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Author Topic: Irony Mastery Class
Member # 8019

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Intent upon preparing a composition lesson plan, a brief narrative is warranted that comprehensively encompasses irony's many forms. Irony is a master class topic and one that engages intellect and, in turn, emotion and imagination. Irony invariably is implied and subject by degrees to interpretation, though, if executed to an artful accord, leaves doubt and confusion open only for less sublime or engaged minds, that insist upon being told only literally what is intended and meant.

Not to say illiterate or unsophisticated minds are shy of subtlety, only an insistence upon literal, tangible meaning upon occasion -- lawyers in the conduct of the jurisprudence business, for example, situationally refuse ironic testimony, at least because of its at times objectionable negativity, if not for irony's allusions and implications that leave testimony open for wide interpretation.

Irony of whatever variety, though, is a creative writer's stronger skill suit. Irony implies meaning that readers intellectually engage with through puzzle-solving survival instincts and meaning satisfactions. Artful irony earnestly persuades readers they are at least as smart as a narrative, if not smarter, suitable to a given audience's aptitude for irony. Even grammar school grades' primer readers contain irony, a first exposure outside of family life to irony.

A composition of Irish-Anglo writer Maria Edgeworth's, "An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification," (1793, 5800 words), fits the requisite panoply of irony's many forms: distinguishable though divisible, and at times indivisible, irony, satire, and sarcasm schemes; and verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony, cosmic and comic ironies, and courtly irony, and tropes and schemes thereof.

A distinction between satire and sarcasm realizes satire exposes human vice and folly; sarcasm mocks and ridicules human virtue, often for ironic effect, both often though not exclusively from ironic approaches. Irony of neither satire nor sarcasm is often of an extended nature that expresses a literal and tangible, concrete circumstance and a figurative and intangible, abstract circumstance; for example, symbolism, emblemism, and imagery are ironical though not per se satire or sarcasm. An object, person, sensation, or force could, nay, should, always does, represent an abstract circumstance; the concrete circumstance, a literal representation and the abstract circumstance, a figurative representation.

Irony, simply, is that perpendicular though congruent relationship between the concrete and the abstract. Any narrative may contain irony, satire, and sarcasm and mixed permutations and combinations thereof and extended or situational in isolation. That irony is perpendicular and congruent is mathematically and geometrically impossible though a reconcilable paradox with an underlying truth: the human mind is able to interpret and connect and reconcile expression disparities.

Verbal irony expresses a literal meaning opposite from an intended figurative meaning. Understatement and overstatement (hyperbole) are examples of verbal ironies. Litotes is understated verbal irony, usually a positive affirmation of the opposite of a negation statement. Courtly irony is also verbal irony, may be other irony types, too.

Courtly irony: condemnation by faint praise or, congruently, and praise by faint condemnation. A statesperson could verbally ironically say an esteemed colleague brought disgrace and prestige grandeur to a country by showing human-being is naturally and necessarily subject to vice and folly, though to err and self-acknowledge is nobly human.

Situational irony expresses an intended meaning or intent and its opposite unintended meaning or intent. A chef who overcooks a syrup and intends the syrup to be liquid when cooled commits a situational irony if the syrup crystalizes into caramel candy. The result, though unintended, could be desirably preferred over the liquid syrup -- or not.

Cosmic irony involves forces beyond human control that place intent or meaning and consequence or outcome in opposition. A cosmic irony of epic proportions is the cosmos appears flat to a naked eye and was believed so for much of human history. For the Edgeworth essay, a cosmic irony is the accident-of-birth status assignments of hierarchal social stations.

Comic irony intentionally or unintentionally expresses humorous situational or extended circumstances. Satire and sarcasm could, though not exclusively, be comic irony.

Dramatic irony is when one or more parties knows a circumstance that one or more other parties does not. Ernest Hemingway's, The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago believes he's not salao (cursed), though his community knows he is.

