The alluring problem: an essay on irony

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Oxford University Press, 1986 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 178 pages
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When Jonathan Swift suggested in 1729, in his pamphletA Modest Proposal, that the Irish might survive overpopulation if only they could be persuaded to eat their own babies, the Irishman was employing that favorite tool of writers and wits: irony. Now, in an entertaining and intriguing new book, D. J. Enright, acclaimed editor ofThe Oxford Book of Death, has turned his attention to the practice of irony and its many manifestations in both literature and life. Aiming to pursue personal ironies, both verbal and situational, Enright has observed their twists and turns in his own inimitable style. The author takes a fresh look at irony in the works of Shakespeare, Austen, James, Proust and Freud, and a briefer look at such conspicous practitioners as Swift, Fielding and Hardy. He goes on to review the use of irony, or what resembles it, in the works of Pope, Dickens, Conrad, Brecht and other more recent writers. Religion, politics, censorship, love and death are all mined for their rich lode of ironic situations. Among other themes discussed are the perils of irony unrecognised and irony wrongly presumed; the risks run by self-ironists; and the questions "Does romantic irony exist?" and "Must irony have a victim? Can it be sweet?". Enright's reflections vary from musings on the absurdities of acronyms like AIDS and CREEP to a consideration of the apparent absence of irony in China. Although irony commonly generates laughter, some have observed that it can be no laughing matter. But the author concludes this witty and elegant book by noting that, "while irony is an ambiguous gift... it is a gift all the same."

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The alluring problem: an essay on irony

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From Samuel Johnson's pithy definition of it as "a mode of speech of which the meaning is contrary to the words'' through abundant examples culled from centuries of European and American literature ... Read full review


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About the author (1986)

About the author:
D. J. Enright, poet and critic, is the editor of Fair of Speech: The Uses of Euphemism, and The Oxford Book of Death. His most recent volume of poetry is Instant Chronicles: A Life.

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