A scrupulously forensic literary appreciation of Edward Lear and his ‘nonsenses’ by one of our most cherished historians – without losing any sense of fun.
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Acclaimed historian Jenny Uglow brings us a fascinating and beautifully illustrated biography of Edward Lear, full of the colour of the age.
Edward Lear lived a vivid, fascinating, energetic life, but confessed, ‘I hardly enjoy any one thing on earth while it is present.’ He was a man in a hurry, ‘running about on railroads’ from London to country estates and boarding steamships to Italy, Corfu, India and Palestine. He is still loved for his ‘nonsenses’, from startling, joyous limericks to great love songs like ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ and ‘The Dong with a Luminous Nose’, and he is famous, too, for his brilliant natural history paintings, landscapes and travel writing. But although Lear belongs solidly in the age of Darwin and Dickens – he gave Queen Victoria drawing lessons, and his many friends included Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelite painters – his genius for the absurd and his dazzling word-play make him a very modern spirit. He speaks to us today.
Lear was a man of great simplicity and charm: children adored him, yet his humour masked epilepsy, depression and loneliness. Jenny Uglow’s beautifully illustrated biography, full of the colour of the age, brings us his swooping moods, passionate friendships and restless travels/ Above all it shows how this uniquely gifted man lived all his life on the boundaries of rules and structures, disciplines and desires – an exile of the heart.
‘Quite wonderful … the astonishing thing is that Lear’s serious paintings and nonsense verses were produced by the same person, but Uglow makes a convincing case for thinking that he needed both. His was a life of art and nonsense, the sublime and the ridiculous … Uglow’s triumph is to show how his most famous works brought these contradictions together and struck sparks of creative life from them.'
‘Jenny Uglow, Edward Lear’s most sensitive biographer to date, does him proud … a psychologically brilliant portrait … wonderfully rich.’
Jenny Uglow has written a great life about an artist with half a life, a biography that might break your heart.
‘A wonderfully sharp and sympathetic biography … Jenny Uglow’s publishers have really gone to town, creating a beautiful object, full of gorgeous colour illustrations, and peppering the text with Lear’s verse and drawings. Uglow herself is a perfect biographer, always alert to Lear’s artistry, and with amazing antennae for hidden messages.’
The strength of this biography lies in the illumination of the life through the work, including Lear’s drawings and paintings ... Uglow excels in insight and sympathetic delicacy, aware that the fascination of this life lies less in event than in character – not only the character of her subject but also his own fascination with character.
‘Sumptously produced, with a handsome cloth spine and printed on thick glossy paper with numerous illustrations, Uglow’s biography is richly detailed and astutely empathetic, a splendid portrait of this remarkable man.’
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