'But when my phrenzied fit is o'er, a dreary hour comes on, –
A consciousness of unknown things, – of reason overthrown'

('Miss Maniac', ll. 7-8)

The poem 'Miss Maniac' was copied by Edward Lear, most likely from a periodical, and illustrated for his childhood friend Fanny Drewitt as a gift before her marriage. The verse tale of a woman maddened by grief is an interesting choice of gift for a prospective bride, rendered more interesting still by the close alliance between Miss Maniac's fits and Edward Lear's own life-long epilepsy. 1 But while, unlike this early effort, Lear's published nonsense avoids dealing directly with the epileptic fits that he suffered from throughout his life, we can nonetheless trace their influence in his work, not only in his embrace of the 'abnormal' individual cast out of society for his or her eccentricity but in the very shape of his nonsense and the vision of the world it provides. Nonsense as a genre turns the normal order of the world on its head, pointing to the artificiality of our conventions and the meaninglessness that haunts our endeavours to create meaning. Lear's nonsense however also plays with a more particular signification of disorder: a personal expression and negotiation with his own disordered body as well as a depiction of that body that speaks to contemporary depictions of non-conforming, unreasoning bodies. Both within and through their fun, Lear's nonsense presents a very personal narrative of disorder and control. This can be seen in the recurrence of the traditional popular signifiers of epilepsy throughout his verse and the population of his poetry with impulse-given characters prone to wild, repetitive movements, but also in the form of the poetry itself, in the metre of his verse and its relationship to its accompanying illustrations.

Studies of nineteenth-century depictions of disability have tended to focus on the novel and the autobiography, prose works both, and works that present a more straightforward negotiation with the 'cultural scripts' of the day, to use Martha Stoddard Holmes' terminology. 2 The nonsense poetry and comic verse of the period, despite their clear links to the carnivalesque, freak shows and other forms of bodily exhibits popular in the period, have rarely been discussed in terms of disability studies. 3 And yet, such literature was incredibly popular with children and adults alike. Lear's limericks are an important cultural artefact and our understanding of their representation of disability is important to our understanding of literary representations of disability in the period in general. Moreover, Lear's negotiation with the cultural scripts of epilepsy in his nonsense do so in a manner quite distinct from authors such as Harriet Martineau, John Kitto, Henry Fawcett, Elizabeth Gilbert and also from abled-bodied writers such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. 4 Eschewing, for the most part, sentiment and melodrama, and certainly any attempt at a Providential narrative, Lear presents the non-conforming body as a source of joy and wonder, as much as of fear and pity, not because it is a symbol of innocence or of divine providence, but simply in itself, unreasoning and unconforming as it may be. In this, we can see Lear's nonsense as a continuation of the older traditions of the grotesque and the carnivalesque catalogued and mourned by Bahktin and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in which the non-conforming body, rather than being catalogued and marshalled by medical discourse, can be seen as a source of monstrous power, which makes us stop and stare and thus reassess our understanding of the world around us. 5

Throughout Lear's oeuvre we find hints at the feelings of isolation that hiding his condition caused him, hints at the sense of shame he felt in what was seen by contemporary culture as his 'degeneracy', hints at the fear the loss of control over his own body incited but we also find hints at his rebellion in the face of such fear and shame. The bodies he depicts are not just beaten and shamed for their non-conformity and their unreasoning behaviour, they are rejoiced in, frequently by the character themselves, but by the reader, if no one else. They are a source of joy and wonder. Lear emphasises the humour and joy that can be found in his unconforming protagonists, in the bouncing rhythms in which he depicts them, in the sympathy he extends towards them, and in the manner in which they make us reassess the conventions that they break with their bodies and their behaviour. This emphasis on the humour can be seen as a way of Lear detaching and distancing himself from his experiences but also as a means of opening up their creative potential and challenging conventional understandings not just of the body but of the world more generally. Or, in other words, when reason is overthrown, we gain consciousness of previously unknown things.

Lear's Daemon and Nineteenth-Century Understandings of Epilepsy

Epilepsy was little understood in the nineteenth century. Associations with the supernatural, whether it be divine or demonic, common from the classical period onwards, still lingered. Linked to Moon goddesses such as Mene and Selene in the ancient world, the nineteenth century saw French physicians such as Joseph-Honoré-Simon Beau (1806-1865), François Leuret (1797-1851) and Jacques Joseph Moreau (1804-1884) carry out serious scientific studies in which they recorded the number of attacks experienced by patients during different phases of the moon. 6 Little distinction was made between epilepsy, lunacy and idiocy, and the condition was associated both in the popular and the medical imagination with sexual deviancy and violence. British physician John Epps (1805-1869) in Epilepsy and Some Nervous Affections (1841) contended that in six out of ten cases, the affliction was caused by the 'practices of epileptics themselves', noting that 'in walking the streets of London, you see boys, by these practices, laying the foundation for epileptic seizures' while Leuret in Recherches sur l'epilepsie (1843) noted masturbation as the second most common cause of epilepsy in his patients. 7 Later in the century, Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) argued that the causes of epilepsy were 'identical' to those of criminality and that 'the difference among epilepsy, moral insanity, and born criminality is only a matter of degree' and further that 'congenital criminality and moral insanity are nothing but special forms of epilepsy'. He argued that during an epileptic episode 'the mental capacities that appeared late in human development are arrested or lost', thus '[e]pilepsy, like a complete type of atavism, is characterized by primordial religiosity, ferocity, instability, impetuosity, agility, cannibalism, irascibility, precocity, and animal instincts'. 8

It is perhaps unsurprising then that Lear's epilepsy was such a closely-guarded secret, apparently kept from all but his family. From the age of six, Lear suffered frequent attacks of what appears to have been temporal lobe epilepsy. As an adult, he frequently blamed his own lack of self-control, carrying this shame until late in life when at the age of seventy-four, he finally absolved himself, realising that the 'inalienable and apparently unalterable physical evils' that he referred to as his daemon 'have been less due to the work of my own will, as I have hitherto imagined, than to overpowering effects of unknown & uncontrollable force'. 9 His diaries make clear his misery and shame over his affliction. The mark 'X', used by Lear to designate a seizure, appears regularly. While the notation is often matter-of-fact, it is frequently accompanied by an exclamation of misery. On 12 October 1861, he writes: 'Ay me! an unhappy life! Yet it is difficult to look back on the first sorrows of 43 years ago, which certainly caused these tortures'. 10 His most frequent proclamation however is of weariness with a suffering that will not abate, always returning, bemoaning 'this sad no-progress life', 11 with its constant 'one struggle more'. 12

