Northrop Frye on Edward Lear and the Limerick

From Northrop Frye’s 1932 Notebook:

July 23

I read a book on the limerick the other day by some supercilious ass who talked about Edward Lear as a pioneer but a childish and inane primitive because his first and last lines ended with the same word, venturing to “improve” some by rewriting their final lines. This latter method is all right for silly-cleverness or obscenity, — or anything which makes the limerick do slave-labor for some non-literary purpose, — but the gentle echolalic of Lear, the last line as a reflective comment, establishes the limerick as art, modern smartness ruining its delicacy by rushing the meter and clinching and compressing the theme. Lear is the unchallenged and supreme master of the limerick, and almost the only one who brought it definitely within the pale of literature. This person is an ass, as I said before.
[margin:”OK”]

Northrop Frye’s Uncollected Prose. Ed. Robert D. Denham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. 39. [Google Books]

Robert D. Denham is the John P. Fishwick Professor of English Emeritus at Roanoke College and the editor of eleven volumes of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye.

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One Response to Northrop Frye on Edward Lear and the Limerick

  1. Peter Byrne says:

    Kudos to Frye for his defence of the Lear-limerick form. “[T]he gentle echolaic, the last line as a reflective comment…” is memorable lit-crit speak. However, what interests me about the form is just how it mirrors Lear’s conduct. He confronts a situation and then draws back, choosing not to act.

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