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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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seem to anticipate Lear's own. These limericks, which give brief tales of idiosyncratic characters, such as the "Old Woman named Towl, / who went out to sea with her 0, I" or the "Old Woman of Croydon" who plays with a hoop like a child, seem controlled, "sensible" versions of what Lear would write. The similarities are striking with the "Old Woman at Lynn": 135

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The "Old Woman" here resembles Punch with her comically long nose and chin, and the illustration is executed with humor. Lear creates many limericks with large or unu ual H · t ry of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women, illustrated b as many engravings; exhlbltlllg their 1 5Tl prillCl;al ~~c~ntriCitieSalldamZl emellts (London: Ham,1820) in D Vrie, pp 117-18 (p 11 ) noses as the main theme, and in the following limerick he takes the 1820 limerick one step


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The unusual nose of the Old Woman at Lynn is nothing compared to Lear's Young Lady.

The Old Lady who bears the nose on her shoulder, interestingly, has a nose and chin quite like the Old Woman at Lynn, but in Lear's world, this mild sort of freakishness is rather commonplace. Lear takes the 1820 limericks further in his "old person of Harrow," which

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What was a mild idiosyncrasy in the 1820 limerick becomes a nonsensical, humorous freakishness in Lear's limerick. Lear's old person acts on motivation beyond understanding, and the illustration shows the blissful consequences for both parties. It would be inaccurate to call this a parody or a caricature of the original, but there is some relationship, some refraction of the original in its passage to nonsense.

Lear was the first, but not the only, popular practitioner of the "naY e" tyle. In 1848, two years after Lear's A Book of Nonsense, Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter appeared in England and became popular in tantly. Its Ii ely, impli tic drm lng, th ugh different from Lear' in crucial \ ay,helped t in ure the popularity of the nan e lyle.

Hoffmann, however, was no artist, but a physician, and his illustrations were conceptually and artistically less complex than Lear's. His was a more "true" naive style which did not attempt anything beyond being strikingly childish. This effect was intentional, as evidenced by his directions to his English printer not to refine his drawings,1 36 Hoffmann's illustrations, though child-like and humorous, seem one-dimensional in comparison to Lear's. The well-known image of Shock-headed Peter, for instance, illustrates the verse adequately, yet it, like most of the other illustrations, is stiff and simplistic. 137

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There is little if any interaction between picture and poem, though there is certainly an energy and a willingness to illustrate the exaggerated cautionary tales which creates amusing, violent images. Another na'ive illustrator contemporary with Lear was Rodolphe T6pffer (see next page for examples from Dr. Festus (1840)). The small sketche found within Dr. Festus are sketchy and humorous, and they also appear to be related to Lear' 1 6\Vballey and Che t r, p, 64.

1 7From Wballey and he t r, p, 64.

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style, though it is unlikely that Lear read Tapffer. The smaller pictures, though child-like, are often clumsy and rarely display the kind of artistry characteristic of Lear's drawings.

Tapffer's full-page illustrations are more carefully drawn, but with these more "artistic" drawings the child-like quality vanishes. Neither Hoffmann nor Tapffer exhibit quite the combination of the na·ive and sophisticated demonstrated in Lear's nonsense. Just as literary nonsense text is often a marriage of high and "low" literary (and oral) forms, so the illustrations combine masterful artistic skill with rule-breaking pictorial expressions of childhood.

Lear's contemporary reviewers were perhaps more aware than today's critics of his innovations in the na·ive style and frequently commented on his originality and skill. An article just after Lear's death, in the 1888 Spectator, asks, "after all, was not his popularity due in great measure to the pictorial embellishments of his text, which, being idealised versions of the scrawlings of a clever child, were exactly in harmony with the requirements of his juvenile readers?"138 Contemporary reviewers most commonly commented upon this quality of Lear's "scrawlings," and it was this characteristic which proved the most influential. Imitators like A. Nobody (Gordon Brown) and C. L. Fraser would try to capture the same spirit, but none found Lear's success. A review from The Saturday Review, in 1888, states that "The drawings very cunningly combine the clumsy conventions dear to children with types and expressions that display real artistic knowledge and observation. "139 After giving a limerick as an example, the reviewer continues: "in all the really successful pictures in this book there is on one hand the concession to childishness which childhood appreciates, combined on the other hand with genuine humour, and sometimes with a mild species of genuine satire" (p. 361). Taking the Young Lady of Hull and the Young Lady of Troy as examples, we see the combination of naIve

drawing with real skill:

138"Nonsense Pure and Simple," The Spectator, no. 3149 (3 November, 1888), 1503-5 (p. 1503). That reviews in the 1880s were still commenting on the originality of Lear's illustrations (which had first appeared arOlmd fourty years earlier) shows how eyen those who imitated Lear did not cntlfely succeed.

139"Lear's Book of Nonsense" The Saturday Revinl', 65.1691 (24 \larch, 1888),361-2 (p. 361 ).

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The drawing of the Young Lady of Hull, with the bare minimum of line, no shading and the typically Learian flailing limbs, manages to convey her bold, almost carefree defiance.

The bull, also simply drawn, is full of character, and seems to be "distracted" into a starryeyed affection for the Young Lady. Here, we also glimpse a picture/poem discrepancy of the violence and fright implied by the text opposed to the sheer joy apparent in the illustration. 14o The Young Lady of Troy is sparsely drawn in a mock-classical style, while she carries the comically huge flies, drawn with childish lack of perspective and detail.

These illustrations are only ostensibly in the na'ive style; they, like most of the limerick illustrations, go far beyond the inherent limitations and true simplicity of naIve illustrations.

