Edward Lear and Alice

One of the most common statements to be found in the frquent comparisons between Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll is that there is no proof that they knew each other’s work; for example John Lehman, in Edward Lear and His Work (1977, p. 50), writes:

One of the most interesting unanswered questions of literary history is whether Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll read one another’s works or were in any way influenced by one another. There is no mention of either in the other’s diaries or letters, as far as we have them.

Many, starting with the anonymous reviewer in the Spectator of 9 April 1887, have identified some sort of Carroll influence in Lear’s later production of songs. Lehman goes on:

Nevertheless it is perhaps not too fanciful to see a certain, possibly distant consanguinity between Lear’s songs and such poems by Carroll as “’Tis the Voice of the Lobster”, “Beautiful Soup” (though both were of course parodies) and “Jabberwocky”.

The mystery, at least in what concerns Lear’s knowledge of Alice’s Adventures in Woderland, is now solved; in the latest edition of her biography, Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer (2004, p. 203), Vivien Noakes writes:

At the end of August [1869, the letter is dated 25 Aug.] he received a letter from Fortescue. “Have you read ‘Alice in Wonderland’?” it asked. “It is very pretty nonsense.”

And in the footnote to this passage she laconically states that “Lear’s own copy of Alice in Wonderland is now in the USA” (p. 287, chapter 17 note 23). Nothing is said of this copy (are there any annotations?) and Lear’s reply to Fortescue’s letter has not been published, as far as I know, and it might even be lost. So we do not yet know what Lear thought of his “rival” in the field of Nonsense, but we can be sure that he knew the Oxford don’s most important book and that among his friends it was considered to belong to the same genre he had created more than twenty years before with the Book of Nonsense.

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2 Responses to Edward Lear and Alice

  1. Pingback: A Blog of Bosh - » Lewis Carroll on Edward Lear

  2. Pingback: Lewis Carroll, the Limerick, and the Meeting That Failed | A Blog of Bosh

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