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‘A pesar de todo, hubo algo cómico en aquello’: Humour in the Postwar Spanish Social Realist Novel

HILBORN, MATTHEW (2019) ‘A pesar de todo, hubo algo cómico en aquello’: Humour in the Postwar Spanish Social Realist Novel. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Whilst a darkly comic vein is often acknowledged in Spanish neorealist cinema, the postwar social realist novel has been pigeonholed as dispassionate, solemn, and sombre, featuring monotony, disgust, and filth. One character in El Jarama (1956) encapsulates the mood: ‘una vida que no tiene chiste’ (57). However, this thesis argues that, alongside the brutality, an undercurrent of dark, sardonic humour encourages laughter from the bleakest of situations, before immediately questioning the veracity and appropriateness of this mirthful reaction. Full-length studies of Laforet’s Nada (1945), Cela’s La colmena (1950) and Sánchez Ferlosio’s El Jarama (1956) introduce the term ‘grey humour’ to describe an amusement born fundamentally, and paradoxically, out of weariness and tedium. The thesis cements its understanding of the comic in the latest advancements in the field of Humour Theory, exploring five central manifestations of Francoist feel-bad comedy:
1. How the humour of hardship and its mordant irony destabilise the testimonial, realist stance
2. What it means to be just joking (both 'fair', and 'only’ joking), given the complicity and hostility of the narrator
3. What I call grey humour and the comedy of comedown: the debilitating humour of hiatus, bathos, and tedium
4. Comic-kazi humour: the laughable fallout of a splintered self, when characters find their situation and their bodies ludicrous but inescapable
5. The degradation of fiesta atmosphere through the corruption of Bakhtinian carnivalesque laughter, and the resultant comedy of failure and discontent
To treat these novels as dreadfully comic unsettles many existing readings of reception, interpretation, and affect in the Spanish postwar novel. It establishes that social realism is capacious enough to encompass comedy (and vice versa), thus capturing the full flavour and complexity of experience. This thesis will ask how comedy affects the representation of social conditions (and the reception of such representations), and whether this humour of hardship is ultimately critical or collusive. Contrary to criticism that has worked hard to perceive a critical function, undercutting triumphalist rhetoric under Franco’s regime, social realist humour serves not to overcome the misfortune but, merely, to endure it.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Keywords:humour theory, humour studies, grey humour, black humour, Spanish postwar novel, La colmena, El Jarama, Nada
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Jul 2019 11:11

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