Book Review:Mr Lear: A Life Of Art And Nonsense by Jenny Uglow (Faber, £25)

(3) View gallery Mr Lear: A Life Of Art And Nonsense by Jenny Uglow (Faber, £25) AT 3.40pm on December 18 1867, in Cannes, Edward Lear walked to the house of his English friends the Symonds to present to their daughter Janet one of his “nonsenses” – in this case a picture poem about a bizarre sea voyage which, as always, indulged his long-standing love of wordplay and fantasy, animals and birds. He noted the time and date in his diary. We don’t know what Janet made of The Owl And The Pussycat, with its talk of moonlight and five pound notes and eating quince slices from a runcible spoon. But generations of children since have enjoyed the poem, and its proliferation and influence (not to mention its odd, unsettling imagery) have made it the best known work by Lear, the so-called “nonsense poet”, and put him into the pantheon of children’s literary greats alongside such names as Lewis Carroll and AA Milne. Jenny Uglow’s biography of Lear is weighty in every sense (not much under 2kg on my kitchen scales) and beautifully and lavishly illustrated. But the second part of her title is telling because Uglow does as […]

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