British satire and the politics of style, 1789-1832

Gary Raymond Dyer, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explains the stylistic and ideological crosscurrents of both well-known and obscure verse and prose satires written by British authors between the French Revolution and the Great Reform Bill. The first chapter reevaluates the early responses to contemporary satires, and argues that the conflicting methods and aims of the three preeminent verse satirists of the 1790s, William Gifford, Thomas James Mathias, and John Wolcot, affect the techniques used by satires throughout this period. Chapter Two argues that the tragic and comic poles of verse satire gained specific political resonances during this period. Neo-Juvenalian satirists like Gifford and Mathias, who relied on formal, intimidating, "manly" rhetoric in heroic couplets, generally aligned themselves with such conservative interests as the Anglican establishment and the ruling ministries. By contrast, the benignly tolerant tone and frivolous-sounding meters and rhymes of the period's Neo-Horatian works make them in effect comparably conservative, even though they tended to avoid clear political implications. Chapter Three examines Radical satire by Shelley, Byron, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Moore, and Sir Charles and Lady Morgan, whose playful tone is not Horatian but angry, and committed to political and social reform. Essentially parodic, ironic, and indirect, their satire usually appropriates elements of the two traditional satiric styles, often in unexpected ways, because neither style was suitable to their political aims if employed in its pure form, and because the constant threat of prosecution ruled out unqualified attacks on the powerful. Chapter Four explains how Thomas Love Peacock's and Benjamin Disraeli's satirical fictions reflect and even thematize the contemporary marginality of their subgenre, the traditional Menippean prose satire. Chapter Five analyzes how satire was losing ground to milder, more comic modes of critique. Beginning in the 1820s poems that expose human error often rely on puns and wordplay, so that while they laugh at human pretense or eccentricity they imply that it hardly needs correction. Middle-class anti-satiric ideologies, which typified the ever-growing Dissenting and Methodist subculture in particular, tended to restrain satire.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Dyer, Gary Raymond, "British satire and the politics of style, 1789-1832" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9308562.