5 The Comic Novel with Stephen McCauley

On this episode of Recall This Book, John talks to Stephen McCauley, a novelist and Professor of the Practice of English and Co-director of Creative Writing at Brandeis. Nobody knows more about the comic novel than Steve, and there is no comic novelist he loves better than Barbara Pym, a mid-century British comic genius who found herself forgotten and unpublishable in middle age, only to roar back into print in her sixties. Steve and John’s friendship over the years has been sealed by the favorite Pym lines they text back and forth to one another, so they are particularly keen to investigate why her career went in this way.

stephen-mccauley-2017 photo
Steve McCauley

In the episode, they talk about some of these favorite sentences from Pym, and then turn to the comic novel as a genre. They talk about the difference between humorous and comic writing, the earthiness of comedy, whether comic novels should have happy or sad endings, and whether the comic novel is a precursor to, or an amoral relief from, the sitcom. They also discuss some of Steve’s fiction, including his yoga series, and in Recallable Books John recommends Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell and Steve recommends After Claude by Iris Owens. You can find out more about the upcoming (March 22) meeting of the Barbara Pym society at the Harvard Law School here.

Barbara Pym at work

Discussed in this episode:

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

The Beast in the Jungle,” Henry James

The Thurber Carnival, James Thurber

The Group, Mary McCarthy

After Claude, Iris Owens

Pictures from an Institution, Randall Jarrell

An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym

Less than Angels, Barbara Pym

The Sweet Dove Died, Barbara Pym

Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth

The Object of My Affection, Stephen McCauley

The SelloutPaul Beatty

My Ex-Life, Stephen McCauley


You can listen to this episode here:

(Episode transcript available here:McCauley Comic Novel )

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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