Pity the Fool: Satire, Sentiment, and Aristocratic Vice in George Colman's The Suicide

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The Suicide, A Comedy (1778) by George Colman (the Elder) is a sophisticated comedic response to the scourge of fashionable suicide in late eighteenth-century Britain. Te play simultaneously operates on two comedic planes: (1) it aims the purgative power of contemptible and socially aversive satire at the bon-ton by insinuating the scandalous suicide of high-profile aristocrat John Damer (1744-76); and (2) the reformation of Tobine-the middle-class protagonist who aspires to fashionable self-destruction-invests in the socially rehabilitative and compassionate humour of sentimental comedy. Two comedic strategies are aimed at two different audiences, with both strategies working to reinforce middle-class values. Te result is a comedy that merges two kinds of laughter to form a benign affective antidote to interclass suicidal contagion. This comedic antidote functions as an early demonstration of the positive value of narratives that depict the overcoming of suicidal intent-or what modern sociologists call the Papageno effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-414
Number of pages22
JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • sentimental comedy
  • Georgian comedy
  • satirical drama
  • eighteenth century
  • suicide
  • George Colman (the Elder)
  • suicide and literature
  • Papageno effect


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