Edward Lear

James Williams

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ISBN: 9780746312223

Publication: September 27, 2018

Series: Writers and their Work

In the USA? Buy the Paperback US edition
Edward Lear wrote a well-known autobiographical poem that begins ‘How pleasant to know Mr Lear!’ But how well do we really know him? On the one hand he is, in John Ashbery’s words, ‘one of the most popular poets who ever lived’; on the other hand he has often been overlooked or marginalized by scholars and in literary histories. James Williams’s account, the first book-length critical study of the poet since the 1980s, sets out to re-introduce Lear and to accord him his proper place: as a major Victorian figure of continuing appeal and relevance, and especially as a poet of beauty, comedy, and profound ingenuity. Williams approaches Lear’s work thematically, tracing some of its most fundamental subjects and situations. Grounded in attentive close readings, Williams also connects Lear’s nonsense with his various other creative endeavours: as a zoological illustrator and landscape painter, a travel writer, and a prolific diarist and correspondent.

James Williams is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of York. He is the co-editor, with Matthew Bevis, of Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry (OUP, 2016) and, with Anna Barton, of the forthcoming Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense. His publications include essays on Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Beckett, and Victorian comic verse, as well as the introduction and historical notes to Alice Goodman, History is Our Mother: Three Libretti (NYRB, 2017).


Biographical Outline

Abbreviations and References

List of Illustrations


1: Beginnings

This Mystery of Eggs

Little Folks Merry

The Pobble who has no Toes

2: Odd Beasts

Amiable Frogs

Virulent Bulls, Triumphant Chimpanzees

The Owl and the Pussy-cat

3: The Scroobious Traveller

Agonies of Packing

Gooseberries and Gringhegi

The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò

4: The Morbids

Never . . . again

Full of Despair

Worse Things

The Dong with a Luminous Nose



Select Bibliography


'A wonderfully engaging and revealing book, one that talks a great deal of sense about nonsense (without talking too much sense). The imaginative incisiveness of Williams's reading – and the deftness of his writing – make this the best study of Lear's poetry we have.' Matthew Bevis, University of Oxford​

'A treat – scholarly, incisive and moving, with brilliantly surprising readings of Lear's work'. Jenny Uglow, author of Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense

Format: Paperback

Size: 216 × 138 mm

200 Pages

ISBN: 9780746312223

Publication: September 27, 2018

Series: Writers and their Work

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