Edgeworth's essay evinces all irony's glorious variety. The depths of ironies are sublime and, ironically as well, congruently factor out to a singular reconciled intent and meaning: social cooperation is for a best-advised common good. Individuals are not islands. We depend on each others' cooperative contributions for our individual and collective well-being. Exquisite.

Edgeworth's essay must not be taken as overtly social-sexual-political commentary nor responded to publicly as such, for purposes of preserving Hatrack's and social, generally, rules and principles of conduct, rather offered as a comprehensive example of irony in all its grandeurs.

Note as well use of second-person imperative and implied imperative -- manual-like and recipe-like directions -- and as well of an ironic reflexive second person expression that is anything but imperative, and that the essay is an argumentation form -- persuasive expression -- and congruently discovers a moral truth and artfully asserts a moral law.

Opening and selected excerpts from the essay, that contain, again, all of irony. The 5800-word whole is available from the link below.

"An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification"
Maria Edgeworth
First published in the collection Letters for Literary Ladies

Endowed, as the fair sex indisputably are, with a natural genius for the invaluable art of self-justification, it may not be displeasing to them to see its rising perfection evinced by an attempt to reduce it to a science. Possessed, as are all the fair daughters of Eve, of an hereditary propensity, transmitted to them undiminished through succeeding generations, to be "soon moved with slightest touch of blame"; very little precept and practice will confirm them in the habit, and instruct them in all the maxims, of self-justification.

Candid pupil, you will readily accede to my first and fundamental axiom--that a lady can do no wrong.

But simple as this maxim may appear, and suited to the level of the meanest capacity, the talent of applying it on all the important, but more especially on all the most trivial, occurrences of domestic life, so as to secure private peace and public dominion, has hitherto been monopolized by the female adepts in the art of self-justification.

Excuse me for insinuating by this expression, that there may yet be amongst you some novices. To these, if any such, I principally address myself.

And now, lest fired with ambition you lose all by aiming at too much, let me explain and limit my first principle, "That you can do no wrong." You must be aware that real perfection is beyond the reach of mortals, nor would I have you aim at it; indeed it is not in any degree necessary to our purpose. You have heard of the established belief in the infallibility of the sovereign pontiff, which prevailed not many centuries ago--if man was allowed to be infallible, I see no reason why the same privilege should not be extended to woman--but times have changed; and since the happy age of credulity is past, leave the opinions of men to their natural perversity; their actions are the best test of their faith. Instead then of a belief in your infallibility, endeavour to enforce implicit submission to your authority. This will give you infinitely less trouble, and will answer your purpose as well.

Right and wrong, if we go to the foundation of things, are, as casuists tell us, really words of very dubious signification, perpetually varying with custom and fashion, and to be adjusted ultimately by no other standards but opinion and force. Obtain power then by all means; power is the law of man; make it yours.
. . .
If instead of the fiery tempered being I formerly described, you should fortunately be connected with a man, who, having formed a justly high opinion of your sex, should propose to treat you as his equal, and who in any little dispute which might arise between you, should desire no other arbiter than reason; triumph in his mistaken candor, regularly appeal to the decision of reason at the beginning of every contest, and deny its jurisdiction at the conclusion. I take it for granted that you will be on the wrong side of every question, and indeed, in general, I advise you to choose the wrong side of an argument to defend; whilst you are young in the science, it will afford the best exercise, and as you improve, the best display of your talents.

If then, reasonable pupils, you would succeed in argument, attend to the following instructions.

