«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»
Moving from the straightforward parodies, to the parodies that utilize nonsense as device is not such a large step. Many of the "nonsense verses" of Lear and Carroll are plain parodies, using nonsense as a device to show the folly in the originals. In studies of Lear, the parodic element has been all but ignored. Critics often note that Lear writes in the tradition of limerick, or nursery rhyme, or romantic lyric, but they almost never consider the strong parooic tendency, nor the other genres which he utilizes. There are many pieces, both unpublished and published, whieh must be considered parody. One of these unpublished parodies is his answer to the poem Tennyson wrote to him, after he sent Tennyson his new travel book, Journal oJaLandscape Painter in Greece and Albania (1851). First, the opening stanzas of Tennyson's ''To E. L.
on His Travels in Greece" (1853):
No one knows if Tennyson ever saw this parody, but it is not surprising that most of Lear's correspondence was with Emily rather than Alfred. While Lear's version may seem to be literary nonsense, when compared with its model, the "nonsense" is explained.
Lear's version is an exercise in phonetic analysis: he changes the meaning drastically while keeping the basic sound patterns of Tennyson's poem. He admits that the reason he was "obliged" to make these parodies (his term) was "to recall the Tennyson lines of my illustrations." Peter Levi also notices that "these curious, rather secret and innocent parodies of Lear's show an acutely good ear for the texture of Tennyson's verse.... " (p.
74A1fred Tennyson, Tennyson: A Selected Edition, ed. Christopher Ricks (Harlow: Longman, 1989), 301, p.487.
7 S To Fortescue, 12 September, 1873, in Laler Letters of Edward Lear Author of "The Book of Nonsense" to Chichester Fortescue (Lord Carlingford) Frances Countess Waldegrave and others, ed. Lady Strachey (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1911), p. 161. Hereafter referred to as LLEL. In the letter, the second stanza is given first, as Lear is listing the verses to his Tennyson illustrations.
175).76 Indeed, parcxly may be implied by Lear's possible questioning and testing of Tennyson's famed euphony. Differing significantly from true literary nonsense, Lear's parody, plainly dictated by Tennyson's original, is mostly ajumble of ridiculous images which does not engage in the characteristic play between meaning and non-meaning so crucial to literary nonsense. Even without the essential frame of reference of Tennyson's poem, Lear's version remains more or less absolute nonsense, not the genre of literary nonsense. In relation to its model, such a confusion of images, more like a semantically and morphologically correct version of gibberish, is certainly one device of the genre, but appearing alone, it never rises above a ridiculous parody. The last line pulls this parody even further away from true nonsense, by making a personal joke to Tennyson, whose original poem describes his imaginative presence in the scenes evoked by Lear's travel book. As Tigges observes, a joke has a point, while nonsense does not (p. 93). The nonsensical flavour of this verse is undeniable, but nonsense is used only as a device to highlight the verse's relationship with its model. Never does the nonsense, as Gray states, "try to efface the connections between its language and forms and those of ordinary discourse [in this case, Tennyson], and thereby to pretend to an integrity and coherence all its own" (p. 170). On the contrary, Lear's parcxly clings tenaciously to Tennyson's poem.
In Lear's published "nonsense" there is much that is parodic without being parody, and some that actually is parody, such as his alphabet "A was once an apple-pie," which echoes the traditional "A was an apple-pie." The following is Lear's rhyme for the letter "B ":
7 6Lcar' s published nonsense poems sometimes have their roots in the SOllllds and rhythms of T,e?oyson' s, poetry, such as in Lear' ~ ':!he C'ourtshi~ of the Yonghy-Bonghy-~o," which soun~s much like 1 ennyson s '" Frater.:\ ve atque Vale, though Lear s poem has no other relahon to Tennyson s.
