«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»
firstly, part of the implied reader's construction emerges from a recognition of and certain reaction to the literary references (see Chapters 6 and 7). Secondly, the relationship between nonsense and parody is integral to the issue of "sense" and "non-sense" discussed in Chapter 7. In the intertextual nonsense-as-genre of both Lear and Carroll, some characteristics of parody often do exist, and there is necessarily a tension between the parodied text and the parody itself, but it is only secondary, and, indeed, contributes to the 32Malcolm, pp. 52-53.
tension between meaning and lack of meaning inherent in nonsense. My object, then, is to show the uniqueness of the genre while at the same time revealing its intertextual nature without which this "literary" genre would slip into nursery babble.
Before we move to Lear's parodic work, we must first examine the critical debate on parody and nonsense which brings up some of the crucial features of both. Some critics would grant that parody is possible in nonsense. This tradition goes back to the reviews and articles concerning nonsense which flourished in the 1870s, in which there was a debate between critics who argued for "sense" (i.e. symbolism, satire, and parody) and those who argued for "non-sense," or "nonsense pure and absolute. ''33 In one of the most thorough of these articles, called "Nonsense as a Fine Art" (1888), the author, assumed to be Edward Strachey, defines two kinds of parody. The first is "vulgar parody or travesty" which ''takes some noble poem, and for its idea, thoughts, and images, substitutes the writer's own low and vulgar fancies, which he couples as far as possible with the words of the original which he thus outrages. ''34 Strachey is too indignant to quote any examples.
The other kind of parody, that which he claims Lear exemplifies, "is that in which the comic writer gives you real fun of his own, while clothing it in the style of some great author, but without any mere employment of his words, unless it be in so far as they are taken to express that style" (p. 354). There was no response to Strachey's arguments on parody, though other issues were taken up in later journals; he was ahead of his time in his analysis of nonsense, and the debate would continue into the twentieth century.
Emile Cammaerts, in an early study of nonsense focusing more on Carroll, claims that parody, but not satire, is possible in nonsense (p. 9). Elizabeth Sewell in The Field of Nonsense (1952) also maintains that parody is possible in nonsense, although she distinguishes between Lear and Carroll, claiming only the latter participates in it (pp. 171Nevertheless, while she acknowledges Carroll's parody, she finds that the game of nonsense "goes forward without our being troubled necessarily even with the memory of the pious and moral originals lying behind so many of the verses" (p. 174). Smith notes, 33For a fuller discussion of this debate, see Chapter 7.
3411~\\',u'd Strachey], "Nonsense as a Fine Art," Quarterly Review, 167 (October, 1888),33565 (p. 3.S.~).
somewhat equivocally, that in Lear's work there is "oblique and allusive" parody, in the form of appreciative criticism of romanticism, "And yet even this implies some sort of denigration" (pp. 189, 188). Smith does not question on a fundamental level the ability of nonsense to criticize. Therefore, his approach to the conjunction of nonsense and parody draws no satisfactory conclusions.
In more recent criticism, the issue of the definition of parody has become crucial.
Noel Malcolm asserts that nonsense is parody, but he uses the term in a broad sense of a "literary phenomenon," which implies only intertextuality and contemporary literary relevance (pp. 88-89). Though he is discussing seventeenth-century nonsense, this definition is equally applicable to nineteenth-century nonsense, especially regarding intertextual relationships. Linda Shires, somewhat like Edward Strachey, tries to resolve the problem by defining two kinds of parody in Carroll: oppositional (as with Watts) and nostalgic (as with Tennyson and Wordsworth). Oppositional parody plays the more traditional role, while nostalgic parody, through positive and negative criticism, eventually demonstrates similarity rather than difference between parody and model text (p. 279).
