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Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry$
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James Williams and Matthew Bevis

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198708568

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198708568.001.0001

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Playing with Letters

Playing with Letters

Lear’s Episthilarity

(p.223) 10 Playing with Letters
Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry

Hugh Haughton

Oxford University Press

Lear’s letters are full of playful nonsense, as one might expect, but also insights into the play of language in his work. This essay argues that Lear’s correspondence offers us a unique view of the role of nonsense in his life, and of his life in his nonsense. It suggests that that Lear’s letters highlight the sociability as well as eccentricity of his imagination, and are as integral to his oeuvre as those of Keats. Indeed they can be read as epistolary extensions of The Complete Nonsense. Like Lewis Carroll, Lear was a prolific letter-writer, and corresponded with the great and the good of Victorian England. Through close readings of the texts themselves, the chapter presents the ‘scribblebibble’ of his letters as not only documents of his professional life as traveller, topographer, and nonsense poet but a tragic-comic portrait of the artist in epistolary form.

Keywords:   Edward Lear, nonsense, epistolarity, poet’s letters, life-writing, art

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