Perhaps the root of Lear's innovations in illustrations is their interrelationship with the text. It is particularly telling that rather than calling Lear's drawings "illustrations," the 1888 Spectator critic labels them "pictorial embellishments" of the text, implying that they and the text, more like in Blake's works, are integral. Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789) was perhaps the first children's book, if it can indeed be called that, to integrate word and image so closely, as in 'The Ecchoing Green."

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141Compare this limerick to a later ersion of it in Lear's Bosh and Nonsense (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Books, 1982), p. 15, \ hich seems more faithful to the text. The woman appear omewhat more shocked and th bull look on iderably more "virulent" as it charges her 140All passages from ongs of Innocence and Experience are from Songs of Innocence alld of Etpenellce.

1789,17 4, ed. ir G ffr K n (xf rd: P.l%7).

The first plate, original itself in the intermixed images and text, is, however, more or less illustrative of the song. The scene at the top of the first page shows "Old John" and the old folk under the tree with the infants, while the older children sport around them.

Surrounding and within the text are smaller illustrations, showing boys at other sports.

The next page, however, has a much more curious illustration which shows the party heading homeward. A twisted tree climbs the side of the plate and wraps around the text.

Among the branches are male youths: one reaches for grapes while the other lounges, holding a bunch of grapes down to the outstretched arm of a young, haloed girl. Such suggestive imagery, which, among many possible interpretations can signify the coming of sexual maturity, opens the song to extratextual suggestions, ideas only hinted at in the closing "darkening green" of the song. Most of Blake's illuminations in this volume (and others) contain the enigmatic figures around and within the text, whose significance is, at best, only suggested. As in nonsense, the relationship between image and text rarely finds

closure. Heather Glen comments on this relationship in Blake's illustrations:

the sense of art to which that interplay [visual and verbal] points can be traced in some of their most puzzling verbal features: their refusal to 'instruct', to confirm expectations of closure, finality, and unambiguous generalization; the apparently unrelated perspectives from which they address their audience. The reader is not offered an authoritative and static text, but called upon to participate in a dynamic act of creation. It is an act of creation which involves a curiously skeptical attitude towards the language of which the poems are made... (p.72) Glen notes many of the same qualities found in Lear's picture/poem "nonsenses": a lack of closure, a text requiring the reader's active participation in meaning creation, and a "skeptical attitude" towards language. 142 Blake's Songs, however, reached only a very small audience, and it would mainly be through Lear's nonsense that such qualities would find a wider exposure.1 43 142See Introduction, Part 2 and Chapters 6 and 7 for more on reader response in relation to nonsense.

l·.13There is no direct evidence that Lear knew of Blake, but it seems likely that he did at some stage.

considerin b his keen knowledge of the art world and his involvement with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. a o group influenced by Blake.

Lear's illustrations, like Blake's, do not simply corres}X)nd to the text, but actually embellish it, initiating a relationship which adds further meaning (or anti-meaning). This interactive quality was, with the exception of Blake, almost unheard of in children's books.

As Meyer states, "Lear's pen drawings embellished each limerick. Here he invented a form never before attempted and virtually impossible to imitate. "144 These illustrations were so striking that reviewers commented on them with some of the same criteria as they did on the limerick text. A reviewer in The Spectator from 1870 notes in the illustrations the same combination of sense and nonsense found in the text, an unprecedented critical practice in children's literature: ''The nonsense botany is genuine nonsense,--extravagant enough to make the most prosaic man laugh; but yet nonsensical precisely because it recognizes the laws of sense, and directly traverses them. "145 Lear's illustrations were thus elevated to "texts" in themselves, creating nonsense in the same way as the wri tten text.

Lear's illustrations establish three distinct kinds of relationship with the text. First, there are some limerick illustrations which do attempt mimesis. For example, the following

illustration is an exact depiction of the limerick:

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E. Meyer, A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators (New York: Abradale Pre, 144 lIsan Harry N. bram, 1987), p. 56.

145 "The cience of Nonsen e,"The Spectator (17 December, 1870), 1505-6 (p. 1505). For. a modem analysi of nonsen e illu trations s e H nd.rik v~ ~euwen, 'The Lia on of Vi ~ and Wntt n 0 in Explorations illlhe Field oj NOll ell, e, d. Wun Tlgge (Am terdam: RodoPl, 1987). pp. 1-95 The drawing is amusing in its child-like simplicity, showing the fantastic beard and the man's (and birds') expression of contentment, but it does little except faithfully represent the words, albeit with a time discrepancy. This is a true illustration, rather than a "pictorial embellishment." There are surprisingly few of these throughout the limericks.

The next two types of illustration are those which add essential information to the text/picture unit. 146 One type furthers the joke implied by the text. This occurs in the

following limerick:

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Obviously, the joke here is in the crab's size which is only indicated by the drawing, even though the text implies, perhaps in its strong wording, that this crab is unusually terrifying.

Another example is the Old Man in a pew:

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In this limerick, the drawing contributes substantially to the joke, not simply in showing the joyous nieces bouncing around the Old Man, but in adding an extra detail which makes the whole unit much richer: the two girls in the foreground are each wearing dresses which seem to be made out of the Old Man's previous blue-spotted, and shredded, waistcoats.

This perhaps explains their joy at such a dubious present. However, the one girl in the back (though it is difficult in such a depthless drawing to place her with certainty) wears a plain dress; her joy is inexplicable. In both of these limericks, the illustrations hold a dialogue with the text--they embellish it, creating new jokes and further elaboration.

This sort of relationship can be seen in Hood's Whims and Oddities, in the poem, "Please to Ring the Belle." Though this poem is distasteful to us now for its open racism, the relationship between picture and poem is very much what Lear was to copy. The poem

about "Y oung Love" coming to calion Lucy:

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