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  • 19 June 2007

Fay Weldon brings smiles to humour conference

Fay Weldon discusses humour and writing. (Photo by Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale)

Fay Weldon discusses humour and writing. (Photo by Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale)

Celebrated author and professor of creative writing Fay Weldon is the guest speaker at a University of Sussex conference that hopes to encourage serious study of humour.

Entitled 'Joking Apart: Gender, Literature and Humour, 1850-Present', the two-day event on 28-29 June includes presentations on sexual differences in comedy, feminist "funny women", Freudian jokes, and the politics of laughter.

Professor Weldon, author of more than 20 novels, including The Life and Loves of A She-Devil, as well as short stories, screenplays and journalism, says: "Humour is enormously important in people's lives. Women tend to use it as a defence mechanism to make things more tolerable, and it becomes more important the older you get. It keeps you young and healthy."

She adds: "Academia is one of this country's great strengths, but we cannot rest on our laurels. If students were encouraged to study humour it might make them read more books."

Professor Weldon, who was appointed as Chair in creative writing at Brunel University last year, will be introduced by Regina Barrreca, professor of literature at the University of Connecticut and herself a humorist and author of books such as The Penguin Book of Women's Humor and They Used to Call me Snow White... But I Drifted: Women's Strategic Use of Humor.

Organiser of the Sussex conference, English literature research fellow Dr Sophie Blanch, says: "While humour studies has fast been emerging as a productive and energetic field of cultural and critical enquiry in the United States, an equivalent network of scholars has still to be identified within the UK. While we have a tradition of taking seriously the strongly masculine figure of the 18th century Wit, Humour Studies in the US is much more interested in 20th century popular culture, from satirical magazines like the New Yorker, to Dorothy Parker's famously acidic one-liners. The point is not to analyse humour forensically to find out what is funny, as that can be the death of any good joke; it's more about why humour is important within a society."

Dr Blanch is currently researching and writing her own work on the relationship between humour and gender. To be published under the title 'Lively Words: wit, women and writing (1905-1939)', she is focussing on the humorous writing of women such as Virginia Woolf and the American authors Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes.

"Recent critical attempts to assert the seriousness of women's contributions to literary modernism have overlooked much of the playfulness and pleasure of these texts," she says. "My research will seek to reclaim the relationship between wit and women's writing in the period to suggest it posed an effective challenge to Freud's suggestion that jokes are merely a comic conspiracy on the side of men."

Notes for editors

  • Joking Apart: Gender, Literature and Humour, 1850-Present, is hosted by the Centre for Modernist Studies at the University of Sussex on 28-29 June, 2007.
  • University of Sussex press officers; Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel: 01273 678888, email


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