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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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that the text reconstructs, by various references and devices, the author's conception of the ideal contemporary reader. 159 Iser remarks that "This image of the intended reader can take on different forms, according to the text being dealt with: it may be the idealized reader~ or it may reveal itself through anticipation of the norms and values of contemporary readers. "160 In Lear's case, the "norms and values" are manifest in several ways, as his ideal audience of Victorian children and adults share certain cultural experiences, including a knowledge of the parodied texts (seen in Chapter 1) and the precedents behind nonsense illustration (in Chapter 2). However, because his audience is split between children and adults, their readings, though sometimes merging, may differ significantly. My concern here is not the adult reader per se, unless, as frequently happens, the adult is defined in relation to characteristics of the child, as I will show in detail in Chapter 5. It is important to remember that this audience is only a virtual one--one that is implied in the text and in no way is meant to be "real," though probably exhibiting some characteristics of a typical contemporary reader. We must not mistake a real reader interpreting a text for the process of the text implying a reader. Lear's ideal audience would respond, sometimes quite differently according to whether child or adult, to the extreme individuality asserted in his work (Chapter 3), the glorification of the "wild" nature of children (Chapter 4), and the elevated nature of the child, approaching divinity (Chapters 5 and 6, respectively). The intended reader of Wolff is thus constructed from these and other assumptions of the historical audience manifest in the text.

Iser recognizes the truth of Wolff's construct, admitting, "Clearly, the historical qualities which influenced the author at the time of writing mould the image of the intended

reader..., "161 but Iser approaches the reader construct from another angle:

If, then, we are to try and understand the effects cause~ and the resp~:mses elicited by literary works, we must allow for.the.rea~er s I?res~nce WIthout in any way predetermining his character or ~IS ~stoncal SItuation. W~ may call him, for want of a better term, t~e ImplIed reader. He.eIll:ixxiIes all those predispositions necessary for a hterary ~~)fk to e~ercise I~S effect--predispositions laid down, no~ by ~n empInca1 outSIde realIty, ?ut by the text itself. Consequently, the ImplIed reader as a concept has hIS 159Erwin Wolff, "Der i ntendierte Leser" Poetica, 4- (1971). 141-66.

160Iscr, Ad. p. 33.

161 Ibid, p. 33.

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The "historical situation" implies a limited set of reader perspectives, but these constructs are, so to speak, trapped in the text. Iser's implied reader, on the other hand, emerges solely from the text and hence, he claims, is more universal and historically independent.

Because Iser's reader is text-based, he or she can be identified only by close attention to devices which are meant to guide the reader in meaning-fonnation. I will only briefly mention some of these devices here, saving a more detailed approach for the following chapters. The text incorporates "a network of response-inviting structures, which impel the reader to grasp the text. "162 These structures include what he labels blanks, negation, and negativity, among others, all of which leave room for the reader's reaction. Aiden Chambers offers a similar reader construct, and explains some of these "response-inviting structures" as, "the way [the author] signals his intentions, his evocation of suspense, the introouction of the unexpected, and the way he can play about with the reader's expected responses.... All these create a relationship between an author and his reader....in which an author reveals in his narrative what he wants from his reader, what kind of relationship he looks for. "163 Chambers' stress on the author's relationship is an important concept here, in that literary nonsense is in the peculiar position of not, in the end, being able to evoke a "meaning" at all. Rather than establishing a meaning, even a subjective one, nonsense operates by both drawing forth and frustrating meaning. The effect of the text is of importance here, and takes the place of what Iser and Chambers sometimes call the "meaning" of the text. The process of deriving the "meaning," or effect, of the text is governed by the "fulfillment of conditions that have already been structured in the text. "164 It is these "conditions" which identify the implied reader. For Iser, this effect is evoked by the dual nature of a text, in his tenns, the "artistic" side and the "aesthetic 162Ibid, p. 34.

163 Aiden Chambers, "The Reader in the Book" in The Signal Approach to Children's Books, ed. :--':ancy Chambers (Harmondswort11: Kestrel Books, 1980), pp. 250-275 (p. 266).