Lear's epilepsy is often seen as the prime reason that he remained single, despite his longing for a closer kind of companionship. 13 Throughout his life Lear seems to have formed attachments to both men and women and he seriously considered marriage to Augusta Bethell on more than one occasion but remained hesitant. There may have been a number of different reasons for this: their differences in age and class; the vocal objections of her sister; his romantic and sexual interest in men; or his more general sense of inadequacy and lack of self-worth—although this latter seems to have been connected to his sense of physical infirmity and isolation, undoubtedly linked to his epilepsy and the shame that surrounded it. 'Poor Gussie! And how to decide?', he wrote in his diary, 'If her life is sad, untied to mine would it be less so? Or rather, would it not be more?' 14 In a more concrete sense, however, Lear may have seen his epilepsy as an insurmountable barrier to marriage due to the commonly-held belief that the condition was hereditary and the prevailing medical wisdom of the time that epileptics should refrain from sexual relations of any kind. They were moreover deemed unfit for the 'responsibilities' of marriage. 'They may be able up to certain points in music, art, literature, or manual work', notes the Lady Superintendent of the Meath Home for Epileptics in 1897, 'but they are always subject to fits of more or less irresponsibility […] and thus are quite unfit to have the training or hold the destinies of others in their hands'. 15

All this is well established within Lear criticism. It is a rare work that does not mention Lear's epilepsy and the secrecy surrounding it and how this influenced his sense of himself as an outsider. It has been linked frequently to his sense of sympathy for the eccentrics that he casts as the protagonists of his nonsense. Beyond this however Lear's epilepsy and its influence on his poetry has received very little attention. Matthew Bevis' chapter examining the metaphor of falling in the recent collection Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry is a notable exception, although 'falling' as Bevis employs it here speaks not just to Lear's epilepsy but also takes on religious and sexual connotations. 16 Yet when viewing Lear's poetry through the lens of his epilepsy and nineteenth-century discourse surrounding the condition, it seems clear that Lear's poetry overflows with the traditional signifiers of epilepsy from falling and dancing to the moon and animals but most of all it overflows with protagonists who act and react, often violently, without motivation—their 'reason overthrown' ('Miss Maniac', ll. 7-8). They move erratically and repetitively, leaping and dancing and bonging to little or no purpose and without a sense of consequence, although consequences there frequently are. Perhaps more significantly, though not overtly depicted as epileptic, they embody contemporary understandings of the condition as a space of subjective absence, unreasoning violence and loss of control.

In attempting to read Lear's work through the lens of his epilepsy, this article does not seek to place Lear's epilepsy as the overriding concern of his nonsense but rather as simply another layer of its emotional structure, one which enriches our understanding of its play of melancholy and absurdity, nostalgia and merriment. 17 For example, in regards to Lear's favoured sobriquet, 'dirty landscape painter', Seamus Perry has commented that 'the apparently seedy phrase […] is really a sign of much greater emotional assurance' than one might guess. 18 This description of Lear was given to him first by a young Englishman he encountered on a tour of Italy in 1847, which Lear then co-opted as a self-deprecating badge of honour. Peter Swaab, noting the overt class-based slur, also points to Lear's ambivalent adoption of it as relating to both his own and others' conception of his sexuality. 19 But this conception was not distinct from his epilepsy and its associations of sexual taint. The dig at Lear's social class might also have played upon his insecurities regarding his 'daemon', as it was frequently considered to be a disorder of the lower classes. As Samuel Wilks (1824-1911), consulting physician at Guy's Hospital, noted in 1892: 'If I wished to find epileptics, I should go to lunatic asylums or idiot asylums amongst the low and undeveloped'. 20 Moreover, the association of epilepsy with uncleanliness and contagion suggests other possible reasons why this phrase spoke so peculiarly to Lear. The idea of the epileptic as unclean was well established even in the classical period. Both Pliny and Theophrastus note the practice of spitting at the sight of epileptics in order to 'throw back contagion'. 21 Perhaps more significantly for a man raised in a strictly Christian household, the Bible associates epilepsy with uncleanliness in Luke 9: 38-43 when Jesus rebukes 'the unclean spirit' that has seized a child, throwing him 'into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth'. The increasing medicalisation of discourse surrounding the condition did nothing to dispel this association. Descriptions of epileptic fits in medical texts were often violent and dirty, graphic in their description of the loss of bodily control:

[T]he eyes are distorted and half protruded from their sockets, the teeth are gnashed together and the tongue is mangled between them until the mouth overflows with bloody foam, the limbs are violently dashed about, the chest is so fixed that all proper respiration is at an end, and last of all, the bladder and intestines and seminal vesicles participate in the spasm and expel their contents. 22

Jeannette Stirling notes that 'the body in grand mal seizure variously leaked spittle, blood, urine, faeces or sperm', which 'contravene[d] those hallmarks of civilised subjectivity that hinge around socially constructed standards of self-discipline, cleanliness and order within dominant discursive regimes', thus the 'dirtiness' of epilepsy signals not just the tainted nature of the seizing body, but also 'signals a loss of subjectivity'. 23 Lear's adoption of the soubriquet 'dirty landscape painter' thus takes on a different dimension, pointing not just to the deep-seated shame at his sexual preferences, social station and erratic body, but to the lack of control and discipline that erratic body symbolised, and the need for a coherent identity, self-deprecating as it might be, which that body continuously undermined. By delineating the possible resonances of this phrase with contemporary understandings of epilepsy it is not being suggested that we read Lear's life or poetry exclusively in terms of his epilepsy but rather that such resonances are an important part of the web of allusion and association within which Lear lived, wrote and painted.

Dancing with animals in the Moonlight: Allusions to Epilepsy in Lear's Limericks

This interplay of allusions and resonances is evident when we examine Lear's recurring use and adaptation of signifiers traditionally associated with epilepsy, such as the moon, animals, falling or dancing. While, as Sara Lodge points out, the recurring motif of the moon in Lear's poetry can be linked to magic and joy, to the light that nonsense casts upon the world, it simultaneously plays upon its long-standing association with lunacy and epilepsy—to the darkness that needs lightened. 24 Thus Lear's depiction of the 'ecstatic Old Person of Tring' (ll. 4, p. 170) that gazes at the moon every June both conjures up the joy that a natural wonder such as the moon can evoke and at the same time age-old depictions of the epileptic as subject to euphoric visions and in thrall to the moon. The representation of the Old Man of Hague 'whose ideas were excessively vague' and who builds a balloon to 'examine the moon' (ll. 2-3, p. 72) pairs a sense of mental deficiency in the reference to vague ideas with a fascination with the moon in a manner that is both indulgent and scornful as is made clear by Lear's closing refrain: 'That deluded Old Man of the Hague' (ll. 4, p. 72). Here is the magic and joy that Lodge points to, but also a clear linking between obsession with the moon and the Old Man's deteriorated mental state.

