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«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»

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Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's

literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis.

http://theses.gla.ac.uk/2822/

Copyright and moral rights for this thesis are retained by the author

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The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the Author When referring to this work, full bibliographic details including the author, title, awarding institution and date of the thesis must be given Glasgow Theses Service http://theses.gla.ac.uk/ theses@gla.ac.uk Isles of Boshen Edward Lear's Literary Nonsense in Context Michael Benjamin Heyman Thesis submitted for the degree of PhD University of Glasgow Department of English Literature June 1999 © Michael Benjamin Heyman, 1999 Abstract Isles of Boshen: Edward Lear's Literary Nonsense in Context Michael Benjamin Heyman This thesis investigates three major areas in the background of Edward Lear's literary nonsense: the parodic relationship with text and genre of early children's literature, the trends behind Lear's innovative illustration style, and the "nonsense" child construct manifest within the genre, which I claim is, in many ways, an expression of the Romantic conception of the child.

The first chapter explores the parodic basis of nonsense. Most literary nonsense is referential; it often begins by inhabiting a genre or individual work, but what it does to the original is debatable. Some critics see nonsense as parody, while others claim that nonsense precludes parody in its intentional purposelessness. In this chapter I explore the critical debate surrounding parody in nonsense, and parody in general. I then examine the works of Lear, and some Carroll, looking first at their genuine, clear parodies. Next, I look at the many borderline cases of parody which use nonsense as a device but are not overshadowed by it. Finally, I discuss the more "pure" literary nonsense which, I argue, goes beyond parody to establish a new genre.

The next chapter looks at the background of Lear's nonsense illustration. His style of illustration was a wildly original combination of devices which are best seen in the context of the children's book illustrations of his day. With Bewick's innovations in woodcuts, the quality of children's illustrations had drastically improved. Diverging from this trend, Lear's illustrations hearken back to the rough chapbooks which he probably readas a child. His child-like style, coupled with an expert draughtsman's eye, began a rival tradition of children's book illustration. His illustrations are in way caricatures of chapbooks. His text and illustrations, like those of Blake and Hood, are integral, and their self-reflexiveness with the verses places them in an altogether different class of illustration.

The last several chapters are based on a reading of literary nonsense as a "Romantic" reaction to pre-Victorian child constructs originating with Locke and Rousseau and later developed by others, including Edgeworth, Godwin, and the Lambs. Lear's nonsense can be seen as an expression of the Romantic conception of the child developed primarily by Wordsworth, but also significantly by Blake and Coleridge. Chapter 3 is on the glorification, yet inherent anxiety, of individuality prevalent in both Romantic writing and Lear's nonsense. Lear's promotion of extreme individuality in the face of social and environmental opposition goes against the assumptions of pre-Romantic treatments of the child. Chapter 4 focuses on the "wild child," a child unfettered by the restrictions of society, yet who is still considered innocent and free from sin. The term "wild" is especially appropriate, as Lear's particular attention to the union of the animal kingdom and humanity relates to the Romantic fusing of the concepts of the animal and the child with little distinction. Chapter 5 deals with the elevated view of the child popularized by the Romantics. Nonsense, like the poetry of Wordsworth, calls attention to the 'fall' from childhood to adulthood, which is indicated by a split reading of Lear, one from the child's perspective and one from the adult's. One of the most important repercussions of this elevated view, discussed in Chapter 6, is the imparting of a divine imagination to the child.

Such divine power, creating and receiving, is the basis for much of Wordsworth's elevated view of the child. In Lear's nonsense, this type of imagination is necessary to appreciate and fuse the various inherent nonsense devices. Chapter 7 utilizes the theories of Wolfgang Iser and Gilles Deleuze to grapple with the issue of "sense" and "non-sense," and argues for a reading of Lear as the latter. Set against th.e background of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century attempts to reveal th~ ~»ild as an understandable text, Chapter 8 argues that both the nonsense and the Romantic child constructs reflect the "non-sense" child, a new conception of the child defying a'riillysis, categorization, or dissection.