164Iser, Act, pp. 49-50.

side": the "artistic" or verbal aspect "guides the reaction [of the reader] and prevents it from being arbitrary" while the "aesthetic," or "the affective aspect is the fulfillment of that which has been prestructured by the language of the text" (p. 21). When these factors combine, the reader creates a "virtual" end product, one which is a personal "ideation" while still being guided by the text. 165 The mechanism by which this process works will be explained in the following chapters.

165The word ""deau" on"1"S Iser's translation of the Gennan vorstellen, which is "to evoke the presence of something which is not given" (Iser, Act, p" 137)"

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One of nonsense's most characteristic themes is its insistence on complete individuality and disdain for convention. Klaus Reichert sees this subject as the most important link between the Romantics and nonsense, the "tension of being an individual in a collective, the 'Ich-Zerrissenheit'.,,167 This anxiety of the self being "tom apart," a tension emerging from the fiercely individualistic tendencies of the Romantic period, is heightened in the Victorian period, in which occurred more than ever before a "conflict between the freedom of the individual and the stability of the social organism that contains him.,,168 On the one hand, Victoria's reign, according to Thwaite, was "Most marked... [by] the widespread belief in individualism and voluntary effort, a natural accompaniment of the laissez-faire doctrine advocated for industry and government. "169 Many initiatives for the poor and for human rights reform were voluntary, while at the same time the individual was given increasing political responsibility. Likewise, the government kept as far away from business regulation as possible, though this would change as the century progressed. 170 In the public sector, individuality and personal strength were increasingly respected as can 166Catherine Sinclair, Holiday House (Edinburgh: William Whyte, 1839).

167 Lewis Ca"oll: Studien zum literarischen Unsinn (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1974). Quoted in Tigges, p. 252.

168Ina Rae Hark, "Edward Lear: Eccentricity and Victorian Angst," Victorian Poetry. 16 (1978), 112-122 (p. 112).

169Thwaite, p. 94.._.

170'"[ake, for example, the inordinate amount of time it took for the government to rcc~t y the child-Iabo~ situation. See Raymond Chapman, The Victorian Debate, English Literature and Socletv J832-Jc)()J (\cw 'York: Basic Books, 1968). pp. 14-17.

be seen, for instance, in such differing works as Carlyle's popular lectures collectively entitled "On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History" (1841) and Samuel Smiles' Self-Help (1859), which sold well throughout the century. 171 On the other hand, Victorian society, at least ostensibly, often demanded a strict conformity to social standards regarding religion, sexuality, class structure, and the family unit. 172 Since the late-eighteenth century, the child had been increasingly portrayed as an individual as well. The mass-marketed children's books of Newbery, for instance, starting around 1744, were typically aimed at a generalized child, ignoring such factors as age and sex. Because these works moralized heavily, their portraits of children were more ideal and therefore indistinct and lacking in careful observation. 173 However, with Rousseau's influence and the Romantic movement, the child was increasingly perceived as an individual possessing unique and valuable qualities. In literature, this trend began around the 1760s with writers like Lloyd, Miss Whately, and Cowper. Bums was perhaps the most daring, in poems like A Poet's Welcome to his Love-Begotten Daughter (1784) which not only glorifies the individual child, but an illegitimate child. As we shall see, the individualization of the child flowered in the writing of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, as well as that of Blake and Coleridge. This trend could also be seen, albeit slightly later, in the art world starting with the work of John Millais, whose controversial and popular paintings of children, like Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50), The Woodman's Daughter (1851) and Cherry Ripe (1879) both brought a deeper awareness of the idealized and individual (and sexualized) child and satisfied the public's growing fascination with and desire for paintings of children. 174 Of course, this shift was not simply a 171See Paul Turner, English Literature 1832-1890 Excluding the Novel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 5-6, for more on the increased emphasis on individuality in the Victorian period as seen in the works of Tennyson, Mill, Browning, Hopkins, and Pater.

