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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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illustrations. 13 Other writers of nonsense for children have emerged, most recently Michael Rosen,14 but the genre has never returned to the kind of success and popularity it had with Lear and Carroll.

To return now to the nineteenth century, we may now ask where children's literary nonsense came from and why, for the span of around fifty years, it became almost solely the domain of the child, an unprecedented turn in the genre's application. The answers are, of course, quite complicated and much more than can be tackled in this thesis, but we can begin by observing that the origin of children's literary nonsense is similar to that of the adult literary nonsense of the seventeenth century. Both versions combine a literary side and utter nonsense (or nursery rhyme, for the nineteenth century) to form a referential, yet divergent form, but in nineteenth-century literary nonsense for children, the literary side relates to children's literature and theories of the child. Consequently, I will look at nonsense from three different perspectives: the written, "literary" side of nonsense, its place in the history of children's book illustration, and its relationship with the Romantic concept of the child. First, in Chapter 1, I will look at Lear's literary nonsense through its prime distinguishing feature, its "literary-ness." In this chapter, more than the others, I also deal extensi vel y wi th some of Carroll's works, as his verse "parodies" are some of his most important nonsense pieces, and also those which most resemble Lear's. Most literary nonsense by Lear and Carroll is referential, either directly or indirectly. It often begins by inhabiting an "alien" genre or individual work, but what it does to the original is debatable.

Some critics, and especially those who deal almost exclusively with Carroll, see nonsense as parody, while others claim that nonsense precludes parody in its intentional purposelessness (a paradoxical phrase for a paradoxical genre). In this chapter I explore the critical debate surrounding parooy in nonsense, and parody in general, as the contentious definition of parody lies at the heart of the whole dispute. I then examine the works of Lear and Carroll, looking first at their genuine, clear parooies, which often are 13The following editions of Lear (or Lear and Carroll)were all found in one bookshop: The Book of Nonsense and Nonsense Songs (London: Penguin, 1996); The Owl and the Pussy-cat, illus. Ian Beck (London: Doubleday/Picture Corgi Books, 1995); Owls and Pussy-cats: Nonsense Verse [Lear and Carroll] (Oxford: OUP, 1993); The Owl and the Pusy Cat (London: Walker Books, 1991).; an? The Jz.~mblies, illus. Emily Bloom (London: Orchard Books, 1998). The lackon Complete Lear IS stIll III pnnt.

14r..tichael Rosen, Afichael Rosen's Book of Nonsense (Hove: Macdonald Young Books, 1997).

quite sensical. Next, I look at the many borderline cases of nonsensical parcxly, or parcxly which uses nonsense as a device but is not overpowered 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. In the 1830s, when Lear was creating his first "nonsenses," his style of illustration was wildly original, but it was not, as some critics have claimed, mere "doodles," nor did many of its characteristics lack precedents. Lear's illustrations must be placed in the context of the children's book illustrations of his day. With the innovations of the Bewick brothers in wocxl engraving, the quality and realism of children's illustrations had drastically improved. Diverging from this tradition, Lear's illustrations hearken back to the rough chapbooks which he probably read as a child. His illustrations are in a way caricatures of these chapbooks, exaggerating both their strengths and weaknesses. His child-like style began a rival tradition of children's book illustration, sometimes called "naive." But Lear's expert draughtsman's eye distinguished him from other "naoive" illustrators like Heinrich Hoffmann. Furthermore, 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. Like literary nonsense itself, Lear's illustrations have rarely been copied with success.

The remaining chapters are based on a reading of Edward Lear's 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. While Wordsworth and others were developing a revised image of the child, early nineteenthcentury children's literature had not yet begun to reflect such changes. Literary nonsense, as begun by Lear, acted as a stepping-stone between newer, Romantic theories of the child and actual writing/or children. The following chapters each refer to specific characteristics of these child constructs: 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, and therefore is not condemned for its actions. 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 and supported by Lear. 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, highlighted by devices such as misappropriation, picture/poem discrepancy, and the portrayal of child- and adult perceptions of death. 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, a reader needs this type of imagination 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's writing as the latter. Set against the background of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century attempt to reveal the child as an understandable text, Chapter 8 argues that both the nonsense and Romantic child constructs reflect the "non-sense" child, a new conception of the child defying analysis, categorization, or dissection.





Before proceeding I will attempt to clarify, as much as possible, what is meant by the classification of nineteenth-century "literary nonsense." However, there are so many different kinds of nonsense and different methods that easy definition is almost impossible.

Generally, when I use the term "literary nonsense" in this thesis I mean the nonsense works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and any writing which follows their various models. From nonsense alphabets, to nonsense botany illustrations, from travel prose to sonnets, from limericks to specific and general parodies, the scope of literary nonsense is as wide and varied as the many forms it inhabits. Any acceptable definition must therefore be somewhat broad and abstract. Most critics agree that, generally, in literary nonsense there is a type of balance between "sense" and "non-sense." Sewell calls this the defining feature of nonsense as game: ''The game is a play of the side of order against disorder" (p.

