«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»
Writing nonsense is writing the nonsense child. Though Lear wrote his verse for various real children, his texts imply a special kind of child. Because, as I have tried to show in the last chapter, literary nonsense on a practical level is non-sense, the reader construct in the genre must be a similar creation. John Preston, reflecting the reader response theories of Booth and Iser, claims that ''The writer, who can hardly tell his story if he does not feel sure that some one will read it, is impelled to imagine a reader. Or, in other words, the way in which he tells his story may be taken as envisaging its reader. "395 Even though a nonsense text means not to mean, so to speak, it still implies a reader construct who, theoretically, can make "sense" of, or in Iser's terms "ideate" (create an imaginative image), from the blanks created by the text's characteristic paradoxes and omissions. At this juncture of sense and nonsense, the Deleuzean concepts also clarify the reader construct.
As we have seen in the previous chapter, nonsense is that which implies a prior sense that does not exist. It attempts to create its own sense-context, which is impossible. The child construct can be seen as an embodiment of this impossible sense-context, the audience which is dictated by the text yet cannot exist according to our rules of common sense. The construct of the child-reader in literary nonsense, like Iser's implied reader, "is therefore a textual structure anticipating the presence of a recipient without necessarily defining him.... ''396 A textual creation, this construct is a fictional entity projected upon the 395Preston, p. 198.
396Iser, Act, p. 3.1.. My italics.
intended audience of children. The "meaning," or, rather, the well-defined non-meaning, of nonsense, paradoxical though it may be, is therefore inherently a joint product of text and implied reader. The result of this combined effort is that the reader c~n?t de~ch hims~lf ~rom.suc~ an ~nteraction; on the contrary, the actI VI ty ~tI.mulated In him wIll hnk hIm to the text and induce him to create the condItIons necessary for the effectiveness of that text. As text and re~der thus merge int? a singl~ situation, the division between subject and obJec~ no longer al?phes, an~ It therefore follows that meaning is no longer an object to be defIned, but IS an effect to be experienced.397 The text and the reader merge into one hypothetical entity through the ideational filling of blanks, i.e., the act of writing nonsense for children creates the nonsense child construct.
It just so happens that in nonsense, the real reader can never be that implied construct, that illusory field of sense which can never be filled. The conception of the child which most closely approximates this "nonsense child" and its ability to ideate the impossible is the individual, wild, elevated, divinely creative, and inscrutable Romantic child. The "meaning" of nonsense becomes not a "meaning" at all, but the non-sense "effect" produced by the inherent devices.
That nonsense is closer to "non-sense" than "sense" shows the child construct, likewise, to be a creature not abiding by any rules--a child who is not predictable, a child for whom a system of education would fit like his father's trousers. In fact, no narrow theoretical "system" can explain him; to an adult, the child is "non-sensical, " a mystery of thought and action. Likewise, the child accepts this quality in what he experiences and reads. In a similar way in which the child is able to combine unlike ideas, he is able to accept mystery and indefiniteness just as he does more concrete things. Lear often comments in his letters about his disdain for certainty, and yet his hope in the face of doubt. He writes to Chichester Fortescue on 9 September, 1879, "In this our mortal state doubt is better than certainty.,;398 For this reason he disliked Crabb Robinson's "account of Kants, Wielands, and other German fools. For it is they--metaphysicians--who are the 397Ibid, pp. 9-10.
398 LLEL, p. 22-l. This is translated from Lear's Greek hy the editor.
fools...,;399 Lear despised those who professed dogmatic belief; he accepted life's incomprehensibility with grace. His writing for children was, likewise, a reflection of hIs feeling for life's mystery and incomprehensibility, and in tum a recognition that a child
He displays such mystery in many of his limericks, which, as Ann Colley states, "mock the reader's impulses to find a resting place in congruity,,,400 as the eccentric behaviour is usually unexplained. The old person of Deal is one of these individuals, "Who in walking, used only his heel; / When they said, 'Tell us why?' --He made no reply~ / That mysterious old person of Deal" (p. 199). This old person, like so many others, gives no reason for his eccentricity. They all exhibit the unreasonableness of humanity, which Lear saw children appreciating most. ''They'' ask the old man in a garden why he "always begged every-one's pardon"; he simply replies, "'You're a bore! / And I trust you'll go out of my garden'" (p. 205). When asked to explain his actions, he contemptuously refuses, implying that human motivation is a mystery of which critical dissecting only destroys the beauty. The ultimate statement about certainty is perhaps with the old person of Diss, "Who said, 'It is this! It is this!' / When they said 'What? or which?' --He jumped into a ditch, / Which absorbed that old person of Diss.,,401 This old person professes a dogmatic certainty, then commits suicide when asked for his knowledge. Such is the result of being certain... Lear's universe is one of randomness, in which certainty is useless because cause and effect are not necessarily logically related. ~02 In its ability to keep perfect tension between meaning and non-meaning, the nonsense world, reflecting the child for whom it is written, is a place of mystery, uncertainty, and above all, the lack of conventional "sense."
This audience that does not make "sense," the implied De1euzean context of impossible "sense" within nonsense embodied in the child construct, has caused some
399To Fortescue, 23 December, 1882. LLEL, pp. 281-2.
-lOOColley, "Edward Lear's Limericks," p. 297.