172Chapman, pp. 5-6~ See also Richard D. Altick, Victorian People and Ideas (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1973), esp. pp.238-246; Jerome Hamilton Buckley, The Victorian Temper: A Study in Literary Culture (London: Frank Cass, 1966), esp. pp. 91-2.

173 A. Charles Babenroth, English Childhood, Wordsworth's Treatment of Childhood in the Light of English Poetry from Prior to Crabbe (New York: Columbia tW, 1922), p. 25...

174In a letter to Fortecue of January 23, 1853 (LEL), Lear claims that he was present,... hen \lillaIS began "The Blind Girl" (1856). Millais painted children frequently, partly as a response to public demand. See Robert M. Polhemus, "John Mill ai s' s Children: Faith and Erotics: The Woodman's Daughter (1851)" in Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination, ed. Carol T. Christ and John O. Jordan (Berkleley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 289-312 (pp. 289-90).

philosophical one. The cult of childhood had significant financial implications. The demand for children's books was increasing rapidly, and publishers of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, like Harris, Marshall, and Godwin, were discovering and expanding the many niches of the market. By mid-nineteenth century, children's books had branched off into many categories and covered most subjects. There were calls, as in Catherine Sinclair's passage heading this chapter, to recognize the individuality of the child, but no one was quite prepared for the radical individuality promoted by Lear's nonsense. Later in the century, when the image of the child became hyper-idealized, as can be seen in the later works of Millais like Bubbles (1886), the children's book illustrations of Kate Greenaway, and the angelic, sentimentalized characters like MacDonald's "Diamond" in At the Back of the North Wind (1871) children lost much of their hard-won individuality. As Polhemus comments, ''Turning the child into a fetish of the good, however, denies children their own separate identities" (p. 301). Lear, however, in the wake of Romantic writing, was one of the least compromising children's writers concerning the individualization of the child.

If anyone was able to stand "outside the conventions of the Victorian compromise, with its heavy insistence on the domestic bliss of hearth and home, "175 it was Edward Lear, and, likewise, his nonsense expresses a reliance on individuality and a disregard for convention. This quality was recognized in reviews of Lear, such as the 1888 review of the twenty-fifth edition of A Book of Nonsense: "Another lasting charm which breathes through the book is the gallant spirit of so many of the characters, and their noble disregard of any of those inconveniences which ensue upon the indulgence of personal eccentricity.... [[he limericks] are instances of a great spirit of independence.... "176 The forces of external society are represented as the ubiquitous "them" of the limericks or as other nameless collectives of censorious conformers. Orwell aptly called ''them'' "the realists, the practical men, the sober citizens in bowler hats who are always anxious to stop Illustrators for children were becoming increasingly important as well. See Chapter 2 for more on children's book illustration.

175S tephen Prickett, Victorian Fantasy (Ha~socks: The ~arve~ter Pr~ss, 1979):~. 115. Throughout his life, Lear was constantly on the fringe of socIety, frequentmg anstocratIc and artIstIc Circles, but never qwte fitting in.

176"1 £ar' s Book of Nonsense," 11,e Saturday Review, 65.1691 (24 March, 1888),361-62 (p. 361).

you doing anything worth doing. "177 The relationship between "them" and the individual is most frequently aggressive or at least uneasy, but ''they'' sometimes are helpful and accepting, as with the old person of Fife, ''Who was greatly disgusted with life; / They sang him a ballad, And fed him on salad, / Which cured that old person of Fife." (p. 159).

Nevertheless, "they" usually are "the force of public opinion, the dreary voice of human mediocrity: 'they' are perpetually interfering with the liberty of the individual.... "178 The tension between unique personal identity and conformity to "them" is indicated in the limericks and other nonsense writing by a marked anxiety concerning individuality.

Such an anxiety also features as an important aspect of Romantic theories of self, as Roderick McGillis notes in "the tension between the individual imagination and the force of environment, which is evident in Wordsworth.... "179 In Lear's nonsense, this tension is often presented as threats to individuality through the transformation of the self into animals

or objects. The old person of Crowle experiences one of these transformations:


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anxi ty on ruing childh d.

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