However, Shires does not seem to take into account the nonsense within the "parodies" of both kinds or discuss passages which are not so easily classifiable. Peter Levi sees Lear's work as parody of another kind altogether--a parody of emotion. He writes, "[Lear's] songs, his comic lyrics, were parodies of the deepest emotions they expressed, but they were at least as sad as they were funny, and when they were in perfect balance, the emotion overcame the parody. ''35 Levi hedges around the issue of parody and offers a somewhat confusing balancing of "emotion" and humour which mayor may not constitute parody, but he does recognize that Lear sometimes goes beyond parody. Kent and Ewen, in their work on Romantic parody, claim that "By 1865 Lewis Carroll was parodying Southey and Wordsworth in nonsense verse for humorous effects, not seriously questioning the 3-""EdwardLear"in The Art of Poetry: The Oxford Lectures 1984-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale UP.
1991), pp.169-186 (p. 183).
convictions expressed by the originals. ''36 Here there is a recognition that, although Carroll is writing parody, it is of a newer, less satirical type.
The awareness of this more modem approach to parody informs several recent studies of nonsense. While a parodic tendency is recognized in nonsense, many critics would hesitate to label it parody, at least in the more conventional definition of the tenn.
Nina Demurova, in her study of Carroll's nonsense, admits that "parody" is not exactly the right term for what Carroll does in his "parodic" verses. She recognizes much satire and notes the ever-changing relationship with source texts. Carroll both respects his models and simultaneously holds some "deep, unconscious ambivalence" towards them (p. 85).
Once again, the relationship between nonsense and parody is treated equivocally. In Wim Tigges's detailed Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (1988), he asserts that, because nonsense can have no purpose, it precludes parody, which is necessarily an attack (p. 95). Tigges, however, claims that nonsense often arises through parody and passes beyond it. This, too, is the contention of Donald Gray, who perhaps comes closest to appraising the relevance of nonsense within an ostensibly parodic framework. Gray recognizes the parodic in nonsense but claims that a "nonsense parody" tries to diminish its dependence on the original, which itself is a paradoxical act. However, Gray admits that this paradox is useful for what he claims is the "purpose" of nonsense, i.e. confronting without consequence the more weighty problems of life (pp. 171-72). Here, the issue of purpose arises, and Gray gives to literary nonsense what many claim it lacks.
Lecercle also offers an interesting take on the parodic slant of nonsense, claiming that "Nonsense texts are not explicitly parodic, they tum parody into a theory of serious literature" (p. 2). Taking Bakhtin's term "refraction" for an imitative text, Lecercle maintains that nonsense texts do not reflect, but "refract" their source text(s). He \vrites, ''This is not merely distortion, but also inscription. A nonsense text literally inscribes other texts through ironic quotation--this is the distance of parody" (pp. 169-70). He proceeds to show, in what is a familiar method now, two different kinds of parody, using 36Kent, David A. and D.R.
Ewen, eds., Romantic Parodies: 1797-1831 (Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck:
Fairleigh Dickenson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1992), p. 1,:).
Barthes as a model: parody proper and pastiche. The dialogic relationship in parody proper is easily recognizable, and "Once we have grasped the language game we are in, meaning becomes easy to compute, through a maxim of parody or irony, which gives rise to implicatures." (p. 172). Irony, the inversion of meaning, is the most important transformative function of the parody. Pastiche, on the other hand, occurs when the theme of the original text is discarded for one or more different themes, "with the consequence that we no longer have a single voice, but a polyphonic babble.... the text escapes the control of the speaker and the words take over." (p. 172). This account of nonsense parody seems the most fair, yet Lecercle's claim that nonsense promotes a conservative pedagogy is at odds with such refractive, "polyphonic" texts. And while Lecercle's analysis works well with the more obvious "parodies" in the Alice books, it does not attempt to tackle the more subtle parodic forms, especially those found in Lear's adoption of the limerick, travel book, alphabet, natural history, and others.
Perhaps the reason for such critical confusion and division is that, aside from the issue of nonsense, the definition of parody itself has been heatedly debated for many years.