This alphabet, somewhat like the limericks, follows a tight structure: It names an object starting with the featured letter, four nonsense words ending with ''y'' (the first and last usually beginning with the featured letter), a small description ending in ''y'', and finally the object again, with "little" before it. The four words ending in "y" placed vertically appear to be nonsensical, but upon closer inspection, they usually make some kind of sense. The first and last of the four are the same, being merely the object with the added "y." The middle two, in the case of "B" do make sense, in that one should be "wary" of bears, which are usually "hairy." Hence, what appears to be nonsense becomes sense. This occurs frequently, with the middle two terms often having some relation to the object in question. For "Kite" we are given, "Whity / Highty" and for "Owl," "Prowly, / Howly."
In these and many others, the words that seem the most nonsensical turn out to be completely relevant.
Of course, Lear rarely engineers things so straightforwardly. While the words are discernible, even with the "y" ending, the issue of the series arises: are these a series of meaningful words with a "y" added to them, or are they just random words in a series, with some happening to make sense? To confuse the issue, Lear breaks the pattern with
letters such as "G":
In this and many other letters, the central "y"-ending words, not to mention at least parts of the sixth line, are quite unrelated to the object, or are just sheer nonsense. Sometimes, one of the central words has some relation to the object while the other does not, as in the middle words for "whale": "Scaly / Shaly." "Scaly" comes from the idea of a fish, which is close enough to a whale, but "Shaly" has no place here other than for its phonetic value in the series. It is helpful to see such nonsense in terms of Elizabeth Sewell's classification of nonsense as game, "a construction subject to its own laws" (pp. 5, 26). However, this game not only sets its own rules, but also may change them at any time; thus, the relationship between the central words in the series and the object is never quite certain, and the game dissolves with its rules. At these moments when the rules are uncertain, and the verse wavers between meaning and non-meaning, we witness the effects of literary nonsense; the generic form is forgotten and we are absorbed in delightful exasperation.
While this is one aspect of literary nonsense, when taken as a whole this alphabet perhaps sits on the edge of the genre. It contains moments of nonsense and a closed structure within which our expectations of sense are sometimes dashed, but more often the sense is overt, bringing us back to parody and the original form, the alphabet, avoiding the release and escape needed to exist fully within the nonsense genre.
In a similar way, many of the verses which seem quite nonsensical in Carroll, upon a closer look, are simply (or not so simply) parodies. Carroll's treatment of anterior text varies significantly, but verses such as "How doth the little crocodile," "Speak roughly," and "You are old Father William" fall squarely into the parodic mode. One of the most nonsensical parodies of all is the White Knight's song, a parody of Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence" (published 1807). The version in Alice is a revision of a much older poem, entitled "Upon the Lonely Moor," which was published anonymously in The Train in October 1856.7 7 Wordsworth's poem describes a "Traveller" with morbid thoughts who comes upon an ancient man, a leech gatherer. The Traveller questions the old man as to what he does, but while the man answers with "courteous speech," the Traveller does not hear. He is held in a reverie in which the old man appears as a dream vision come to enlighten him. The Traveller asks again, and the leech gatherer patiently answers in speech "above the reach / Of ordinary men" (11. 102-3)78 Without hearing an answer, the old man repeats himself once again, courteously. The Traveller laughs at himself and wonders "to find / In that decrepit Man so firm a mind" (11. 144-45), pledging in the future to think of this wise man in times of trouble. The overall effect of the curious 77 Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Alice in Wonderland, 1865, ed. Donald J. Grd)" 2nd edition (London: W.W. Norton, 1992), p. 255. All references to the Alice.books will be from ~s edition. unless otherwise noted. References to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Will be shortened to Alice.
7RWilliolll Wordsworth, ed. Stephen Gill (Oxford: OlTP, 1984).
interview is a deep respect for an old man who in the mind of the Traveller has proven a source of mental stability, but who in reality has done nothing more than patiently repeat himself two times to a listener who has for the most part ignored him.
