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The Victorian Comic Spirit: New Perspectives, edited by jennifer Wagner-Lawlor; pp. xx + 252. Aldershot and Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 2000, [pounds]49.50, $86.95.
"If you promise me faithfully not to mention it to a single person, not even to your dearest friend," W. S. Gilbert once confided, "I don't think Shakespeare rollicking' (qtd. in Goldberg, The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan  473). In the midst of Victorian Bardolatry, which held Shakespeare to be the quintessence of cultured comedy, it is somewhat surprising to find one of the leading humorists of the age dissenting from the established creed. But Gilbert's contrariety serves to underline what is perhaps the sole unexceptionable assertion one can make about comedy: it is a subject upon which unanimity is unimaginable.
Nevertheless, Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, the editor of this collection, claims to have discovered complete concord among her twelve contributors:
What ties each of the essays to the other, no matter what the particular subject of analysis, is a common supposition that there exists a dialogic interchange between the humorous text and its culture. These essays assume, in other words, that humorous and comic representations function politically by revealing contradictions in ideological discourses, by exposing repressed illogicalities and prejudices [...] attendant to …