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Good FormThe Ethical Experience of the Victorian Novel$
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Jesse Rosenthal

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196640

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196640.001.0001

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Getting David Copperfield: Humor, Sensus Communis, and Moral Agreement

Getting David Copperfield: Humor, Sensus Communis, and Moral Agreement

(p.78) Chapter 3 Getting David Copperfield: Humor, Sensus Communis, and Moral Agreement
Good Form

Jesse Rosenthal

Princeton University Press

This chapter looks at another narrative mechanism that an author could use to imply that there was a “law” governing the text: humor. This is not, as the chapter shows through a discussion of Romantic and Victorian writings on the subject, a humor that was defined by its ability to make a reader laugh. Rather, humor was a strategy used to produce, in the reader, the experience of unspoken agreement and shared community with others. Unlike Oliver Twist, David Copperfield does not rely on an inaccessible back-story. Instead, it relies on a shared understanding, but one so implicit that it seems to be more of an intuitive sense than any sort of rational knowledge. It relies, in other words, on the idea of sensus communis (common sense). The narrative of David's progression is always measured against this backdrop of an anonymously judging public of which he is part, and the novel's narrative method seeks to move him into agreement with that public. The novel thus uses humor to underscore the idea that one's individual intuitions are shared, though in ways that are difficult to conceptualize. Charles Dickens's narrative technique makes use of an externalization, into the social sphere, of a reader's individual feeling.

Keywords:   humor, David Copperfield, shared understanding, sensus communis, judging public, common sense, intuitions, Charles Dickens, narrative technique, externalization

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