46). This game is interminable, for "it cannot suppress the force towards disorder in the mind, nor defeat it conclusively, for this force is essential to the mind no less than the opposing force of order" (p. 47). Lecercle also sees this struggle in more technical terms, as the dialectics between over-structuring and destructuring, subversion and support, I5 excess and lack. Wim Tigges presents a solid, if broad, definition of nonsense as a genre in which "the seeming presence of one or more 'sensible' meanings is kept in balance by a simultaneous absence of such a meaning.,,16 I would add to this the Deleuzean concept of nonsense as the necessary creation of an impossible alternative "sense," a nonentity which nevertheless asserts its impossible existence, trying to disguise itself as a type of sense. Chapter 7 addresses in more detail the difficult issue of sense and nonsense and their relation to the genre. I will turn now to the central figure of this thesis: Edward Lear.

An enemy of certainty, dogmatism, organized religion, dogs, and ginger beer, Edward Lear was a disaffected citizen of Victorian culture. He grew up in the later Romantic period, surrounded by a large family, his boyhood hero being Byron. 17 Raised mostly by his sister Ann, twenty-one years older than himself, he led a fairly normal childhood, if neglected by his parents. He had his share of childhood troubles though, including depression, or "the Morbids," and epilepsy, his "Demon," both of which would

dog him his whole life. When he was 58 he reflected on the illness's impact on his life:

21 Nov. No sleep all night~ counted every hour, & rose at 6 Worried & miserable.--I review my whole life in such hours, & full of evil as it undoubtedly is, I am obliged to conclude as I always do, that the great physical misery & "particular skeleton" of all these long years, which was not of my making--commenced when I was 5 or 6 years old, & has 15Jean-JacquesLecercle,Philosophy of Nonsense: The Intuitions of Victorian Nonsense Literature (London, New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 3.

16.yigges, pp. 255.

17Some of his childhood poems are Byronic imitations, such as "The Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter, Aegina, Greece." See W.M. Parker, ed. "Edward Lear, Three New Poems," The Poetry Review (June, 1950),81-83. I am indebted to Vivien Noakes', Edward Lear: The Ufeofa Wanderer, 1968 (Glasgow:

Fontana/Collins, revised edition 1979) for most of Lear's biographical infonnation. All references to Noakes will be from this volume unless otherwise noted.

influenced all the course of my existence.... --but the foundation of ",:retchednes~ was too solidly there, ever to have allowed of a greatly dIfferent chaIn of events & condition of living than has been my lot to bear. I 8 His education, including his artistic training, was provided by his sisters until he entered school at the age of eleven. Though his love was for painting, his financial situation did not allow him to attend the Royal Academy, the only respected method of entering the profession (though he did enter the Academy briefly, many years later). Instead, when he and Ann moved to their own rooms in London in 1828, Edward earned money by making anatomical drawings for doctors and commercial sketches--anything he could get his hands on. Soon he began to draw birds, and when he produced Illustrations o/the Family 0/ Psittacidae, or Parrots (1830), a work which earned him immediate respect in the field, his career had begun. It was because of the reputation earned by this book and other drawings that he was asked by Lord Stanley, heir to the 12th Earl of Derby, to the Knowsley estate, in 1831 or 1832, to draw the menagerie.1 9 At Knowsley Lear came into his own. During his sporadic residence he not only became an honorary, fringe member of the upper classes, but he also began creating his "nonsenses," not yet called "limericks," for the many Stanley grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. He worked at Knowsley, and also for John Gould, through 1837, but was forced in June of that year to leave the country due to pulmonary problems. His trip to Italy was the beginning of a long life devoted to travel and landscape painting. As his eyes constantly gave him trouble, detailed ornithological work was out of the question. Instead, he pursued landscape painting with almost fanatical diligence, a profession which allowed him to live fairly comfortably, if not without financial worries, for his entire life. From that time onward he rarely spent more than a few consecutive months in England. His painting commissions took him to many exotic locations, including Egypt, Palestine, Greece, and India, but his residence was most often in Italy, with frequent trips back to England.

18From Lear's unpublished diaries, 21 November, 1870. Houghton Library, Harvard University, 30 volumes, MS Eng 797.3. All references to Lear's diaries are from these volumes.

19"].'he date of Lear's arrival at Knowsley is questionable. All works I have seen give the year of Lear's arri val at Knowsley as 1832, yet several of Lear's illustrations of birds from the Knowsley menagerie are dated 1831. This question of dating remains unresolved, but it seems that Lear at least visited Knowslcy carl icr than has been stated.

He lived abroad for most of his life and on the fringes of society, never quite fitting in with the elite amongst whom he circulated. An affectionate, likable man, he made friends easily, including many from the upper classes and fashionable artistic circles. For a short period in 1846 he gave drawing lessons to the twenty-seven-year-old Queen Victoria.

He became quite close with the Tennyson family, Emily in particular, and also with some of the Pre-Raphaelites, including John Millais, William Rossetti, and especially William Holman Hunt, whom he called "Daddy Hunt" throughout their long friendship.



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