Begin by preventing, if possible, the specific statement of any position, or if reduced to it, use the most general terms, and take advantage of the ambiguity which all languages, and which most philosophers allow. Above all things, shun definitions; they will prove fatal to you; for two persons of sense and candor, who define their terms, cannot argue long without either convincing, or being convinced, or parting in equal good humour; to prevent which, go over and over the same ground, wander as wide as possible from the point, but always with a view to return at last precisely to the same spot from which you set out. I should remark to you, that the choice of your weapons is a circumstance much to be attended to: choose always those which your adversary cannot use. If your husband is a man of wit, you will of course undervalue a talent which is never connected with judgment: "for your part, you do not presume to contend with him in wit."
. . .
Fair idiots! let women of sense, wit, feeling, triumph in their various arts: yours are superior. Their empire, absolute as it sometimes may be, is perpetually subject to sudden revolutions. With them, a man has some chance of equal sway: with a fool he has none. Have they hearts and understandings? Then the one may be touched, or the other in some unlucky moment convinced; even in their very power lies their greatest danger: not so with you. In vain let the most candid of his sex attempt to reason with you--let him begin with, "Now, my dear, only listen to reason"--you stop him at once with, "No, my dear, you know I do not pretend to reason; I only say, that's my opinion."

Let him go on to prove that yours is a mistaken opinion: you are ready to acknowledge it long before he desires it. "You acknowledge it may be a wrong opinion; but still it is your opinion." You do not maintain it in the least, either because you believe it to be wrong or right, but merely because it is yours. Exposed as you might have been to the perpetual humiliation of being convinced, nature seems kindly to have denied you all perception of truth, or at least all sentiment of pleasure from the perception.

With an admirable humility, you are as well contented to be in the wrong as in the right; you answer all that can be said to you with a provoking humility of aspect.

"Yes; I do not doubt but what you say may be very true, but I cannot tell; I do not think myself capable of judging on these subjects; I am sure you must know much better than I do. I do not pretend to say but that your opinion is very just; but I own I am of a contrary way of thinking; I always thought so, and I always shall."

Should a man with persevering temper tell you that he is ready to adopt your sentiments if you will only explain them; should he beg only to have a reason for your opinion--no, you can give no reason. Let him urge you to say something in its defence--no; like Queen Anne, you will only repeat the same thing over again, or be silent. Silence is the ornament of your sex; and in silence, if there be not wisdom, there is safety. You will, then, if you please, according to your custom, sit listening to all entreaties to explain, and speak--with a fixed immutability of posture, and a pre-determined deafness of eye, which shall put your opponent utterly out of patience; yet still by persevering with the same complacent importance of countenance, you shall half persuade people you could speak if you would; you shall keep them in doubt by that true want of meaning, "which puzzles more than wit"; even because they cannot conceive the excess of your stupidity, they shall actually begin to believe that they themselves are stupid.

Ignorance and doubt are the great parents of the sublime.

Your adversary, finding you impenetrable to argument, perhaps would try wit: but, "On the impassive ice the lightnings play." His eloquence or his kindness will avail less; when in yielding to you after a long harangue, he expects to please you, you will answer undoubtedly with the utmost propriety, "That you should be very sorry he yielded his judgment to you; that he is very good; that you are much obliged to him; but that, as to the point in dispute, it is a matter of perfect indifference to you; for your part, you have no choice at all about it; you beg that he will do just what he pleases; you know that it is the duty of a wife to submit; but you hope, however, you may have an opinion of your own."

Remember, all such speeches as these will lose above half their effect, if you cannot accompany them with the vacant stare, the insipid smile, the passive aspect of the humbly perverse.

Whilst I write, new precepts rush upon my recollection; but the subject is inexhaustible. I quit it with regret, though fully sensible of my presumption in having attempted to instruct those who, whilst they read, will smile in the consciousness of superior powers. Adieu! then, my fair readers: long may you prosper in the practice of an art peculiar to your sex! Long may you maintain unrivalled dominion at home and abroad; and long may your husbands rue the hour when first they made you promise "to obey!"

[ July 08, 2015, 08:13 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Read the whole thing and am still giggling.


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The link didn't work for me, so here's another one:


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The link changed in only a few days!? Link now updated. Kudos, though, for finding the essay anyway.
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Grumpy old guy
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The link worked for me, I just had to scroll through all the entries to find it.


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