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A Very Serious Thing

Women’s Humor and American Culture

1988
Author:

Nancy A. Walker

A Very Serious Thing

Defines why women have been blocked from participating in the mainstream of American comedy yet have overcome hurdles to produce a humor that is sustaining and spells survival for women in society.

Defines why women have been blocked from participating in the mainstream of American comedy yet have overcome hurdles to produce a humor that is sustaining and spells survival for women in society.

. . . a well-researched, highly readable text.

Susan Davis New Directions for Women

“It is a very serious thing to be a funny woman.”
-Frances Miriam Berry Whitcher

A Very Serious Thing is the first book-length study of a part of American literature that has been consistently neglected by scholars and underrepresented in anthologies - American women’s humorous writing. Nancy Walker proposes that the American humorous tradition to be redefined to include women’s humor as well as men’s, because, contrary to popular opinion, women do have a sense of humor.

Her book draws on history, sociology, anthropology, literature, and psychology to posit that the reasons for neglect of women’s humorous expression are rooted in a male-dominated culture that has officially denied women the freedom and self-confidence essential to the humorist. Rather than a study of individual writers, the book is an exploration of relationships between cultural realities - including expectations of “true womanhood” - and women’s humorous response to those realities.

Humorous expression, Walker maintains, is at odds with the culturally sanctioned ideal of the “lady,” and much of women’s humor seems to accept, while actually denying, this ideal. In fact, most of American women’s humorous writing has been a feminist critique of American culture and its attitudes toward women, according to the author.

A Very Serious Thing

Nancy Walker taught American literature and American studies and was the chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri. With Zita Dresner, she is co-editor of Redressing the Balance: American Women’s Humor from the Colonies to the 1980’s, published by the University Press of Mississippi.

A Very Serious Thing

. . . a well-researched, highly readable text.

Susan Davis New Directions for Women

. . . a scholarly survey no student of humor will want to miss.

The Midwest Book Review

A Very Serious Thing is both provocative and provoking. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.

Linda Wagner-Martin American Literature

Sensitive to the influence of gender roles and the nuances of feminist criticism, Walker sensibly defines why women have been blocked from participating in the mainstream of American comedy and how, nevertheless, they have overcome these hurdles to produce a humor that is sustaining and spells survival for women in American society. This will prove an influential study on the work to come.

Choice

A Very Serious thing will have wide readership: women writers of humor; sociologists whose interest is in the behavior of women; males, whether writers or not, who have become sensitive to the injustices visited upon women in our culture; and literary historians. It is thorough, yet concisely written; further, Walker has provided prolific notes and a selected bibliography for those who heretofore have been unaware of the wealth of women's humor in the American literary canon.

Jasat

“A Very Serious Thing” provides an excellent introduction to women’s humor in the United States and to broad-based cultural issues concerning women and humor.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

“The book offers an extremely useful overview and synthesis of a large group of texts that may now be considered on the map of American writing.” American Studies

“. . . richly rewarding. . . a path breaking text.” American Quarterly