The odd interspecies pairing at the heart of Lear's most famous nonsense song 'The Owl and the Pussycat' is another example of this duality or, perhaps more accurately, multiplicity. Lodge is illuminating here too, hypothesising that it was written for John Addington and Catherine Symonds, and it is their platonic marriage (Addington's sexual desires being male-oriented) that is represented in the poem. For Lodge the poem celebrates seemingly impossible unions while simultaneously evoking the struggle that such a union entails and the isolation experienced by the bisexual or homosexual in a society where such behaviour was seen as sinful at best. 25 For Daniel Karlin, it speaks to both ideal unions and their impossibility in the real world. 26 The depiction of the couple 'dancing by the light of the moon' (ll. 33, p. 239) at the end of the song is notably equivocal, speaking both to the joy of this celebratory moment but also placing emphasis on the eccentricity of the match by staging its celebration in the light of the moon. This is a union that is only made possible by sailing far away and existing in the nether region of the night. Thus the association of the moon with the epileptic further emphasises the eccentricity, the deviancy even, of the pair – an association underlined, not only by the repeated refrain of 'the moon / the moon', but by the fact that they are dancing under the moon (ll. 31-32, p. 239).

As noted previously, 'dancing' is a common signifier for epilepsy. Comparisons of the seizing of the epileptic to dancing can be traced back at least as far as the mediaeval period. St. Vitus's dance, the popular name for chorea, was often confused with epilepsy, and St. Vitus, patron saint of dancers and epileptics, was prayed to by epileptics and chorea sufferers alike. So too was St. Willibard and epileptics made pilgrimages to his tomb upon which they danced in hope that they might be cured through 'imitative magic'. 27 The dancing of the owl and the pussycat is imitative magic too, as they mimic the rituals of the romantic partnership they seek, but their dancing also stresses their eccentricity and their alliance with the netherworld of the moon, their status as 'borderland dwellers', as Max Nordeau termed epileptics during the fin de siècle—figures 'between reason and pronounced madness'. 28 Dancing is a frequent activity in Lear's nonsense and often signals unconformity if not potential madness. It is almost always presented as an endeavour to be disapproved of by the fastidious and conventional 'They' and delighted in by the reader. The Old Man of Whitehaven is deemed 'absurd' for dancing a quadrille with a raven and is 'smashed' as punishment (ll. 3-4, p. 172). In Lear's poetry dancing is a signifier of eccentricity, of a body that is not properly controlled and whose movements and behaviours do not conform. The Old Person of Slough is deemed 'imprudent' for dancing on the bough of a tree (ll. 4, p. 343) while the Old Person of Ischia 'friskier and friskier' conduct is mainly embodied in his dancing hornpipes and jigs (ll. 2, p. 90). Also of note is the Old Man on the Border:

There was an old man on the Border,
Who lived in the utmost disorder;
He danced with the cat, and made tea in his hat,
Which vexed all the folks on the Border. (p. 353)

Here, as in the more explicitly autobiographical 'How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear', the protagonist is an eccentric who lives on the outside of society, whose most significant relationship is with his cats and who lives in a jumble that involves the intermixing of food with other household items (pp. 428-29). Lear's reference to borders here predates Nordeau's, of course, so one cannot argue that Lear is playing upon Nordeau's notion of 'borderland dwellers', but the idea of the epileptic as a threshold figure was not a new one, nor was their association with disorder, or as we have seen, with dancing. The old man's dancing is in fact emblematic of his general sense of disorder: the disapproval of 'all the folks on the Border' of his dancing symbolising their larger disapproval of his disorder, a disorder which is clearly unwelcome on the Border. Borders are simultaneously a symbol of order and the edges of that order and therefore its lack. The old man's behaviour is a reminder of the fine line that the border maintains between order and disorder.

Interestingly, as with the Old Man of Whitehaven, the dancing in question takes place with a partner of another species. This happens on more than one occasion. Animals, but especially birds, feature heavily in Lear's nonsense, but so do, more particularly, animal-like humans, who partner with animals, adopt their behaviours and their physical features, such as the Old Man with an owl, whose face in Lear's illustration matches that of his owl (p. 176) or the Old Man of El Hums, who is referred as living on crumbs, which he picks up from the ground with the 'other birds' around (ll. 3, p. 362). This recurring interest in birds can be traced back to his early career as an ornithological draftsman and his lifelong interest in natural history. However, it is also worth noting that the patron saint of epileptics, St. Vitus, was often depicted as a cockerel. Also, perhaps more significantly, epilepsy was associated in the period with what Stirling terms the 'medical rhetoric of bestiality'. 29 Noted epilepsy specialist William Gowers (1845-1915) noted in 1880 that during a seizure:

The noises and actions of animals are strangely imitated. The patient mews like a cat, or, much more frequently, barks like a dog. This is evidently in part mimetic […] But it seems to be, in part also, the manifestation of some strange animal instinct which we possess in a latent or modified condition, like our canine teeth. 30

This adds another layer of meaning to Lear's recurrent use of animal imagery. Lear's protagonists, like Gower's epileptics, can be seen to present a manifestation of a 'latent' bestiality, an absurd mingling of human and animal, humorous but ultimately uneasy in an age in which the transgression of such boundaries presented a challenge to an entire cosmology. Lear's animal-like humans and human-like animals suggest that the divide between human and animal is porous at best and, like the epileptic that midst a fit seems to mimic animal behaviours, hints that the trace of the animal remains in the human. Lodge quite rightly points to Lear's interest in Charles Darwin here. But Darwin's and earlier evolutionists' theories were in themselves key in shaping nineteenth-century understanding of epilepsy and other related conditions. It was on the basis of the evolutionary concept that ideas such as atavism and Lombroso's criminal man were based and one can see the influence of the concept equally in Gower's idea of a latent animal instinct emerging in the epileptic. The animalism of Lear's protagonists certainly speaks to his long-standing interest in natural history but understanding the connections between contemporary understandings of that history and contemporary depictions of epileptics adds new shades of meaning to that animalism.

The resemblance between person and beast in Lear's nonsense is frequently benevolent: both the Old Person of Bree and the Old Man in a Marsh live in harmony with the animals they mimic and their 'animalism' leads to eccentric but not harmful behaviours. This is not always the case. The Old Person of Crowle's behaviour is indistinguishable from the owls he lives with: 'When they screamed in the nest, he screamed out with the rest' (ll. 3, p. 369). This, it seems, warrants the label of 'depressing' for the Old Person (ll. 4), but it also suggests a kind of violence and savagery not frequently associated with owls, which despite their predatory nature, are more often associated with wisdom and knowledge, and whose bird call is usually rendered into writing as the gentle-sounding 'twit-twoo' rather than a scream. The Old Person of Crowle's animalism here is distressing, even if it causes little harm. It also invokes the two sides of epileptic behaviour, as it was viewed in the nineteenth century, sudden unexplained violent actions, often viewed as animalistic, and deep melancholia.

