Abstract

The New Humour of the 1890s was often depicted as a mania or disease attacking unreflecting or susceptible readers. However, like the figure of the New Woman (which it often attacked), New Humour both incurred and resisted simplistic definitions. As the most successful of the New Humourists, Jerome K. Jerome was uniquely placed to exploit the ambivalent status of fin de siècle comic fiction. His weekly journal To-day adroitly responds to press attacks, notably through provocative suggestions that he and his contributors are writing in the tradition of Dickens. Inviting readers to see themselves as loyal members of a club, Jerome surely had Household Words in mind when he said of To-day, “there can be few journals that have established so close and intimate a relationship with their readers.” In Jerome's account it is not the quality of modern fiction, but the snobbery of the critics themselves that is “making literature ridiculous.” Nonetheless, his writing from these years shows him asking serious questions about the relationship of a writer to his published work, while conflicted feelings about his own literary status haunt his fin de siècle writing.

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