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Stephen Leacock Biography

(1869–1944), Elements of Political Science, Literary Lapses, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

Canadian humorist, born at Swanmore in Hampshire; he was taken to Canada when he was six. He grew up in Ontario and was educated at the universities of Toronto and Chicago; he lectured in political economics at McGill University from 1903 to 1936. His first book was Elements of Political Science (1906), but it was Literary Lapses (1910) that launched him on the career as a humorist that made him a household name. Often viewed as Canada's Mark Twain, Leacock's comic range is considerable, varying from the inspired nonsense of a piece like ‘Guido the Gimlet of Ghent: A Romance of Chivalry’, in which, like Twain, he makes fun of romance conventions, to more serious satires such as ‘My Financial Career’. Most of his books are collections of sketches, but some of the finest of them have more overall unity, such as Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), which offers a part-sentimental, part-satirical account of life in the small Canadian town of ‘Mariposa’ (based on Orillia, Ontario, where Leacock had a summer home). Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914) is a more trenchant satire attacking North American capitalism. My Discovery of England (1922), which grew out of a lecture tour that Leacock made to England in 1921, impishly reverses the method of many European travel writers by judging the metropolis according to provincial standards. His other books include Nonsense Novels (1911), Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (1915), Frenzied Fiction (1918), Winnowed Wisdom (1926), My Unremarkable Uncle (1942), Last Leaves (1945), and The Boy I Left Behind Me, an uncompleted autobiography. He also published works such as Humor: Its Theory and Technique (1935) and Humor and Humanity (1937), which argue for the place of humour in a humanitarian society.

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