Essays in Romanticism

Charles Lamb and the Fellowship of the Pun

Essays in Romanticism (2013), 20, (1), 37–54.

Abstract

Charles Lamb's punning relates closely to his art as an essayist. He conceives the pun as a social trope, which generates and celebrates fellowship, requiring an active reader to "get" it, ideally in a live context. It is also a democratic trope, part of shared play in the "Cockney" circle, resisting Addison's polite proscription of vulgar language habits. Lamb's puns can, moreover, give vent to political critique and to class-based and sexual energies that would otherwise be difficult to express. They allow disinhibition, and the potentially "uncivil" life of the mind, to gain a momentary ascendancy. Lamb anticipates Freud in analysing the liberating badness that the jokework of the pun allows. His puns point toward a technique prevalent in the Elia essays, of hinting that what does not signify also oversignifies: there is a gap between the apparent and real emotional subject of discourse that the simultaneously frivolous and freighted pun embodies.

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Lodge, Sara