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Thinking Through StyleNon-Fiction Prose of the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198737827

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198737827.001.0001

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Charles Lamb … Seriously

Charles Lamb … Seriously

(p.35) 2 Charles Lamb … Seriously
Thinking Through Style

Matthew Bevis

Oxford University Press

One of the perplexing pleasures of reading Lamb is related to the difficulty of trying to get a read on him, to know what his jokes and ironies are meant to be countenancing or disavowing. This chapter explores how forms of unseriousness and semi-seriousness enabled the essayist to do some of his most imaginative and provocative thinking. A guiding thought that informs the enquiry is a comment by Stanley Cavell on a particular kind of literary style: ‘a natural effect of reading such writing is to be unsure whether the writer is perfectly serious. I dare say that the writer may himself or herself be unsure, and that this may be a good sign that the writing is doing its work, taking its course.’ The chapter shows how Lamb’s enduring commitment to this idea of the work—and play—allows us to think through style in new ways.

Keywords:   Charles Lamb, seriousness, joke, irony, play, folly, acting, comedy, games, pun

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