Eighteenth-century British culture is often seen as polite and sentimental - the product of an emerging middle class. Simon Dickie overturns these notions in "Cruelty and Laughter", a wildly enjoyable but shocking plunge into the forgotten comic literature of the era. Beneath the veneer of civilization, Dickie uncovers a rich strain of cruelty coursing through the period that reminds us just how slowly ordinary sufferings became worthy of sympathy. Dickie delves into an enormous archive of jestbooks, comic periodicals, farces, variety shows, and minor comic novels that amount to a bottomless repository of jokes about cripples, blind men, rape, and wife-beating. He also discovers epigrams about scurvy and one-act farces about hunchbacks in love and reveals that all of these exposed the limits of compassion of the period. Everyone - rich and poor, women as well as men - laughed along. In the process, he expands our understanding of many of the century's major authors, including Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Tobias Smollett, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen."Cruelty and Laughter" is an engaging, far-reaching study of the other side of culture in eighteenth-century Britain.