Sara Lodge


On her book Inventing Edward Lear

Cover Interview of May 30, 2019

A close-up

If you pick up Inventing Edward Lear in a bookstore, I hope you’ll turn to the pictures first. I would! Maybe you will be delighted by the imaginary enormous Hippopotamouse Rabbitte with its Lilliputian attendants feeding it lettuce; or by Lear’s atmospheric early sketch of Langdale in the Lake District; or by his astonishing self-caricature (drawn in his 20s) as an old man, stooped and with a stick, his spectacles appearing to slide down his nose like snowballs. All these appear here in print for the first time.

rorotoko.comEarly Self-Caricature by Edward Lear

My book isn’t a biography, though you can glean the essential facts of Lear’s life from it, including a lot of brand-new material about his early friendships and home life. It was liberating not to have to follow Lear on every one of his innumerable journeys and visits. You can read all about those in Vivien Noakes’s or Jenny Uglow’s lives of Lear. I wanted to have the space to look closely at Lear’s work, offering new readings of most of his best-known poems, and engaging closely with the life of his mind, his ideas, his moods, his artistic practices, his reading and viewing. I wanted to be able to draw connections between his work as a writer, an artist, a musician, and a naturalist, suggesting that rich interdisciplinarity was the fundamental quality of his mindset, his oeuvre. The advantage of each chapter being thematic is that you can read them in any order, guided by your own particular interests.

However, I really hope that – sooner or later – you will find your way to Lear’s music, which is the subject of chapter one, and listen along to his songs while you are reading. I think you’ll agree that Lear’s setting of Tennyson’s ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ compares favorably with song-settings of the same poem by Arthur Sullivan and Ralph Vaughan Williams. In fact, I think it is better. You’ll also hear the musical echo of Lear’s Tennyson setting ‘Sweet and Low’ in the chorus of his nonsense poem ‘The Jumblies.’ The music of the first fits perfectly to the cadences of the second. That realisation clarified for me why ‘The Jumblies’ is a melancholy, wistful poem as well as a happy, wishful one. It is both a lullaby for children and a lullaby for childhood – full of musical regret and emotional longing.