Why do we want humor?
Lately I’ve been trying to purposely learn how to inject more humor into my writing. I’m working on From London with Loyalty, the sequel to From Highbury with Love, and I want it to be funny. I love humor, and that’s definitely what makes some books compulsively re-readable for me. Movies and shows too! Most of my favorite shows that I’ve stuck with to the end and then re-watched eventually–Parks & Rec, Monk, Psych, 30 Rock, The Good Place, etc.– are so funny! I also enjoy dramas like The Expanse or The 100, but I don’t want to re-watch them. Drama moves us, but humor brings us back!
Sometimes I manage a witty conversation between two characters or a funny comment, but it’s not easy! How did Jane Austen manage to be so consistently funny? The arrogant characters are funny, the humble characters are funny, even the good-natured ones! Her narrator voice is hands-down hilarious. So, I’m going to pull out some of my favorite quotes from her different books, and see if I can pull out some humor tips for writing. Or at least classify what she does! Humor in general has to do with giving surprise, with pointing out the absurd, or exaggeration. I know people have analyzed Jane Austen’s irony and wit to death, but we all need a laugh anyway, right? Onward!
I tried to stack them in a sort of progressive order…
“Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”
The Humorous complaint, mixed with anthropomorphism of the watch.
“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”
The Exaggeration, mixed with contradiction, since selfishness is one of the hardest things to forgive
“Fanny! You are killing me!”
“No man dies of love but on the stage, Mr. Crawford.”
And now, the Humorous, Exaggerated complaint caught up short by an unexpected rebuttal!
“[N]obody minds having what is too good for them.”
She has a lot like this, which can (in modern terms) be called a truth bomb! Human nature summed up in 10 words or less!
“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”
The Contradiction, juxtaposing opinion, intelligence and wealth
“I am very strong. Nothing ever fatigues me, but doing what I do not like.”
The Boast, mixed with the contradiction. This falls under a larger umbrella, which I mentally call, “Characters being more and more of themselves. If they are proud, let them be ridiculous in their proudness, if they are lazy, let them be ridiculous in their laziness.
“The enthusiasm of a woman’s love is even beyond the biographer’s.”
The Exaggeration, and just an excellent analogy, assuming that a biographer has got to be fascinated by their subject!
“I do not pretend to set people right, but I do see that they are often wrong.”
The “I do not… but I do…” contradiction. I stumbled across another example of this in her letters, “I will not say your mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.” Lol! She sets out the contradiction as if it isn’t a contradiction, but lets the reader follow it through.
And, last but not least, this gem:
“Maria was married on Saturday. In all important preparations of mind she was complete, being prepared for matrimony by a hatred of home, by the misery of disappointed affection, and contempt of the man she was to marry. The bride was elegantly dressed and the two bridesmaids were duly inferior. Her mother stood with salts, expecting to be agitated, and her aunt tried to cry. Marriage is indeed a maneuvering business.”
This wonderfully subverts all expectations of preparing for marriage! It contains the Contradiction and the Exaggeration like the others, and then just the magnificent description of a wedding day using the key words hatred, misery, contempt, inferior, agitated, and manuevering. What’s not to love?
How would you describe Jane Austen’s humor? Which of these quotes (or ones I missed) are your favorite?
Thanks for reading,