing more than 20,000 humorous and witty quotations from many sources, I failed to find anything by Austen worthy of inclusion.

So let us be certain we perfectly understand Mr. MacHale: because Jane Austen doesn’t write humor that can be boiled down to a one-liner, she’s not funny? Okay!

Well, Norman Geras of Normblog disagrees.

Well, I must be reading different books from him. Whether or not her humour makes it into his collections, I think you’d have to be wilfully grouchy to miss it.


In an unrelated posting, we happened across a post on One Minute Book Reviews that says it in a rather more long-winded but still pithy way:

To say as much is to risk suggesting that Jane Austen’s world is basically a rather trivial and frothy one. But no discerning reader of hers could hold such an opinion, for she is a serious writer of comedy. In her world the relative unimportance of economic, professional, and political problems permits a concentrating of attention upon personal relations and the quality of living that they make possible. The issue is uniting of moral and social graces, the reconciliation of form and spontaneity.

Oh, and Mr. MacHale? You want funny lines? We’ll give you funny lines.

By this time the report of the accident had spread among the workmen and boatmen about the Cobb, and many were collected near them, to be useful if wanted, at any rate, to enjoy the sight of a dead young lady, nay, two dead young ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report.

One of our favorites, but it works better in context; juxtaposed with the drama of Louisa Musgrove’s fall on the Cobb, it provides a welcome moment of relieving laughter.

Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

Another favorite; but perhaps one has to experience Robert Ferrars’ rattle to truly appreciate it.

“As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars.”

“And what are they?”

“A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar.”

How many Henry Tilney lines could we post? He’s got a million of ’em. Go ahead, post your own favorites!