NONSENSE AND WONDER: The Poems and Cartoons of Edward Lear by Thomas Byrom

NONSENSE AND WONDER: The Poems and Cartoons of Edward Lear

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Given a high tolerance for tabulation, one may indeed see demonstrated here what has commonly been perceived about Lear's nonsense verse: that certain motifs and themes recur frequently; that they form a pattern expressive of his contempt for the conventional, censorious ""they,"" his self-consciousness about his appearance, his reluctance--except in the frenzied background figures--to give emotion free rein. . . all of which might be identified, as Byrom does laboriously, with alienation. Byrom also discerns, in the two series of limericks and the succession of songs, a progress toward calm, toward opening ""himself to his own feelings,"" climaxing in a transcendental embrace of the sublime--a reading which depends, for one thing, on ignoring the pervasive calm of Lear's watercolors until almost the last (which John Lehmann points out in his unpedantic introduction to Lear, reviewed below). To reach this problematic illumination, moreover, one must contend with Byrom's flat-footed summary of Lear's life (""Lear was now a tall and ugly young man of twenty"") with its log of dates, numbers of paintings sold, first-to-tenth returns to England. More critical is his misuse of his source, Vivien Noakes' biography. From Noakes, Byrom lifts a diary reference to two ""evils"" clone Lear in childhood, splices on her footnote speculation that one was ""probably a homosexual advance"" (the other, says Noakes, ""may have referred to an introduction to masturbation""), and concludes: ""Clearly, he blamed an aberrant streak in his own nature upon these pederastic experiences."" Lear's strong attachment to men is not in doubt--but in this area also, Byrom presumes too much.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Dutton