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Historical Context in The Lady, or the Tiger?

19th-Century Humorists: Distinct from comedians, humorists are intellectuals who use humor in their writings or public speeches for the purpose of argument—rather than pure entertainment. Humorists often approach their subject matter subtly. This subtlety can be seen in the works of Mark Twain and Frank Stockton, often heralded as the leaders of the American humorist movement. Stockton combines humor with surprise endings to subvert expectations, as he does in “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

Fantasy and the Influence of Pre-Raphaelites: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of British artists who gained influence in the 1850s. These artists used vivid depictions of fairy-tale settings to evoke an idealized artistic era of the past. These artists had great influence on writers who incorporated fantasy elements in their works, such as J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Frank Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger?” shows some of the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. However, fantasy literature of Stockton’s day distinguished itself from its Pre-Raphaelite roots by adding elements of irony and absurdity. American humorists used irreverence and absurdity to express the same displeasure with modern, mechanized society that the Pre-Raphaelites condemned.

Historical Context Examples in The Lady, or the Tiger?:

The Lady, or the Tiger?

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"In after years such things became commonplace enough..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

Stockton wrote “The Lady, or the Tiger” at the dawn of the modern fantasy genre. Scottish author George MacDonald began to define the genre and its archetypes in the early to mid 1800s, and the genre that we know as “fantasy” began to solidify near the end of the Victorian era.

"hired mourners..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

Professional mourners, or moirologists, are traditionally employed for religious ceremonies, delivering eulogies, lamenting the deceased, etc. In Stockton’s story, the mourners are hired to increase the theatricality of the trials.

"exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

This statement about the importance of violence to culture can be read as a criticism of the serious-minded literature on the rise in Stockton’s this time. Stockton feared that as the turn of the century grew closer, the comical and somewhat detached nature of his work would become a relic of the past. Indeed, as modernism entered the literary realm with its solemn reactions to the horrors of the early 20th century, the Pre-Raphaelite ideals held by Stockton became quaint and inconsequential.

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