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Literary Humor: Wodehouse, Waugh

ENG 313

Literary Humor: Wodehouse, Waugh

Description and Objectives

This class will focus on continuing to develop college-bound students’ ability to read closely and understand challenging literature, as well as how to write about it with critical acumen and style. To prepare him for independent and thoughtful academic reflection in college, each student is required to conduct research and to write two, separate, typed compositions of three or more pages in length.  The papers will be based on the works being read and discussed in class.  The class will begin with a thorough study of the morality of laughter and the many ways and reasons for why we find ourselves laughing at humorous literature.

What’s so funny?  This very question reflects how we humans tower head and shoulders above even the king of beasts, as laughter is a uniquely human experience that reflects our unique and elevated condition.  We will examine the many ways of finding humor: surprise, irony, the incongruous, satire, self-deprecation, physical humor, to name a few.  More than this, we will learn to differentiate between cheap humor, with its biting, caustic, and spiteful jokes, which are intended to hurt, with a that of a more humane, healthy, wholesome laughter that sees with a charitable eye as it gently pokes fun at our fallen humanity.  We will explore how it is that this benevolent humor has a lasting, positive effect, and we will learn why and how to relish the soul of wit that is healthy and kind-hearted.  To start, we will focus on the rich satire that is Evelyn Waugh’s novel, The Loved One, a macabre and bizarre tale of the absurdity found at a Hollywood pet cemetery.  From there we will relish Mark Twain’s inimitable blend of humor, satire, and master storytelling that earned him a secure place in the front rank of American writers.  For example, his classic, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, shows the great humorist at the top of his form.  James Thurber, another American humorist, will also grace us with his hilarious cartoons, stories and essays about dogs, among the many humorous fictional memoirs from his life.  P.G. Wodehouse, the incomparable British humorist, will hold court for almost half the class, as his bumbling bachelor, Bertie Wooster, will manage to get himself into one tight fix after another.  Coming to Bertie’s rescue will be his faithful Jeeves, his clever and seemingly all-knowing man servant (butler), whose forethought and poise always hilariously manage go extricate Bertie from having landed “in the soup”.  We will also study some of Wodehouse’s uproarious short stories set at St. Austin’s, an all-boys boarding school, where athletic competitions and playing pranks are shown to be part and parcel of a British house-system of schooling.  We will also come to better appreciate the inventive lyricism of some great American songwriters, such as Cole Porter and Ira and George Gershwin, as well as the hilarious contemporary writing from the dynamic comic duo, Jeannie and Jim Gaffigan.


  • The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh
  • My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Humorous Stories and Sketches, by Mark Twain

Course Requirements

Students are expected to fulfill reading and writing requirements in a timely and thoughtful manner.  All students will be expected to participate in classroom discussions and in periodically scheduled Socratic seminars.  Each student will be expected to commit to memory one chosen poem that is agreed upon with consultation with Mr. Miggins.

Quarter grades will be determined by the following formula:

Quizzes (30%) + Tests/essays/in-class writing (60%) + poem recitation/class participation (10%) = Quarter Grade

Students can expect to be quizzed at least once weekly on the assigned reading material. Although all quizzes will be announced (no pop quizzes), past experience indicates that cursory, last-minute attempts to complete assigned reading, or to replace actual text reading with Cliff Notes-type supplements, invariably will result in a poor quiz average. Students can expect a test-level, in-class writing assignment at least quarterly, as well a several tests and out-of-class essays each quarter

Late papers will be penalized by a letter grade drop for every class period the assignment is late.

Successful Students

Successful students will have a mature approach to their teacher, their peers, and the coursework.

Students are encouraged to read with a pencil, pen, or highlighter in hand, so that pertinent passages or puzzling lines can be marked for discussion in class.

Students are encouraged to seek help early and often if academic difficulty is encountered.

“I am convinced more and more day by day that fine writing is next to fine doing, the top thing in the world.”

-John Keats

“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” -Mark Twain