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«Sensational nonsense»

Edward Lear and the (Im)purity of Nonsense Writing

Raffaella Antinucci    Università degli Studi di Napoli “Parthenope”, Italia    



The essay explores Lear’s contribution to the Victorian aesthetic debate, characterized by a marked resistance to the literary use of sensation (epitomised in Wilkie Collins’ fiction), and in which, according to Bourdieau and to many critics after him, the so-called cultural divide between high art and mass culture originated. In particular, the analysis verifies the degree of «impureness» of Lear’s nonsense, a hybrid genre that has often been apprehended as literarily and socially subversive. After a brief discussion of the main features of this genre and its acknowledged ‘parodic’ quality, the study examines Lear’s engagement with ‘high’ and ‘low’ literary conventions in «Growling Eclogue» and «Mr and Mrs Discobbolos» (whose second part was expressly written at Wilkie Collins’ suggestion), with the aim of investigating if and to what extent Lear’s crossing of genres and use of bizarre and at times grotesque literary images blur (and question) the boundaries between elite and popular culture.