Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Necessity of Satire and of Laughter

From Fr. Hunwicke:
Henry Chadwick, the towering Anglican intellectual of the second half of the twentieth century, believed that Blessed John Henry Newman was the most superb writer of Satire and of Irony in the English language. Too true! I wonder if you have read Newman's semi-autobiographical novel Loss and Gain. He exposes to our laughter the absurdities of popular Evangelicalism; of sonorous and dignified Oxford dons who were ... well, actually just plain ridiculous. So were the new religious movements thrown up by the ferment of the 1840s. With exquisite cruelty he analyses the hypocrisies of the comfortable domestic affluence, combined with a dilettante affection for the superficial trappings of Catholicism, enjoyed by a certain type of Establishment, monied, gothic-romanticist Anglican. Clearly, it touched a raw nerve in the Ordinariate's Patron Blessed John Henry Newman, and the Novel was the only way in which he could express the strength of his feelings. And not much more gentle was his ironic mockery of those who believed that the Birmingham Oratory contained oubliettes in which heiresses were tortured to death for their inheritances.

Newman, frankly, took no prisoners. And his mode of attack is, essentially, to laugh at his adversaries. This, surely, is the most merciless sort of put-down imaginable. If someone criticises you in a flat, humdrum, pathetic, terribly earnest style, he doesn't get to you. He is a poor, sad, silly old thing. But if he laughs at you ... ! And the victims of this sort of attack ... to quote the martial figure of Corporal Jones of Dad's Army ... don't like it up 'em. The grander you are, the more surrounded by people who defer to you and treat you with respect and deference, the less you like the satirist. The more you are a bully, an obsessive oppressive, or a control-freak, the more indignant the satirist makes you feel. (Read more.)

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