Skip To Content

Athabasca University

Stephen Leacock

Photo of Stephen Leacock

Born in Swanmore, England in 1869 Stephen Leacock is one of Canada’s great writers of humorous fiction. After many failed attempts at farming in England, South Africa and the United States, his father took the family to the Lake Simcoe area of Ontario. Leacock’s father eventually abandoned the family, leaving his mother in charge of eleven children. Leacock was educated locally, and then at Upper Canada College. He went on to the University of Toronto, and then to the University of Chicago where he studied political economy. In 1903 he took a position as lecturer at McGill University, where he eventually became head of the Department of Economics and Political Science.

Leacock wrote much non-fiction, but he is best known for his humorous fiction. His first collection of humorous stories appeared in 1910, Literary Lapses. They were musings, parodies, satires, funny anecdotes and conversations. Since they were collected from various sources, the stories shared very little in common other than Leacock’s sharp sense of humor. His two most important books of humor are Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) and Arcadian Adventures with the Idol Rich (1914). In the former, Leacock takes us to small-town Ontario, and while the people and practices of this town are clearly satirized, it is done with a great deal of affection. The latter takes place in a large American city and is much more scathing in its criticism of what Leacock saw as a hypocritical, self-serving and ultimately destructive economic upper-class.

Leacock also wrote extensively about humor, which he saw as the ultimate expression of human kindness and progress. He wrote about Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and others, and his thesis is most fully developed in Humour and Humanity (1937). While some critiqued his reliance on a "lesser" genre, Leacock remained dedicated to his first love, humor. (Lee Skallerup)

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.