Acknowledgements I would like to thank the English Literature Department at the University of Glasgow, especially my supervisors Richard Cronin, Nicola Trott, and Stephen Prickett for their support throughout my work on this thesis. Thanks also to The Right Honorable The Earl of Derby for use of the collection at Knowsley, Amanda Straw for help at Knowsley, Vivien Noakes for letting me rifle through her unpublished Lear material, John Edmondson of the Liverpool Museum for showing me the Knowsley critters, including "the" owl, and the Houghton Library.





None of this would have been possible without the love and support of my parents, Paul and Gloria Heyman, my brother, Peter Heyman, my aunt Sheila Alexander, Grandma, and Bubby. I cannot thank them enough. This is dedicated to them and to Sayoni Q. Basu who has always put up with my nonsense.

Table of Contents

–  –  –

Nineteenth-century literary nonsense as a children's genre holds a curiously isolated historical and literary position. While nonsense of one sort or another has almost always been present in literature, the unique children's genre we now call "literary nonsense, " which was to a great extent created and popularized by Edward Lear (1812-1888), has had a sporadic and somewhat mysterious past. The genre comes from two main cultural and literary streams: the "adult," "literary" tradition and the folk tradition of songs, ballads, and nursery rhymes. Its written, "literary" side, which is its most dominant quality and that which distinguishes it from the folk tradition, began strictly as an adult mode. As Noel Malcolm states in The Origins 0/ English Nonsense, "full-scale nonsense poetry as an English literary phenomenon is.... a literary genre with a particular history or histories, developed by individual poets and possessing a peculiarly close relationship--Iargely a parodic one--to the 'high' literary conventions of its day. ''2 Nonsense or near-nonsense texts first appeared in England in the mid-fifteenth century, though in forms considerably different from what we now call nonsense. Probably influenced by continental nonsense which had been around since at least the thirteenth century, the English version primarily included "impossibilia," or impossible actions and phenomena, such as the blind seeing or the sun shining at night. 3 After this brief surge, it disappeared until 1611, when John Hoskyns almost single-handedly started a resurgence of nonsense verse which lasted 1 Rabindranath Tagore, I Won't Let You Go: Selected Poems, trans. Ketaki Kushari Dyson (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1991).

2Noel Malcolm, The Origins of English Nonsense (London: Fontana/HarperCollins, 1997), p. 4.

Malcolm's book gives an excellent history of nonsense through the seventeenth century. Malcolm's main thesis is that literary nonsense does not corne from the folk tradition, but he writes on seventeenth-century nonsense rather than that of the nineteenth-century, which I would argue combines the "Ii terary" and the folk in a new "literary" form for children.

3t\1alcolm. Pl'. 52-62.

around forty years and produced one of the geniuses of nonsense, John Taylor. 4 But the nonsense verse of this period, again, was quite different from nineteenth-century nonsense, usually being highly topical, "intellectual," and meant for adults. This flowering of nonsense died away by mid-century, only to be remembered in a few miscellanies thereafter. It would be over a hundred and fifty years before the genre would start anew, but in a different guise and aimed at children, from the pen of Edward Lear, an expert landscape and wildlife artist, a travel book writer, a humorous letter writer, and the father of children's literary nonsense.

Even through the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century, the few texts which could be considered close to literary nonsense were usually meant for adult readers, such as Foote's famous ''The Great Panjandrum" (1755) or Henry Cogswell Knight's "Lunar Stanzas" (1815), to name two of the most famous examples. 5 Satire dominated this period which left little room for more pure nonsense, though it was used sparingly as a device rather than a genre. As a device, it appeared in glimpses, such as in Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760-7). The eighteenth century also saw a slow increase in nursery rhyme publication, starting around the first decade with the unknown ''T.W. "'s A Little Bookjor Little Children and gaining momentum towards the middle of the century with more comprehensi ve works like Mother Goose's Melody, or Sonnets jar the Cradle (around 1760). 6 But while nursery rhyme and the folk tradition have been a considerable influence on nineteenth-century nonsense, the writing of Lear and Carroll is distinct from this tradition, as Malcolm and other critics have shown. 7 4Malcolm, p. 52. According to a hand-written library catalogue of 1830, a copy of All the Works of John Taylor the Water Poet, collected into one volume by the Author (1630) was at the Knowsley Estate during Lear's residence there, though there is no direct evidence to show that Lear read it.