The animalism of the Old Man of Peru, by contrast, causes harm to himself, if not to others, as behaving like a bear results in him tearing off his hair. His animalistic behaviour is without rational motive, as his defining characteristic is that he 'never knew what he should do' (ll. 2, p. 87). Rather the suggestion is, by the adjective ascribed to him in the limerick's final line, that this behaviour is 'intrinsic' (ll. 4). The implication is thus that this bear-like behaviour of the Old Man speaks to an internal truth of his nature, which, unable to make rational decisions, he has reverted to. Such a reading aligns with Lear's interest in natural history and specifically in evolutionary theory, but it can also be viewed in the light of Lear's epilepsy and the rhetoric of animalism surrounding it in the nineteenth century, particularly as for those influenced by evolutionary thinking, as seen above, these were not necessarily distinct, with epilepsy viewed as a kind of atavistic throwback to an earlier stage of evolution. Like the epileptic, the Old Man of Peru is subject to fits of violent behaviour, in which he reveals the latent animalism of his nature.

Lear's Epileptic Protagonists and Challenging Victorian Understandings of Epilepsy

Although viewed comically, nineteenth-century accounts of epileptic animalism such as Gowers' reveal how disturbing such behaviour was generally found to be by those who witnessed it. Despite the apparently benign nature of euphemistic signifiers such as 'dancing' or 'moon-struck', epilepsy was generally regarded with something akin to horror: there was of course the shame associated with it due of the belief that it was related to masturbation or sexual deviancy and that it was a sign of atavism, but the feeling of horror associated with the fitting body went beyond this. Stirling defines the epileptic at the end of the nineteenth century as a 'conflation' of 'visible loss of bodily control and the potential for mythic violence, as well as social and sexual excess'. 31 The association of the epileptic with violence is important but so also is the idea of the loss of control. The French physician Jean-Etienne Esquirol (1772 – 1840) notes that 'The fury of epileptic patients … is of a very dangerous kind, blind, and in some degree automatic. Nothing can tame it; neither the sight of powerful instruments of restraint, nor moral influences'. 32 The danger here is not just the violent nature of the epileptic, but the fact that this violence is 'automatic' and therefore cannot be controlled or influenced. A. Hughes Bennett put forward the view in 1877 that 'while in a state of epileptic unconsciousness a person might commit almost any act without knowing it'. 33 The violence associated with epileptics was all the more worrying because it stood outside the bounds of human reason: it was motiveless and unremembered.

It was for this reason that Ernst Jentsch, and then later Sigmund Freud, considered the epileptic body as a nexus point for the uncanny: 'for the epileptic attack of spasms reveals the human body to the viewer – the body that under normal conditions is so meaningful, expedient and unitary, functioning according to the directions of his consciousness – as an immensely complicated and delicate mechanism'. 34 This, argues Jentsch, creates a sense of the uncanny in an observer as the body undergoing an epileptic attack stands 'in contradiction to the usual view of psychical freedom', which 'begins to undermine one's hasty and careless conviction of the animate state of the individual'. 35 The epileptic body, both different to but similar to the observer's own body, thus acts on the observer to undermine the observer's sense of conscious control over his or her own body and his or her sense of agency. It suggests the limits of human consciousness and individual control. Moreover, the epileptic body with its 'involuntary movements and impulsive phonic utterances' signifies 'a living death of control over meaning'. 36 As Stirling notes, 'as a figurative device, "the epileptic" is inevitably poised on the unstable threshold between order and an ever-threatening chaos'. 37

A lack of control, particularly over the body, and the tension between meaning and unmeaning, is a fundamental part of Lear's nonsense. For Wim Tigges, the essential characteristic of nonsense in general is the 'unresolved tension […] between presence and absence of meaning', but perhaps especially in relation to Lear, in whose limericks 'motivation for the eccentric behaviour of the protagonists or for the specific reactions of "them" is hardly ever convincingly presented'. 38 Like the epileptic in the nineteenth-century view, the Lear protagonist is often frenzied, moving repetitively and without apparent motivation, desire or reason, simply heeding an unexplained impulse. His or her movements are, or border on, meaninglessness. They are human or human-like, but apparently lacking in the self-awareness or reasoning faculty that would have been considered at the time to constitute human subjectivity. Like the epileptic in nineteenth-century discourse, Lear's nonsense protagonists are liminal figures that mark the border between agency and automatism. They are 'constructed as both wilful and mindless, simultaneously an agent in her or his own aberrance and the pitiful victim'. 39 As always with Lear, we are caught between melancholia and wonder, a mischievous joy and a lurking sadness at these aberrant, uncontrollable bodies that jubilantly thumb their noses at signification but who are frequently 'smashed' for their troubles and whose resistance anyway lacks the willed desire required to make it truly subversive.

Lear gives no reason as to why the Old Man of Cashmere's 'movement were scroobious and queer' (ll. 2, p. 352), nor why the Old Lady of Chertsey 'twirled round and round, / Til she sunk her underground'. We are only told that her motiveless repetitive motion 'distressed all the people of Chertsey' (ll. 3-4, p. 161). Similarly, we are given no reason as to why the Old Man of Melrose walks on the tips of toes, only that 'they' do not approve (p. 168). Motivation is subscribed in the story of the Old Person of Spain who sits on a chair with his feet in the air. We are told he hates 'all trouble and pain' (ll. 2, p. 175). However, the causal link between the Old Person's avoidance of pain and his physical actions is not explained. As well as motiveless movements, Lear's protagonists are also plagued by 'impulsive phonic utterances', as previously seen with the Old Person of Wick and the Old Man of Crowle, as well as the Young Lady of Russia 'who screamed so that no one could hush her / Her screams were extreme, no one heard such a scream' (ll. 2-3, p. 106).

