British Journal of Canadian Studies

Humour in hell: Stephen Leacock’s First World War writings, 1915–1919

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2018), 31, (1), 43–62.

Abstract

Stephen Leacock (1869–1944), the best-known Canadian humourist of the early twentieth century, turned his pen to the support of the British Empire’s cause during the course of the First World War. Through a series of public lectures given to raise funds for Belgian relief, a widely distributed pamphlet urging the reorganisation of Canada’s national economy, and dozens of humorous short works collected in volumes between 1915 and 1919, Leacock embraced the period’s propagandistic spirit while subverting many propagandistic tropes. In works ostensibly intended to shore up home-front morale and encourage civilians to contribute to the war effort, Leacock gently mocks those same civilians’ pretensions when it comes to their ‘involvement’ in the war. Politicians and businessmen, farmers and aristocrats, allies and enemies alike – all are skewered, with the ultimate lesson being that their greatest contribution to the war effort might just be their humility.

Stephen Leacock (1869–1944), l’humoriste canadien le plus célèbre du début du vingtième siècle, mit sa plume au service de la cause de l’Empire britannique durant la Première Guerre mondiale. Leacock a embrassé l’esprit de propagande de l’époque tout en bouleversant de nombreux tropes par le biais d’une série de conférences données pour récolter des fonds pour le secours Belge, de la distribution d’un fascicule largement diffusé exhortant le redressement de l’économie canadienne et des dizaines d’oeuvres humoristiques courtes rassemblées en volumes entre 1915 et 1919. Dans des ouvrages apparemment destinées à consolider le moral de l’arrière et à encourager les civils à contribuer à l’effort de guerre, Leacock se moque gentiment de ces mêmes prétentions civiles s’agissant de leur investissement personnel au conflit. Politiciens et hommes d’affaires, fermiers et aristocrates, alliés et ennemis confondus – tous sont font l’objet de caricatures mordantes, la leçon à en tirer étant que leur plus grande contribution ait peut-être été leur humilité.

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Author details

Milne, Nick