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date: 03 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on the formal inventiveness of Edward Lear’s poetry. Lear invoked the phrase, ‘fiddlediddlety of representation’, in reference to the painstaking ‘fidelity’ of his topographical paintings, which were notoriously ‘fiddly’ to do. The nonsense-word ‘fiddlediddlety’ encloses a vernacular violin (a ‘fiddle’)—a reminder that Lear composed and sang tunes for Tennyson lyrics, and that his ‘longer lyrics’ often invoked music and song. The article demonstrates the musical originality of Lear’s nonsense poems, including his limericks, and argues that longer ‘laughable lyrics’ like ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’ and ‘The Jumblies’ involve their own ‘fiddlediddlety of representation’ and are more curious (and indeed serious) than they first appear. While celebrating Lear’s investment in narrative and linguistic anomaly, the essay places Lear in the mainstream of the most sophisticated and self-aware Victorian poets.

Keywords: Victorian poetry, Victorian poets, nonsense poems, nonsense word, limericks

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