"Rhetoric of laughter" simply means the use of laughter to persuade. In Dickens, our laughter affects very strongly our notion of what the novel is, and the vision of that novel is partly defined by the nature, quantity, and control of our response. All this is obvious enough, and I regret that a phrase as pretentious as "rhetoric of laughter" needs to be used at all. I could, however, think of nothing else that was any clearer — "humour" and "comedy" can mean almost anything and "rhetoric of laughter" at least distinguishes the approach from one that consists of extracts from funny scenes. All the same, it is exactly the sort of phrase Dickens would have attributed to the Circumlocution Office.
I am grateful to many critics who are not specifically cited here, partly because their influence is so pervasive that it goes beyond phrases and isolated notions and partly because my British editors and publisher allowed themselves some good natured derision over my American and mindless pedantry in footnoting. I do not mean, by all this, to slip plagiarized material by and blame it on the publisher. I am, of course, fully responsible fur the material, its errors, misrepresentations, and omissions.
However, the faults would have been even greater and more obvious without the help of many friends. I am especially grateful to Arthur A. Adrian, who introduced me to Dickens and patiently showed me how to read him, and who has been, ever since, a model of precise and intelligent scholarship and a warm and generous friend. To my colleague Richard D. Altick I owe a great deal indeed: he read the entire manuscript with care and tolerance (in a few places, agreement), allowing me the benefit of his enormous knowledge of Dickens and of the nineteenth century, of his tact, and of his good nature. My wife, Suzanne M. Kincaid, has worked closely with me throughout. I might add that she did not help much with the typing, flipping cards, and the like — I did that — but by reading Dickens and thinking about him. I have also been helped [vii/viii] by the conversation, prodding, and cynical barbs of my friends at Ohio State University, especially Arnold Shapiro, who read a version of the chapter on Oliver Twist and made excellent criticisms of it.
This work was supported in part, by a grant from the Ohio State University Development Fund, and I would like to express my thanks to that agency. I am also grateful to the College of Humanities and especially to my chairman, Albert J. Kuhn, for arranging time off.
Earlier and shorter forms of Chapters 3 and 4 appeared in PMLA and Dickens the Craftsman: Strategies of Presentation, ed. Robert B. Partlow, Jr. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1970. The reading of Pickwick Papers used in Chapter 2 was in part presented in an article in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. I am grateful to the respective publishers for permission to use some of this material.
Last Modified 10 March 2010