Are there any great works of literature that are not funny?

I was reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis again last night and was struck by how it actually contained a deep vein of dark humor throughout. In high school, the way literature was taught seemed to strongly suggest that there were “serious” works and “humorous” works and never the twain shall meet. But thinking back on all of the works of literature that have profoundly affected me, there’s always been humor laced throughout.

So are there any great works of literature that aren’t also funny?

Pilgrim’s Progress

Silas Marner (for certain notions of “great”)

The Bible.

Seriously, there are at most, like, five jokes in the entire Bible, and they’re not even funny. Actually, the utter humorlessness of Christianity is one of the things that always made me wonder how it ever caught on.

(Link to article on biblical jokes on some weird site called “the Straight Dope”.)

I once took a course on the English comic novel and it was the most depressing set of books I’ve ever read.*

  • Except for utopias, which make me suicidal.

There’s not a lot of laughs in The Waste Land or anything by T. S. Eliot. Speaking of whom – Raymond Chandler was born the same year as him, and Chandler’s work is reliably somber, with only occasional and brief moments of light-hearted dialogue to leaven the grimness.

Have you not read the book of Jonah? That story is not just funny; it’s deliberately funny.

I found the incident where Silas attempts to punish Eppie by putting her in the coal-hole to be mildly humorous; but yeah, not a laff-a-minute book.

I’ve claimed before that there’s a significant amount of humor in the book of Acts.
To the OP: The great poems are probably a more fertile ground for humorlessness than the great novels.

Thomas Hardy. Hardy-har-har. Not.

*Oh the moon shone bright on Mrs Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water *

I love Hardy, but I have to agree. Also Edith Wharton, especially Ethan Frome.

Great Expectations. Gaaaahhhh.

That’s what you get for believing anything in The Straight Dope…AHAHAHA

Seriously, the Bible does have a lot of humor, but not in the Laurel and Hardy sense. More in the Shakespearean/Stephen Wright/Robin Williams/Clive Barker/Twilight Zone sense. Some of the jokes are not funny, because you don’t understand the customs of the time.

Example 1: A man molests the sister of another man (Names are omitted because I’m too tired to dig out my Bible and I’m at work - It’s Genesis 34, look it up). The penalty is death. The molester begs and pleads to marry the woman. No dice. The offended man says the molester can have her and everybody can be friends IF he and his tribe are circumcised.

So the man and his tribe agree. A few days later, the offended man and his tribe kill every last one of the now-in-pain men.

Pretty funny, huh? Kinda like a Old Testament Pulp Fiction scene…

Example 2:

Jesus tells a man that his sins are forgiven (Mark 2:1-9) to take up his mat. He was lame and Jesus healed him. . The Pharisees questioned his ability and authority to do this. Jesus says (and I picture Joe Pesce’s character from Goodfellas here) “What is easier? To say your sins are forgiven or to take up your mat and walk? But just so you know who I am…” and he turns to the lame man and says “Take up your mat and go home”.

I almost imagine Jesus grabbing his crotch and saying, “Heal this bitches”…but that’s just me…It might have happened, but I’m sure the apostles left that out.

A novel with characters named Pip, Compeyson, Drummle, Gargery, Jaggers, Magwitch, Orlick, Pocket, Pumblechook, Skiffins, Startop, Waldengarver, Wemmick, and Wopsle can’t be said to be totally humorless.

Especially when two of those characters are, in fact, the same person, and between them they manage to give the world’s worst performance of Hamlet :slight_smile:

I don’t seem to be having too much trouble thinking of works of literature that aren’t funny… even though I tend to avoid the really depressing stuff. Moby-Dick, Jane Eyre, The Last of the Mohicans, The Grapes of Wrath… well, not that they were totally devoid of any moment of humor, but I wouldn’t call them “funny”.

I was surprised to discover that Hemingway had quite a nice dry sense of humor when I read A Moveable Feast.

Then of course there’s stuff like Tobacco Road that’s pretty funny but not intentionally.

Oh, I think there’s a LOT of intentional comedy there. Every tme Dude proudly honks the horn of the new car, while wrecking it bit by bit, you’re definitely SUPPOSED to laugh.

I don’t remember any humor in “The Sound and the Fury”, though it has been 20 years since I read it.

I would say most of Willa Cather’s work is not funny. Beautiful, but not funny.

A lot of great novels are funny, but I think it is very common for them to be non-funny.

I would disagree with “The Grapes of Wrath”. I think there is a decent amount of humor there.

I don’t recall being amused during either Night or For Whom the Bell Tolls

I’m still working my way through Moby Dick and I haven’t gotten to the depths of the book, but the beginning is hilarious. Or maybe it’s just Melville’s sense of humor and mine line up.