Several critics have been troubled by Carroll's parodying a poet he admired so greatly (Demurova, pp. 83-85; Shires, p. 279), but there is no need for Carroll to be absolutely consistent in his taste or reverence for one whom he respected. Just as Lear could send Tennyson his Tennysonian parodies, so Carroll could occasionally question one of his models. Linda Shires attempts to solve this problem by labeling this a "nostalgic parody" rather than an "oppositional" one, implying that this is a parody of critical support rather than ridicule. I would argue against this position, however, and side with Polhemus (p. 370) in recognizing the oppositional character of Carroll's parody. Yet there are several points which draw the parody towards reverence. The first is the fact that the rhyme and metre of the parody are based not on Wordsworth, but on Thomas Moore's "My Heart and Lute," as Alice recognizes. Shires claims that this song, reflecting on Carroll's version, "speaks to the depth of serious emotion" (p. 281). The most obvious point, as Shires notes, is the Wordsworthian spot of time which Carroll gives to Alice as she listens to the song: "Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through the Looking-Glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly.... all this she took in like a picture, as, with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half-dream, to the melancholy music of the song" (p. 187).
Wordsworthian echoes abound, from the look to the future in which the memory will return, to the "half-dream" and "melancholy music," marking this as what Jonathan Wordsworth would call a Romantic "border" experience (p. 6). The narrative frame brings the poems even closer together as Alice herself is, in a way, given the role of the Traveller, or the narrator in Carroll's version, listening to an old man's story. Here, Alice only halflistens to the White Knight just as the Traveller is oblivious to the Leech Gatherer in his visionary trance, and as the White Knight's narrator is deaf in dreaming of absurd inycntions. The implication of this double-reference complicates the parody, \\'hich is probably just what Carroll had in mind.
Shires's argument for the "nostalgic" rather than "oppositional" parody is based on the parody retaining "the referent, a code of sympathy for the vexed relations between young and old, while he replaces signifiers and signifieds" (p. 281). I would argue that this "code of sympathy" is not retained; rather, it is exploded by Carroll's use of ridicule and nonsense aimed squarely at Wordsworth's poem. The impact of Wordsworth's poem relies on the respect the Traveller has for the old man, and this is just where Carroll begins his attack. Carroll portrays the old man as more or less insane (though his wink might lead us to believe otherwise). The old man is made an absurd figure by the nonsense occupations given him: he claims to make butterflies into mutton-pies, to set a "mountainrill" on fire, and hunt for "haddocks' eyes / Among the heather bright" (p. 188).79 In addition, the narrator's violence increases as he questions the old man. He first "thumped him on the head," then "shook him well form side to side, / Until his face was blue" (pp.
187-88). In the original version of 1856, the old man is "pinched," "kicked," and "tweaked." Any "code of sympathy" between these characters is dissolved in the violence and disrespect shown by the younger. Nor does the younger man fare much better. As the old man relates his impossible occupations, the narrator is day-dreaming, like the White Knight (and Carroll, perhaps), about nonsense inventions, such as his design '10 keep the Menai bridge from rust / By boiling it in wine" (p. 189). Further derision might be implied by the wink which the old man gives near the end. This could signify that, because he knows the younger man is not listening, he is intentionally spouting fantastic accounts of his livelihood.
The last stanza, which departs from Moore's stanza form, is Carroll's finishing touch on the parody. It was added to the 1856 version, and it gathers the references and criticism of Wordsworth's poem in one concentrated stanza. In describing the old man, it makes several references to Wordsworth's Leech Gatherer: the "mild" look, the slow speech, the white hair, and "eyes, like cinders, all aglow" (p. 190) are echoes from the Leech Gatherer's "gentle answer" in "courteous speech which forth he slowly drew," his 79yhis is reminiscent of the conjectural distractions for Wordsworth's nonsensical protagonist in 'The Idiot Boy" (11. 222-2-H). See pp. 248-9 of this thesis.
"grey hairs," and the "fire about his eyes" (11.92-3,56,98). However, in this cumulative stanza, the description soon goes from the reverent to the ridiculous. The old man rocks his body and mutters, "As if his mouth were full of dough." This stanza comes to a grand anti-climax, showing the old man "Who snorted like a buffalo." This description, so antithetical to Wordsworth's poem, draws the two poems even closer, exposing the disparity between a noble, visionary figure and the ignored and simple old leech gatherer.