40 I Teapots and Quails, p. 4-+.
402Hark, p. 117.
complains that "Mr. Lear is a little too much disposed to verbal nonsense, which is, we admit, not unfrequently [sic] a success with children, but depends for its success entirely on the private intelligence between the inventor and the children to whom it is confided. "403 The reviewer is upset by the idea that there is a secret interchange of infonnation between Lear's verse and the child reading it, information which is unavailable to the adult. He concludes that this sort of nonsense, which is a "great show of mysterious intelligence" should be kept from the public. Of course, there can be no real conspiracy between Lear and any actual children, but, as I have shown with Iser's theory of the implied reader, the text implies at least the possibility (but in the case of nonsense, never a verifiable actuality) of an audience perfectly in harmony with the paradoxes of nonsense. It is this "mysterious intelligence," the secret, shared basis of imaginative creation behind Lear's nonsense and its implied reader which does indeed exclude the outsider, the reasoning adult who can never, unless possessing a particularly un-analytical and child-like mind, enter fully into the impossible alternative reality implied by nonsense.
That Lear's nonsense could be mistaken for a secret interchange of meaning between author and child indicates the success with which he created the nonsense child construct. Emerging from a genre which treats certainty and conformity with disdain, this construct is the culmination of the varying aspects of nonsense dealt with throughout this thesis, although it derives in part from the child as portrayed by Wordsworth and other major Romantic figures. It defines itself particularly in contrast with the more anatomized child constructs derived from Locke and Rousseau, who were the bases of much of eighteenth- and nineteenth century writing on or for the child. A fierce individual, a "wild," naughty child, a child elevated above the adult world by virtue of its innocence, purity, and divine imaginative power, the nonsense child emerges as a textual creation, one whose value lies precisely in not making sense in relation to the adult world. It is the impossible sense-field absent in nonsense words, and that which hypothetically fills the
Throughout most of this millennium the figure of the child in the written word has been marginal at best. When children have been the topic of discourse, whether in political or religious tracts, their general psychological and developmental aspects have often been taken for granted. Classical writers such as Aristotle and Plato barely mention children, and when they do the child appears little better than an animal. 404 Nor did Biblical writers expend much effort on portraying the child. 405 The spiritual side of childhood did reCeive some attention, but Augustine's widely accepted pronouncement of the child's inherent, original sin did little to encourage analysis of such a creature. Medieval writings depict some child-figures, often martyrs, but again, there was little effort to understand the nature of the child--not the unusual, saintly martyr, nor the son of God, but the ordinary, unexceptional child. To find examples of more ordinary children, we must look towards the folk tradition, with its many portrayals of children in cautionary tales. But the first highly influential endeavour at close, methodical scrutiny of the child did not come until the English Enlightenment and Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education, which used the nature of the child as one of the foundations of philosophical inquiry.406 From this point onward, writers in most areas, and especially those for or about children, were obsessed with making "sense" of the child in order to accommodate their various political, religious, or humanitarian agendas. It is this rational, explainable child which some of the Romantics and Victorian nonsense counteracted.
spontaneous child. Locke, and those who would followed his precedent, attempted to illustrate a child that made "sense" in thought and action, and his tool was a child's propensity to reason. According to Locke, a child is inherently a rational creature Whose natural inclination only needs encouragement. Locke claims that children "distinguish early between Passion and Reason: And as they cannot but have a Reverence for what comes from the latter, so they quickly grow into a contempt of the former....,,407 To Locke, passions, the dangerous, uncontrollable element in humanity, are naturally repugnant to children, who understand reason "as early as they do Language~ and... they love to be treated as Rational Creatures, sooner than is imagined" (p. 142). Such discipline was adopted by reformers throughout the eighteenth century, such as John Brown, in his Thoughts on Civil Liberty, On Licentiousness, and Faction (1765), who argued that in order to ensure a stable, free society, all citizens must be trained early in a "System of Manners and Principles effectually impressed on the human Mind, as may be an inward Curb to every inordinate Desire~ or rather, such as may so frame and model the human Heart, that its ruling Desires may correspond, coincide, or coalesce, with all the great and essential Appointments of public Law. "408 Brown claims that humanity, from childhood upward, should be (and can be)moulded so as to conform to the national agenda and character. Brown is a typical example of how Locke's ideas, and especially those related to the training of the child, were applied towards various other goals. The educationalists and children's writers who adopted Locke's ideas, sharing a general utilitarian tendency, did not see education so much as a way of opening the mind to inquiry and individual contemplation, but rather as machinery by which the adult would be formed, according to the political or otherwise motivated agenda of the writer. As we shall see below, much of the children's literature, and child-related theory, of the nineteenth century was similarly in
also take into account the other major influence on children's literature, Rousseau.
Contrary to Locke, Rousseau recognized a child's initial inability to exhibit a more conventional form of reason, claiming that "childhood is the sleep of reason" (p. 71).
Instead of teaching through reason, education teaches how toaUilin reason. In fa ct, re,L';;on exposed to too young a child can be harmful (pp. 53-54). Indeed, Rousseau wanted to make a clear separation between the adult and the child, and he pleaded that the child be recognized as a child instead of an adult, much more so than Locke. He writes, "Love childhood, indulge its sports, its pleasures, its delightful instincts" (p.43). Howeyer, Rousseau limits this kind of indulgence on all sides, allowing only those few "instincts" which he deems edifying, actively discouraging all others. Rousseau also recognizes that the passions should not be suppressed to the extent recommended by Locke (and later, the utilitarians), and that, indeed, they are "the chief means of self-preservation... "(p. 173).