Where did Nonsense go?

One of the questions which are often asked about Nonsense is, Why did it disappear almost completely from literature after the great season of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll? As M.B. Heyman writes in his thesis (Isles of Boshen: Edward Lear’s literary nonsense in context, University of Glasgow, Faculty of Arts, Department of English Literature, 2005):

If we skip Lear, Carroll, and the rest of the nineteenth century momentarily, we find a curious twist to the course of nonsense. Although literary nonsense drastically changed the face of children’s literature, as a more “pure” form for children it seems to have died away toward the turn of the century. Instead of remaining a children’s genre, nonsense returned to its old adult audience in various forms (p. 3).

After listing a few examples (Edward Gorey, Mervyn Peake, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl) he concludes that “the genre has never returned to the kind of success and popularity it had with Lear and Carroll” (p. 4).

I don’t know as to why it disappeared from children’s literature but have an idea about where it went: first it moved to the pages of the Comic Supplements in American newspapers and, when it vanished from them too, around 1910, it became the basic component of cartoons and was at the core of the medium at least until the 1960s when, with the sad demise of the theatre shorts and the advent of the TV cartoon, it was replaced by elementary adventure plots.

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive are getting ready to celebrate Animation’s 100th Birthday on April 6th: the site has a Biopedia (an Alphabetical Biographical Index) and the frequent posts often include wonderful illustrations from animation-related books and sometimes even whole shorts that can be downloaded.

É Cohl, Fantasmagorie, 1908

As an experiment in vodcasting, I’m posting a cartoon which perfectly exemplifies the pervasiveness of Nonsense even in the earliest animated films: Émile Cohl‘s Fantasmagorie (1908). You may need to download iTunes to watch it.

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