Such behaviour on the part of Lear's protagonists has been ascribed to Lear's railing against the austere etiquette of Victorian society, to his dissenting beliefs that set him against any kind of rigid doctrinarism as well as to a deliberate attempt to write a new kind of literature for children that instead of enshrining a strict moralism, made them laugh by writing characters that wantonly and amorally did exactly what they felt like in any given moment. We might also however see this behaviour as speaking to Lear's consciousness of his own periodic and frequent loss of control of his own body. The adjectives attached to these protagonists, with their impulsive unreasoning actions and utterances, frequently point to a less than balanced psychological state, from 'that bewildered Old Man of Corfu' who 'never knew what he should do, / So he rushed up and down' (ll. 2-4, p. 80) to the 'eclectic old man of Port Grigor' whose 'actions were not for vigour' and who stands on his head (ll. 4, 2, p. 358), to the Old Person of Woking, 'whose mind was perverse and provoking', who sits on a rail with his head in a pail (ll. 2, p. 339). Like the discursive figure of the epileptic in the nineteenth century, the actions of these figures are frequently violent, like that of the Old Person of Tartary, 'who divided his jugular artery', for no apparent reason (ll. 2, p. 77), or the Grandmother of the Young Person of Smyrna who threatens to burn her (p. 159), or in an act of lesser but equally unreasoning violence, the Old Person of Newry, who 'tore all the rugs, and broke all the jugs' (ll. 3, p. 357). There are also those figures, whose actions are just as meaningless, but rather than being frenetic and violent, are extreme in their listlessness. Here again however we can see the invocation of the epileptic body, which after a violent fit, often falls into catalepsy, which Lear himself experienced frequently, often sleeping or unresponsive for hours after an episode. Thus, for example, we have the Young Lady of Parma: 'Whose conduct grew calmer and calmer; / When they said, 'Are you dumb?' / She merely said, "Hum!"/ That provoking Young Lady of Parma' (ll. 2-4, p. 106). Or the Old Man of Hong Kong, 'who never did anything wrong; / He lay on his back, with his head in a sack' (ll. 2-3, p. 345).

'[T]he legions of cruel inquisitive They' and their violence against the non-conformist individuals at the centre of Lear's limericks also fit into this epileptic paradigm. 40 Under the banner of treatment and medical science, patients diagnosed with epilepsy frequently underwent numerous brutal and invasive procedures from blistering and bleeding (fairly standard for numerous conditions at this time), to trepanning and tracheostomies (again not out of the common way for medical practice at that time), to more extreme measures such as castration, clitoridectomies, hysterectomies and the amputation of digits. Even diagnostic procedures, while less physically invasive, were frequently humiliating, such as the Pinch Method or the Gowers Manoeuvre, the practice of tugging on pubic hair to determine whether a patient was hysterical or epileptic. 41 And just as nineteenth-century medical practitioners attempted to control epileptic bodies through force so also do 'They' attempt to control Lear's protagonists by force when they move in unexpected ways or make noise without reason:

There was an Old Person of Buda,
Whose conduct grew ruder and ruder;
Till at last, with a hammer,
They silenced his clamour,
By smashing that Person of Buda. (p. 93)

We are never told the exact nature of the Old Person of Buda's rude conduct, but its punishment is clear. Such violence in response to unreasoning behaviour is seen time and again in Lear's limericks:

There was an old man of Ibreem,
Who suddenly threaten'd to scream;
But they said, 'If you do,
We will thump you quite blue,
You disgusting old man of Ibreem!' (p. 375)

Again and again violence is perpetrated against the bodies that do not conform, but specifically those bodies that move and act without reason or meaning.

Where the Lear protagonist diverges from the standard nineteenth-century conception of the epileptic is in the de-sexualised state that most Lear protagonists exist in. They are free from the association of 'borderland dwellers' with sexual degeneracy. Epilepsy was strongly associated in nineteenth-century medical and popular discourse with a sexual taint. Limericks were also seen as having just such an association. Gershon Legman points out that 'the limerick is and was originally, an indecent verse-form. The "clean" sort of limerick is an obvious palliation'. 42 It is notable then that although Lear's figures are perversions, subverting the social order, their perversion is sexually innocent, sterile almost, and that this innocence is established in a form previous known for its bawdy humour – for its very lack of sexual innocence. Of course, Lear's own experience of epilepsy was as an obstacle to sexual relations and long-term romantic partnership and abstinence was strongly advised by most physicians for epileptic patients. The sexual innocence of Lear's protagonists can thus be seen as a revolt against the sexual shame cast upon the epileptic or possibly as reflecting the sexual reality of many epileptics in the era. This is not to say that romantic partnership is entirely absent from Lear's verse, but it is generally romantic in nature rather than sexual and is frequently formed between two apparently ill-matched partners, whose very act of union is considered an act of eccentricity. Such unions have been read in terms of queer theory, however, we might read them not simply as queer but rather as 'cripped', the otherness of the unions speaking not just to Lear's homosexuality but also to his non-conforming body. 43 Again, reading Lear's poetry in terms of his epilepsy does not detract from other readings, but rather adds weight to them.

Staring, Lear's Illustrations and Nonsense as Wonder

This is true, not just of the written elements of Lear's nonsense, but the visual as well. As Tigges notes, in the illustrations, '[a]gain and again, feet can be seen to be slightly raised from the ground, or just touching it with the tips of the toes, arms being thrown backward'. 44 Lear's protagonists, in both their written and their visual forms, are a challenge to our understanding of what constitutes normal, particularly in relation to bodies. His protagonists defy the idea of the body as a site of order while also rendering problematic the idea of the human as necessarily synonymous with agency—perhaps more especially in their visual form.

Lear's illustrations are startling in their absurdity and their defiance of order. They transform the reader into 'an undisciplined spectator', inviting not so much the reader's gaze but a stare. We stare, writes Garland-Thomson, when we are caught off guard by an unfamiliar sight: 'we come to expect one another to have certain kinds of bodies and behaviors, stares flare up when we glimpse people who look or act in ways that contradict our expectations'. 45 In staring, we seek to understand, to make sense of the unusual sight before us. It is, in Garland-Thomson's conception, an automatic response, thus '[t]he starer is a properly attentive spectator befuddled, halted in mid-glance, mobility throttled, processing checked, network run amuck'. 'Befuddled' is a key word here, for Garland-Thomson's starer is 'the opposite of the attentive spectator, who cruises through the mundane landscape, deftly shifting and sifting through the visual field, conferring narrative mastery on all that he surveys'. 46 While the gaze makes the unknown knowable, the stare marks 'a failure of knowing': 'staring betrays a basic confusion, a thwarting of coherence, a betrayal of perceptual synthesis'. 47 As in Jentsch and Freud's account of the epileptic as a site of the uncanny, Garland-Thomson points to how the body of the other acts upon the observer, disrupting the observer's own reasoning faculty and control of his or her body. Stare at the unreasoning and we too become unreasoning.