5 An exception to this is Ann and Jane Taylor's adaptation of an older chapbook in their Signor TopsyTurvey's Wonderful Magic Lantern (1810), which has the kind of role-reversing found in seventeenthcentury nonsense, but written for children.

6The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, 1951, eds. Iona and Peter Opie (Oxford: OUP, 1992), pp. 30See Malcolm, p. 4; Wim Tigges, An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988), p.

101; Nina Demurova, ''Toward a Definition of Alice's Genre: The Folktale and Fairy-Tale Connections" in Lewis Carroll: A Celebration, ed. Edward Guiliano (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1982), pp. 75-88, (p. 79); Elizabeth Sewell,The Field of Nonsense (London: Chatto and Windus, 1952), p. 85; Emile Cammaerts, The Poetry of Nonsense (London: Routledge, 1925), pp. -+649. All references to these authors shall refer to these works, unless otherwise noted.

If we skip Lear, Carroll, and the rest of the nineteenth century momentarily, we find a curious twist to the course of nonsense. Although literary nonsense drastically changed the face of children's literature, as a more "pure" form for children it seems to have died away toward the tum of the century. Instead of remaining a children's genre, nonsense returned to its old adult audience in various forms. Even during Lear's success as a limerick writer, the limerick was being popularized by and for adult audiences in a much more successful manner than Lear's imitators who were writing for children. 8 In the twentieth century, the great, direct inheritors of the nonsense method and style have been distinctly "adult" writers such as Edward Gorey and Mervyn Peake, who steered nonsense down an altogether darker path. 9 In the novel there was Joyce, and in poetry, Wallace Stevens and Gertrude Stein, among others, all exploring the possibilities of nonsense.1 0 It turns up as an influence on the surrealist movement and Dada, and on the Eastern philosophy of Alan Watts. I I Yet from children's literature, its original springboard, it has to a great extent disappeared as a separate, formal genre. I2 Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl, more recent inheritors of some nonsense methods, use the occasional nonsense device effectively, but their writing for children cannot be considered literary nonsense. There are exceptions, of course, the most obvious being that Lear has never gone out of print and still may be found on the shelves, in his original form and in many selections with new 8Imitators like Gordon Brown (writing as "A. Nobody," Nonsense; For Somebody Anybody or Everybody Particularly the Baby-Body (c. 1895) and Some More Nonsense For the Same Bodies as Before (1896»received little attention or success in the children's book market. In the 1860s, when Lear's limericks reached their height of popularity, Punch began printing limericks, and the limerick contest craze began. See W.S. Baring-Gould, Rupert Hart-Davis,The Lure of the Limerick (London: Hart-Davis, 1%9), p. 32; and, G. Legman, The Limerick: 1700 Limericks covering every bawdy topic from the 14th century to modern times (London: Granada, 1964, 1979), pp. 8-11.

9Peake's children's book, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (1939) is an exception to this, but, not surprisingly, several contemporary critics questioned the suitability of CaptainSlaughteboard for children.

Much of his nonsense is decidedly adult in nature, particularly his volume of nonsense verse, A Book of Nonsense (1972). Peake's superlative nonsense poems in Titus Groan (1946) are particularly interesting, as some appear within the novel, in a child's book, yet it is hard to imagine any real child to be the intended audience.

I OSee Alison Reike, The Senses of Nonsense (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992) for more on modem, adult nonsense.

IlSee Alan Watts, Nonsense (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977).

12Nonsense was occasionally seen in children's literature, such as in a small amount of Kipling, Laura E.

Richards, and some Carl Sandburg, but it rarely approached the quality and intensity of Lear' s and Carroll's nonsense. See Kipling's "How the Whale Got His Throat" in Just So Stories (1897) and Laura E.

Richards, nrra Lirra: Rhymes Old and New (1933) and I Have a Song to Sing You: Still.\fore Rhymes (1938). See also Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories (1924).



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