«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»
Also, by exaggerating the absurdity and coarseness of the narrator, Carroll may be attempting to criticize Wordsworth's (or the Traveller's) self-absorption and inaction when faced with abject poverty. The champion of "the real language of man," it seems, has an unusual idea of philanthropy. The Traveller is made into a sadistic fool who, instead of morbidly brooding, conceives absurd plans. The parody may also comment on the Leech Gatherer, whose speech is exaggerated, either to make him more apparently a fool, as the poor old man may well have been, or to make the narrator seem the fool in playing a trick on him. Regardless of the particular reading, Carroll's parody critically engages its Wordsworthian model, and the result is not favorable.
As we have seen, nonsense is one of the tools Carroll uses to ridicule the anterior text, but never does it hide the parody. Carroll uses nonsense to show the foolishness (or devious wit, depending on the reading) of the old man, to ridicule the narrator (and Wordsworth, possibly) as a self-absorbed, quixotic dreamer, and to ridicule the serious lesson proffered by the model text. The nonsense never rises above its parodic setting because it is never asserted as truth. The speech and thoughts of the characters are just that;
they do not necessitate any kind of radical reworking of reality. This is not a world in which "buttered rolls" can be found growing underground, but only a world in which such a thing could be thought of The old man could be toying with the daydreaming listener, or he could simply be insane, as could the narrator himself. Regardless of the reading, the nonsense does not assert itself as anything which must be believed or taken seriously, though it does function to discredit the characters. Nonsense works within the parody as a device of inversion and subversion, never deviating from these specific functions. In a way, the nonsense is "caged" within specific goals and structures. It is possi ble to see the parody on a deeper level, with Carroll's narrator representing not only Wordsworth's Traveller, but Wordsworth himself as autobiographical poet, Alice, for her role as listener, and even Carroll, who was known as something of an inventor. This line of interpretation, though interesting, is probably not very fruitful. Carroll seems to delight in offering tantalizing referential echoes, only to defy classification and straightforward comparison.
Nevertheless, Carroll's critical engagement with Wordsworth's model is undeniable.
The closest Lear comes to straight parody within an ostensibly nonsense text is in his emphatic responses to the type of "awful waming,,80 book which still proliferated in the nineteenth century and which would easily have been recognized by his audience. Started by the evangelical movement in children's literature in the seventeenth century, this type of book lived on into the nineteenth, in works like Ann and Jane Taylor's Original Poems/or Infant Minds, By Several Young Persons (1804). The moralism in this book is often graphically illustrated and taught through violence inflicted on those who must learn a lesson. In ''The Little Fisherman," by Jane, a little boy who has come home from fishing
gets caught by the chin on a meat hook:
The boy thus learns what it is like to be a fish. Lear's response to this type of "awful warning" is felt throughout most of the limericks in which the "punishment" or consequence the old person receives for his or her action is often ineffectual, humorously
exaggerated, or simply ignored by the recipient, such as with the Young Lady of Norway:
The young lady receives punishment for her careless behaviour, but her flattened state does not really hann her; her misbehaviour and punishment are her triumph and that which earn her the description of being "courageous."
Lear's most involved and parodic treatment of such moralistic literature is The History o/the Seven Families o/the Lake Pipple-popple (written in 1865, published 1871). This prose work encompasses many different types of children's literature, including the fairy tale, the natural history, the "awful warning books," and the "animal party" books initiated by Roscoe in the early 1800s. The story begins, "In former days-that is to say once upon a time, there lived in the Land of Gramblamble, Seven Familie " (p. 107) indicating a conventional fairy tale beginning, yet the following tory only r ughly resembles a fairy tale. The text moves on quickly to imitate other genres. In Chapters 2 and 3, its mock-pedagogic tone and content parody the popular natural hi torie f r
describing the stork
- --,.. ~ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ - - - 4' The t rk i eldom seen in thi country~ but in Holland, where there i much',: ater, and a great man frog, it i considered highl aluable. It alks about the treets, build its ne ts in the chimne s, i ery tame and domesticated, and eem to delight in the society of man.... The Stork feed n frog, fi he, birds, and erpents. 82
The absurd misinformation, coupled with linguistic play, seem to parody the standard works of children's natural history. This kind of parody also appears in some of Lear s nonsense botany, particularly in the few botany drawings which have some text attached to them. The example above from the Zoological Gallery is typical in its dealing with animals by their relationship to humankind--by how we use them. Lear parodies this tendency in
his "nonsense" for ''The Kite-Tree":
All four of these botanical drawings are even more ironic in that their "frui ts" are all ery utilitarian objects: clothes-brushes, kites, biscuits, and forks. But as we shall ee Lear takes Lake Pipple-Popple beyond such a limited target.
hiJdren and then end them off into the \ orld. All the group of childr n ub equcnlly dl horribly for their direct disobedience, echoing the "awful warning" books typified by Janeway and the Taylors. The seven young geese, for example, leave home and find a tree, "So four of them went up to the top of it, and looked about them, while the other three waddled up and down, and repeated poetry, and their last six lessons in Arithmetic, Geography, and Cookery" (p. 113). A "Plum-pudding flea" comes along, and, as they were told never to do, they touch it. Here, Lear derides the practical, standard education given to children, showing how little good it does outside the classroom. After the flea is touched, it barks until "by degrees every one of them suddenly tumbled down quite dead."