Lear's illustrations both accompany, overlap and go beyond the bounds of the written limerick, and like the written limericks they resist the formation of knowledge. The disordered body defies both reader and spectator in their desire to understand. Indeed, we might read the attempt to use two different mediums as expressive of the underlying resistance to categorisation in the subject matter, the varying and occasionally contradictory information they present speaking to an inability to capture or define the epileptic body. In viewing Lear's illustrations, much as when reading the accompanying poems, the reader's mastery over meaning is disrupted and much like Lear's protagonists the reader becomes the subject of compulsion. The disorder depicted in the illustration is transmitted to its viewer, whose bodily functions are seized. Take for example the following limerick:

There was a young lady, whose nose,
Continually prospers and grows;
When it grew out of sight,
She exclaimed in a fright,
'Oh! Farewell to the end of my nose!' (p. 371)

In the accompanying illustration, the nose carries on beyond the illustration, literally 'out of sight', thus refusing completion. In the accompanying illustration to the 'Old Man of Quebec', in which a beetle runs over the Old Man's neck, the Old Man's head is twisted at an unnatural angle of 180 degrees and the shading on the bodies of the beetle and the man make it difficult to discern where the Old Man ends and the beetle begins (p. 85). The frequent contradiction between illustration and limerick furthers this refusal of knowledge. For example, according to the text of the limerick, the Old Man of Peru's wife baked him in the oven by mistake, while the accompanying illustration suggests the act is quite deliberate, with the wife smiling and pointing mid-way through pushing her flailing husband in a pan into the oven (p. 72). The reader or viewer is caught in the contradiction, seized momentarily, knowledge refused, reasoning paused.

Interestingly, however, Garland-Thomson also argues that while mastery implied in the gaze closes down knowledge, casting the world in a fixed scheme, the wonder inherent in the stare allows for the possibilities of new knowledge, yet to be understood. 48 This creates both a sense of dis-ease and also of delight, of the uncanny and of joy. Thus when staring at the giant dark maw of the Old Man of the South 'who had an immoderate mouth', the starer is potentially both horrified and amused, uncomfortable and yet drawn in (p. 90). Similarly, with the Old Person of Ischia, whose face is entirely darkened, one large black scribble, the starer is paused in confusion, disturbed by the lack of face but also set to wondering about the contrast between the lack of face and the jaunty dancing legs (p. 90). There is potential humour in the contradiction, although it is not a humour that banishes the discomfort of the lack of face or the discord between the joyously moving body and the blotting out of its most prominent visual expression of subjectivity. And again we return to the realisation that, as always with Lear, we are caught between the monstrous and the wondrous, laughter and melancholy, meaning and unmeaning, agency and its lack.

Detachment, Joy and the Form of the Limerick

Both Tigges and Lisa Ede argue that nonsense poetry performs the simultaneous function of allowing the reader to experience and distance him or herself from the emotions and actions presented. Likewise, we might argue that the writing of the poems allowed Lear to both express his experiences as an epileptic and distance himself from them, containing them within the closed (and sanitised) form of the limerick. 49 After all, as Vivian Noakes states, '[f]or all its merriment, one of the characteristics of pure Nonsense is detachment'. 50 In fact one might say its detachment is the result of its merriment. In a world of Scroobious Pips and Jumblies where owls marry pussycats and in which each new limerick is a new beginning, violence, loneliness and heartbreak can be a laughing matter. The epileptic body can be invoked, as can societal disapproval of its erratic actions, and it can become not just a source of horror and shame but of laughter and joy, its unreasoning and even violent impulses transformed into child-like fun.

We can see this in Lear's use of anapestic rhythms. As Bevis points out, Lear's rhythms are akin to a man falling. But they also have what Tigges calls a 'dancing quality'. 51 Through repetition that falling quality turns into dancing, into joyous music. In this, the very form of Lear's nonsense goes beyond merely mimicking his experience of epilepsy, and transforms his pain into beauty and joy. Lear's experience of epilepsy was characterised by recurring episodes of pain and loss of control. 'This regular irregularity of pain!' bemoans Lear in 1864. 52 For Lear there was one certainty in life: 'we fall. ― And the dreary penalty comes on ― weariness ―sadness ― apathy ― foreboding ―misery. X. at 2 P.M.'. 53 In his limericks, however, the repetitive falling rhythms created by his use of anapaests, has in Jackie Wullschläger's words, 'an exuberant, bounding' air. 54 Melancholy as they at times can be, they are also humorous and joyful. Disorder may be inescapable in Lear's limericks, as in his life, but he turns that disorder into music and therefore pleasure through repetition.

Structurally, as Legman notes, Lear's limericks are quite distinct from those of his predecessors and not just in the language used and the subjects touched upon. Unlike the limericks prevalent in comic annuals and private albums of the early nineteenth century, the last line of Lear's limericks, instead of providing a punchline, a narrative twist or resolution, merely reiterates with a slight variant the limerick's first line. We begin and end with the simple fact of the protagonist's existence and any movement forwards from that point in the second, third and fourth lines is negated by the return in the last line to the beginning. All actions are contained within the loop of the limerick's opening and closing refrain. Consequences, occasionally dealt with even in Lear, are undercut by our inevitable return to the beginning. Limericks where the last line does not repeat the first line still rarely point towards any forward momentum and still allow for something of a contained loop with the closing rhyme, which frequently is an exact repetition of the last word of the first line, but even when it is not, as Hugh Haughton points out: 'Lear's insistence on the repetition of the first rhyme word in the last line turns it into a self-rhyme, a return to a point of origin with only the mildest variation'. 55

Containment is part of the formal structure of Lear's limericks. Repetition is key to this. As Richard Cronin writes, in the limericks, 'Lear engages intimately with […] a life in which the only change that is possible consists of repetition'. 56 Cronin, however, also points out that the limerick always leads us to expect something beyond. He also notes Tigges' contention that Lear's limericks are best understood as a sequence. Indeed, Lear's repetitive tendencies extend beyond any one individual limerick: his limericks all follow a very similar pattern, featuring a cast of very similar characters, acting out in remarkably similar ways, invoking a recurring set of motifs. In terms of the sequence then, Lear's repetition, doubled-down upon again and again, becomes more than simply a return and takes on the hallmarks of a fixation or a haunting. The very opposite of a containment. A single limerick is an isolated moment of madness in which the world is turned upside down and human behaviour is unrulable but contained within that one moment. But to read Lear's nonsense is to witness hundreds of such moments of madness, of irregularity and wild impulse: the madness returns again and again. The limerick's repetitive opening and closing refrain seems a less able containment in such a context. Does such a lack of containment cause distress however or something else? We come again here to Wullschläger's emphasis on the exuberance of the limericks.

