January 22 – Carolee Klimchock: Humor Hung Like a Horse: Coachmen and Coaches as Satirical Sites for Discussions of Class and Power in the Gilded Age

Humor “by its nature tends to seek out and reveal incongruities” and the site of the Gilded Age horse-drawn coach was one of drastic visual, social, and performative contrasts, making it especially ripe for staging humor about power imbalances.[1] Rich and poor alike being pulled by four unpredictable animals endowed the scene with a sense that ‘anything could happen,’ which is rich terrain for comedy.  Add to which, real sex scandals between heiresses and coachmen in the Gilded Age enrapt the public.  Thus humor pieces about class conflicts often used the site of the coach or the person of the coachman as it material, turning them easily into caricatures, puns, and double entendres.  A coach in motion inhabited a liminal space: being on it was to be neither here nor there, and to not know if you were coming or going.  On the coach the servant–not the master–held the reins, and coachmen got into trouble by horsing around with society belles who were sometimes driven by passion to elopement. (Puns intended.)

[1] (Jerry Farber, “Toward a Theoretical Framework for the Study of Humor in Literature and the Other Arts” Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Winter, 2007), p. 84.  

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