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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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Falling for Edward Lear

Falling for Edward Lear

(p.134) 6 Falling for Edward Lear
Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry

Matthew Bevis

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores images, metaphors, and styles of descent. Drawing on the Lear family’s religious background, his responses to debates about Original Sin and the Fall, and his chronic struggle with epilepsy (seen as a manifestation of holy folly in antiquity, and referred to in the nineteenth century as ‘the falling illness’), the chapter argues that Lear’s bathetic experiments in nonsense carry metaphysical as well as materialist charges. Many contemporaries still associated epilepsy with unruly sexual desires and forms of degeneracy, but physicians were also exploring how seizures could be accompanied by acute sensory perceptions, apparently nonsensical utterances, and visionary states. The chapter further suggests that Lear’s writing offered an eccentric contribution to contemporary debate, and examine how, by setting falls from grace to verbal music, he sought to translate physical and psychological traumas into tentative forms of faith, recuperation, and agency.

Keywords:   Edward Lear, the Fall, epilepsy, folly, bathos, religion

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