We’re continuing our dream reading list series, in which our editors take turns sharing the lists of books they’d read in the class of their dreams. This week, Alex P. shares some of her favorite works of British humor (or humour, to our British readers). We’ll let her take it from here:
Our Dream Reading List: Best of British Wit
As a former English major and all-around lit nerd, there’s little I enjoy more than some good old-fashioned English wit. And there’s certainly plenty of it to go around: from Chaucer’s surprisingly bawdy Wife of Bath to Monty Python’s ridiculous Black Knight (“It’s just a flesh wound!”), it’s clear that a razor-sharp tongue and quick wit are as British as Earl Grey. Here, I’ve assembled a survey of some of the wittiest classics in British literature.
Much Ado About Nothing, by Shakespeare
No list of great British humor would be complete without a nod to the Bard. Much Ado gets my vote for the “merry war” of wit between Beatrice and Benedict—their rapid-fire repartee is terrific fun, both on- and off-stage.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Sir Laurence Sterne
The original high/low humorist, Sterne’s frequently digressive and frenetic novel manages to satirize history’s great thinkers while being a bawdy, ridiculous, and seriously funny romp. I love sweet Uncle Toby, the bumbling proto-nerd obsessed with miniature war “hobby-horses,” as well as Tristram’s narration of his own calamitous conception, birth, christening, and (gulp) castration.
Persuasion, by Jane Austen
No, Darcy isn’t in this one—and Anne Eliot isn’t quite as young or fetching as Austen’s other heroines. But this all makes for a particularly interesting protagonist, and gives Anne more leeway for overt sarcasm and biting wit. Romantics, worry not—the Austen-esque happy ending is very much alive, well, and satisfying in Persuasion.
The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde
Filled to the brim with Wilde’s famed epigrams, this satire of Victorian society is just as poignant—and hilarious—today as it was more than a century ago. Algernon and Jack’s elaborate lies only grow more convoluted and unwieldy as the play progresses, leading to some legitimately LOL-worthy scenarios as the men attempt to square their lies with reality—not to mention their love interests.
Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
This classic novel in Wodehouse’s most beloved series pits the ridiculous, foppish Wooster against his own best interests, leaving smart, sardonic Jeeves to bail him out. While the convoluted holes Wooster digs for himself are certainly entertaining, it’s the affectionate yet sarcastic relationship between Wooster and Jeeves that always makes me smile.