Essays and Criticism
The question that I wish to explore in this paper is a threefold one and might be expressed thus: (1) Why is comedy so largely lacking in what one might describe as classic autobiography? (2) Why, on the other hand, is comedy so prominent (as I believe it to be) in Yeats’s Autobiographies? (3) What is the nature, and what are the motives, of comedy when it does occur in autobiography? And as a sort of fourth fold completing this threefold question I want to pose a paradox: that though there are not many humorous passages in classic autobiography yet this type, like all varieties of autobiography, might be said to be essentially and in its very nature of the comic mode.
I will begin with a definition of classic autobiography, which is not my own but is as good as any other definition known to me: ‘‘A retrospective account in prose that a real person makes of his own existence stressing his own life and especially the history of his personality.’’ It is clear, I think, that the kind of writing performance described or de- fined here is not likely to produce books notable for humorous or comic effects. When a ‘‘real person’’ undertakes a retrospective account ‘‘of his own existence stressing his individual life and especially the history of his personality,’’ he is more likely to be serious or perhaps solemn than he is to be comic and gay. And indeed in that long—very long— volume that Philippe Lejeune takes for his...
(The entire section is 5177 words.)
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