Paul Fung suggests that for Dostoevsky writing about epilepsy was 'a way of gaining mastery over experience'. Similarly, Bevis notes that Lear's 'poetry attempts some kind of recuperation by setting falls to music'. 57 Indeed, we can see nonsense as the one means beyond secrecy by which Lear could not just contain and control his experience, but inscribe meaning upon it. 58 While at times Lear's health made him despondent and cry out with weariness, at other times he showed a startling resilience. On 20 April 1862 he wrote in his diary: 'I have been wondering if on the whole the being influenced to an extreme by everything in natural or physical life— i.e., atmosphere, light, shadow & all the varieties of day & night— is a blessing or the contrary; & the end of my speculations has been that "things must be as they may, & the best is to make the best of what happens"'. 59 It is possible to argue that while in the medical discourse of the nineteenth century, '[t]he undisciplined and undisciplinable epileptic body functions as primary metaphor and embodied locus in turn-of-the-century tales of epidemic social fragmentation and decline', the undisciplined bodies at the heart of Lear's limericks strike a different emotional chord, uncanny yes, but also speaking to a sense of possibility and multiplicity, of mystery and wonder. 60 As Garland-Thomson points out, while disordered bodies refuse knowledge in the present moment, they all point to the possibilities of future knowledge. This is in line with G. K. Chesterton's proclamation that nonsense was the literature of the future because of the manner in which it provoked wonder by providing new ways of looking at ordinary things and pointed to the 'undecipherable' in Creation. 61 One might argue in fact that the disordered bodies of Lear's poetry suffer from a surplus of meaning rather than a deficit, over-inscribed with potential meanings that their circular narrative logic refuses to resolve. Certainly, the very fact of their disorder, and the disorder represented in nonsense literature generally, has been inscribed with meaning—an act of defiance against rules, order, conformity, the sobriety of Victorian middle-class culture. By making disorder itself a rule rather than simply a lack or absence of rules, one might say that the nonsense poet gains a measure of control or at least a façade of control, a façade of purpose, over his subject matter: he gains the agency that he lacks in life. Then again, the circular logic, particularly of the limericks, resists even this as a definitive reading: it is merely one possibility. It remains equally possible that there is no meaning to be found, that the limericks represent only characters acting on impulse and representing nothing more than the purely absurd. They remain permanently balanced between meaninglessness and a surplus of meaning.


Clare Walker Gore notes that '[t]he few existing studies of disability in literature mainly cluster around the Victorian period' but the majority of these studies focus on literary texts written by the able-bodied in which the unconforming body is presented through the lens of an able-bodied gaze or, as the case may be, stare. 62 This is understandable as most of the most famous representations of 'abnormal' or afflicted bodies in the period came from able-bodied writers. Those studies that examine works about disability by disabled authors have focused on non-fiction works, often by relatively obscure authors. Lear's work is significant because it was both extremely popular and written from the perspective of a writer whose body refused to conform and who felt that non-conformity deeply and translated that feeling into his literary and artistic works. It is notable also because while he does adopt some of the strategies observed in the writings of other disabled authors in his representation of non-conforming bodies in his nonsense, negotiating with the dominant 'cultural scripts' regarding his epilepsy, his treatment of bodily difference also suggests other possible strategies. Lear's narratives of the monstrous and non-conforming employ the common cultural signifiers of his condition (animals, the moon, dancing, unreasoning and automatic movement, violence) but they present them in a tolerant and benevolent light, not as a source of pity or to be descried for their villainy, but most frequently to be rejoiced in. For all that 'They' punish Lear's protagonists, their actions are presented without shame, and resist inscription. Rather, Lear's protagonists invite us to rethink our certainties, examine our morals and our conventions, and to reconsider the barriers between them and us.

Works Cited

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  • Auden, W. H., Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 (London, Faber and Faber, 1966)
  • Bennett, A. Hughes, 'Correspondence: The Medical Facts and Evidence in the Case of the Queen vs Treadaway', Lancet 109 (24 February 1877), 293- 95. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(02)59806-8
  • Bevis, Matthew, ed., Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199576463.001.0001
  • Cartwright, Lisa, Screening the Body: Racing Medicine's Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995)
  • Chesterton, G. K., On Lying in Bed and Other Essays, ed. by Alberto Manguel (Calgary, AB: Bayeux Arts, 2000)
  • Craton, Lillian, The Victorian Freak Show: The Significance of Disability and Physical Differences in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2009)
  • Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert and Seamus Perry, eds., Tennyson among the Poets: Bicentenary Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Ede, Lisa, 'The Nonsense Literature of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll' (Unpublished PhD thesis, Ohio State University, 1975)
  • Epps, John, Epilepsy and Some Nervous Affections, its Precursors: Being Twenty-Two Cases, Successfully Treated (London: Sherwood & Co., 1841)
  • Esquirol, Jean-Etienne, Mental Maladies: A Treatise on Insanity, trans. by E. K. Hunt (Philadelphia: Lee and Blanchard, 1845)
  • Fung, Paul, Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being (London: Legenda, 2015)
  • Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie, Staring: How We Look (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Gore, Clare Walker, Plotting Disability in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020). https://doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9781474455015.001.0001
  • Gowers, William, 'The Culstonian Lectures of Epilepsy: Lecture II – Part II', Lancet 115 (20 March 1880), 433-46. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(02)36836-3
  • Holmes, Martha Stoddard, Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004). https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.11877
  • Jentsch, Ernst, 'On the Psychology of the Uncanny (1906)', trans. by Roy Sellars, Angelaki, 2.1 (1997), 7-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/09697259708571910
  • Lear, Edward, Edward Lear: The Corfu Years, ed. by Philip Sherrard (Athens: Denise Harvey and Company, 1988)
  • Lear, Edward, The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse, ed. by Vivien Noakes (London: Penguin, 2001)
  • Lebrun, Yvan and Franco Fabbro, Language and Epilepsy (London: John Wiley & Son, 2008)
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  • Lodge, Sara, Inventing Edward Lear (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019). https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674989078
  • Lombroso, Cesare, Criminal Man, trans. by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter (London: Duke University Press, 2006). https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822387800
  • McRuer, Robert, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (New York: New York University Press, 2006)
  • Noakes, Vivien, Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer (London: Ariel, 1985)
  • Nordeau, Max, Degeneration (London: Heinneman, 1895)
  • Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. by Harris Rackham and William Henry Samuel Jones, 20 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989)
  • Prickett, Stephen, Victorian Fantasy (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005
  • Pryse-Phillips, William, Companion to Clinical Neurology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Radcliffe, Charles Bland, Epilepsy and Other Affections of the Nervous System, which are marked by Tremor, Convulsion or Spasm; their Pathology and Treatment (London: John Churchill, 1854)
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  • Temkin, Owsei, The Falling Sickness: A History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the Beginnings of Modern Neurology (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1945)
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  • Wullschläger, Jackie, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne (London: Methuen, 2001)