Though I do not have the space here to enter into the complexities of this debate, a brief outline of the issues will be helpful. The most divisive aspect of parody theory concerns its critical function. Most agree that parody from its earliest manifestations up to about the nineteenth century was primarily censorious. Somewhere in the late eighteen-hundreds, though, one branch of parody, or what we might call critical imitation, seemed to drift away from its focus on ridicule. The result manifested, for example, in works such as Dickens's Pickwick Papers, or in more recent times, Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. These texts certainly imitate in a critical manner, but can they be called parody? Is parody by nature a source of ridicule, or can it be a more neutral, or even positive, criticism-cum-homage? Coming from the background of Bakhtin's dialogic approach to parody, new and more radical theorists such as Hutcheon, Waugh, and Hannoosh broaden the scope of parody to include positive criticism, which places the parody in the genre it imitates, hence contributing to, expanding, and renovating the tradition in question. In contrast, the opposing school of thought supported by the majority of theorists, including Rose, Bex, and Riewald, as well as the OED, claims simply that parody must include some degree of ridicule, or as Riewald states, a "willful distortion of the entire form and spirit of a writer, captured at his most typical moment" (p. 19). The question here is not what writers are doing so much as it is a question of labels--of whether the definition of parody should or should not be expanded to include newer forms of critical imitation.
Other issues which arise in the debate of parody are whether parody targets a single text/author/style or the entire genre represented by the anterior text. Irony is one issue of contention, though most theorists claim irony to be a powerful, if not intrinsic, quality of parody.37 Further issues in parody theory centre around the extent of reflexivity and the degree to which parody contributes to the development of literary forms. For the purposes of this thesis I shall use a patchwork of theories to define my use of the word "parody," though I do not claim it to be definitive: Parody is a critical imitation marked by ironic difference, resulting in ridicule and usually humour. It can also exist in the form of dialogic "play," which implies critique and ultimately has a ridiculous effect. This criticism, which can be both positive and negative, may be directed at a particular author or style, or it may target a genre. If the critical stance towards the anterior texts is not deprecatory then the new text is not parody; there is no term for it, but I would label it simply "critical imitation," of which parody is a specific subset. The parodic text is reflexive, in that it places itself in or near the genre it parodies, necessarily inviting alternative or further parody of the anterior text, as well perhaps as of itself. Parody can attempt to dispense with its target, especially if the target is specific, such as a particular author, or, because of its critical stance, it can encourage the growth and development of the genre(s) it engages. For the sake of brevity, I will occasionally refer to the questionably parodic nonsense pieces as "parodies," though, in most cases I am arguing that this label is inaccurate.
37S ee, for instance, Wolfgang !ser's irony-based definition of parody in The Act of Reading: A TheoT\' of Aesthetic Response (Baltimore, London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), p. 93.
The pan:xiic element of Lear's nonsense can be seen as a slightly later echo of the Romantic reaction to popular children's (and adult) literature. Though nonsense does not lend itself to explicitness, Lear's outrageous transgressions of all conventional moral and pedagogic models is surely one of his "goals," though how he went about this, and what its effects are on his verse, have rarely been critically examined. Blake, Wordsworth, the Lambs, and Coleridge were united in their contempt for, what Charles Lamb's famous letter to Coleridge on 23 October, 1802 describes as, "this sore eviL.. Think what you would have been now, if instead of being fed with Tales and old wives fables in childhood, you had been crammed with Geography & Natural History.? Damn them. I mean the cursed Barbauld Crew, those Blights & Blasts of all that is Human in man & child.--,,38 The results of such discontent can be seen particularly in the writing of Blake and Wordsworth.
Blake's attack on children's literature derives from his opposition to Enlightenment philosophy, a dominating force in children's books at the time. He was quite familiar with the children's book market, having been commissioned three times from 1780-1791 to engrave illustrations for children's books,39 but he is best known for having engraved Mary Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life (1788). His response to these "progressive" educational methods was the subtly, yet distinctly subversive Songs of Innocence. 40 Part of its subversive effect is a result of what this little volume leaves out: it questions empirical modes of reasoning, omnipresent in the new regiments of children's literature, which Blake so despised, and it refuses to conform to the "fact, fact, fact" aspect of "progressive" children's literature. To do this, it used the very forms common in other children's books, undermining them insidiously.