Complaining about reviews

John Bayley

  • Mrs Henderson, and Other Stories by Francis Wyndham
    Cape, 160 pp, £8.50, April 1985, ISBN 0 224 02306 3

Few things are easier to recognise or harder to define than the way humour works in art. It is only incidentally to do with making us laugh. Being funny is a methodical process and a localising one, whereas humour, like genius, is non-specific and seems inadvertent. It produces not laughter but delight – ‘aesthetic bliss’, as Nabokov called it. It is a species of revelation, which includes self-revelation, by the most civilised means. That sounds portentous, but it may indicate something about the nature of inexplicably good moments in literary art, like Powell’s Widmerpool observing with approval: ‘Why, mother, you are wearing your bridge coat.’

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