  1. Edward Lear, 'Miss Maniac', in The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse, ed. by Vivien Noakes (London: Penguin, 2001), pp. 23-40 (p. 24)
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  2. Martha Stoddard Holmes, Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), p. 9.
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  3. A notable exception to this is the chapter on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in Lillian Craton, The Victorian Freak Show: The Significance of Disability and Physical Differences in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2009), although Crater does not frame the discussion in terms of nonsense or genre.
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  4. See Stoddard and also Clare Walker Gore, Plotting Disability in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).
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  5. See Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. by Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), and Craton's discussion of its relevance to disability studies, pp 18-23; Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Staring: How We Look (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 51.
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  6. Owsei Temkin, The Falling Sickness: A History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the Beginnings of Modern Neurology (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1945), p.254.
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  7. John Epps, Epilepsy and Some Nervous Affections, its Precursors: Being Twenty-Two Cases, Successfully Treated (London: Sherwood & Co., 1841), p. viii; François Leuret, Recherches sur l'epilepsie, Archives générales de médecine, 4th série (1843), pp. 32-50 (p. 38).
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  8. Cesare Lombroso, Criminal Man, trans. by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter (London: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 262, 263, 264, 269.
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  9. 'Diary, 12 May 1886', Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 797.3
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  10. 'Diary, 12 October 1861', Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 797.3
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  11. 'Diary, 7 March 1859', Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 797.3)
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  12. 'Diary, 7 July 1864', Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 797.3)
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  13. See Peter Swaab's discussion of critical treatment of Lear's unmarried state in 'Some think him … Queer: Loners and Love in Edward Lear' in Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry, ed. by James Williams and Matthew Bevis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 89-114;
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  14. Quoted in Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer (London: Ariel, 1985)
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  15. Mabel Anderson, 'Should epileptics marry?', Lancet 149 (10 April 1897), 1053.
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  16. See Matthew Bevis, 'Falling for Edward Lear' in Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry, 134-161.
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  17. Stephen Prickett, Victorian Fantasy (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005), p. 120.
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  18. Seamus Perry, 'Auden's Lear' in Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry, pp. 300-15 (p. 308)
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  19. Swaab, 'Loners and Love', p. 92
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  20. Samuel Wilks, 'An address on some of the more unusual phenomena of epilepsy', British Medical Journal (2 January 1892), 2-5, (p. 5)
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  21. Theophrastus, Characters, ed. and trans. by James Diggle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 113; Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. by Harris Rackham and William Henry Samuel Jones, 20 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989) VIII, p. 27
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  22. Charles Bland Radcliffe, Epilepsy and Other Affections of the Nervous System, which are marked by Tremor, Convulsion or Spasm; their Pathology and Treatment (London: John Churchill, 1854), p. 50.
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  23. Jeanette Stirling, Representing Epilepsy: Myth and Matter (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010), p. 74.
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  24. Sara Lodge, Inventing Edward Lear (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019), pp. 16-17.
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  25. Lodge, pp. 189-90.
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  26. Daniel Karlin, '"The Owl and the Pussycat" and Other Poems of Love and Marriage' in Edward Lear and the Play of the Poetry, pp. 202-21.
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  27. Yvan Lebrun and Franco Fabbro, Language and Epilepsy (London: John Wiley & Son, 2008), p. 22.
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  28. Max Nordeau, Degeneration (London: Heinneman, 1895), p.18
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  29. Lebrun and Fabbro, p. 22; Stirling, p. 18.
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  30. William Gowers, 'The Culstonian Lectures of Epilepsy: Lecture II – Part II', Lancet 115 (20 March 1880), 433-46 (p. 436)
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  31. Stirling, p. 33.
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  32. Jean-Etienne Esquirol, Mental Maladies: A Treatise on Insanity, trans. by E. K. Hunt (Philadelphia: Lee and Blanchard, 1845), p. 150.
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  33. A. Hughes Bennett, M.D., 'Correspondence: The Medical Facts and Evidence in the Case of the Queen vs Treadaway', Lancet 109 (24 February 1877), 293- 95 (p. 295)
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  34. Ernst Jentsch, 'On the Psychology of the Uncanny (1906)', trans. by Roy Sellars, Angelaki, 2.1 (1997), 7-16 (p. 14).
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  35. Jentsch, p. 15.
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  36. Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Racing Medicine's Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p. 54
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  37. Stirling, p. xv.
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  38. Wim Tigges, An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988), p. 51, 78.
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  39. Stirling, p. 118.
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  40. W. H. Auden, 'Edward Lear', in Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 (London, Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 127.
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  41. Stirling, p. 63; William Pryse-Phillips, Companion to Clinical Neurology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 403.
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  42. Gershon Legman, The Limerick (New York: Bell Publishing, 1969), p. vii.
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  43. See Robert McRuer, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (New York: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 1 – 32.
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  44. Tigges, An Anatomy, p. 81.
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  45. Garland-Thomson, p. 6.
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  46. Garland-Thomson, pp. 20-21.
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  47. Garland-Thomson, p. 23.
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  48. Garland-Thomson, p. 51.
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  49. Wim Tigges, 'The Limerick: The Sonnet of Nonsense?', in Explorations in the Field of Nonsense, ed. by Wim Tigges (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1987), pp. 117-133 (p. 122); Lisa Ede, 'The Nonsense Literature of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll' (Unpublished PhD thesis, Ohio State University, 1975), p. 26.
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  50. Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer (London: Ariel, 1985), p. 213.
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  51. Matthew Bevis, 'Falling for Edward Lear', p. 159.
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  52. 'Diary, 24 July 1864', Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 797.3
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  53. 'Diary, 19 August 1864', Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 797.3
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  54. Jackie Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne (London: Methuen, 2001)
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  55. Hugh Haughton, 'Edward Lear and "The Fiddlediddlety of Representation"', Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, ed. by Matthew Bevis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 351-69 (p. 354).
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  56. Richard Cronin, 'Edward Lear and Tennyson's Nonsense', Tennyson among the Poets: Bicentenary Essays, ed. by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and Seamus Perry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 259-75 (p. 271).
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  57. Bevis, 'Falling for Edward Lear', p. 159.
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  58. Paul Fung, Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being (London: Legenda, 2015), p. 14.
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  59. Edward Lear: The Corfu Years, ed. by Philip Sherrard (Athens: Denise Harvey and Company, 1988), pp. 159-60.
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  60. Stirling, p. 73.
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  61. G. K. Chesterton, 'A Defence of Nonsense' in On Lying in Bed and Other Essays, ed. by Alberto Manguel (Calgary, AB: Bayeux Arts, 2000), 294-98 (p. 298).
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  62. Gore, p. 12.
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