(p. 114). A similar grisly fate awaits all the young creatures: in each case they do exactly as they were told not to do, and they pay for it in absurd instances of death. The parrots, while fighting over a cherry, tear each other "into little bits, and at the last there was nothing left to record this painful incident, except the Cherry and seven small green feathers" (p. 112). The cats chase a "Clangle-Wangle" until "they all gradually died of fatigue and of exhaustion, and never afterwards recovered" (p. 117). And so on. Unlike the Taylors' "Poor Harry," these creatures learn neither from their instructions nor from the gruesome or violent consequences of their transgressions. They merely die. Most of the "useful" things they learned in school, such as grammar and arithmetic, prove useless, and even damaging. At the end of the story, Lear makes further, even more parodic references to "moralizing" literature, but before the climax, another type of children's Ii terature is lightly satirized.
After the deaths of all the children, the remaining victorious creatures who caused the downfall of the young ones hold a grotesque mirror image of the popular "animal party" books that had emerged between 1807 and 1820, beginning with Roscoe's The Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast 83. In this innocuous work and the many imitations to emerge after its success, a miscellaneous band of creatures gathers to hold a party: "And there came the Beetle, / So blind and so black; / And carried the Emmet, / His friend, on his back.'~ It was original only in its lack of didacticism, which in itself wa~ enough to 83Darton notes (p. 206) that by 1817, ~lrs. Dorset's The Peacock at Home (1807), the follow-up to Roscoe's The Butterfly'S Ball, was in its 28th edition.
~q\\,illiam Ros("()e, The Butterfly's Ball, alld the Grasshopper's Feast (London: J. I Iarris, 1807), p.6.
ensure its popularity. The verse is light and there is some humor, though illustrations of the first edition are somewhat sedate. In a dark reflection of Roscoe 's party, the creatures around Lake Pipple-popple create a gruesome testimonial to the dead ones which includes remaining body parts, "after which they gave a tea-party, and a garden-party, and a ball and a concert, and then returned to their respective homes full of joy and respect, sympathy, satisfaction, and disgust" (p. 119).
Lear offers a party subversively different from the simple and innocent "party" books, yet this, like all other references to contemporary children's literature, is only a brief scene in the work.85 When the parents of the dead children learn of the mishaps, they promptly buy pickling materials in order to pickle themselves to be put in a museum,
5 cal oLear 'TheQuangleWangl' Hat"and" alicoPic"forles parodi \ rsionsofthe"animal party."
Such is the fate of the "respectable" adults who try to prove a point to others. 86 They attempt to convey their moral, didactic message, but because they are placed among so many others, they are unnoticed and insignificant. Their care, instruction, and sacrifice have all been wasted. Moral, didactic literature is thus humorously and efficiently crushed by Lear, who wrote to James Fields on 18 November, 1869, "I have a story also of the Lake Pipplepopple & its 7 families--higbly instructive, & who I wish I could see you...laughing over.,,87 Lear was well aware that his "instructive" story transgressed all models of children's literature.
The parodic element in this work is strong, yet there is a considerable amount of nonsense to challenge its dominance. As was stated before, the tale is prose, which is rarely used for nonsense, but appearing just before Lake Pipple-popple, in the same
parody of the popular travel writing of which Lear himself was an exponent, challenge the notion that nonsense cannot be in prose. 89 In these stories, the narrative structure makes sense, yet it is within such sensical structure that we find the real nonsense. In Lake Pipple-popple, the parody is frequently undermined by the devices of literary nonsense.
The parody of the natural history books in Chapter III, however, only contains a trace of nonsense. In this chapter, the various creatures are described in amusing, absurd ways, but the descriptions never rise to pure nonsense. For example, the owls "looked after mice, which they caught and made into sago puddings" (p. 110), which is silly, but unambiguous. The only hint of nonsense comes in a wholly sensicalline: "And all these Seven Families lived together in the utmost fun and felicity" (p. 110). Taken alone, this line is clear, but in light of the implied alliterative nonsense structure, some doubt may arise. The two adjectives ending the chapter, "fun and felicity," though themselves sensible, echo a frequently used nonsense device--that of an often alliterative series of 86Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a figure not unrelated to the parents of this story, also had himself pickled after death.
87 ELSL, pp. 214-15.
88Hereafter, Fou.r Little Children.
89Crunmaerts writes that "Prose walks too slowly for [nonsense}" (p.39).
words, especially adjectives, which frequently includes misappropriations. We see this repeatedly throughout the prose nonsense, such as in Four Little Children, during their
encounter with the Blue-Bottle-Hies:
Here we find several variations of the nonsense device of serial description. The alliterative pair "smooth and shiny" make sense, but the next pair, though not alliterative, nonsensically links "peculiar" and "trivial" as modifiers of "splendour." At the end, Lear climaxes anticlimactically with a nonsensical pairing, in a similar fashion to his limericks, with the nonsensical "cerulaean and conspicuous." To adults who know these words and children who probably do not, it is still nonsense (though of a different variety).90 After having experienced several instances of such nonsensical alliterative pairs in serial description, we might doubt the sincerity, if not the meaning, of the description of the families around Lake Pipple-popple living in "utmost fun and felicity."
Parody of the "awful warning" books is perhaps the strongest and least nonsensical. In the beginning of the story, the parents give their children conventional, practical advice and also a few gifts, most of which make sense. All is standard parody until the children leave home for their journey. At this point, each group of children encounters trouble, which is played out usually in violence and death, as is standard in the "awful warning" books. Lear, however, mitigates the unpleasant circumstances through certain nonsense devices. The most common and noticeable nonsense device is the longer nonsense series. When the seven young parrots fight over the single cherry, 90S ee Chapter 5 for more on the difference between the adult- and child-reading of misappropriation.