THE OWL AND THE PUSSY CATS

Lear in Love, the Untold Story by Michael Montgomery

(Pen Press, 2012)

imagesCA7LQ6BNThe Owl and the Pussy Cats, by Michael Montgomery, tells the tragic story of Edward Lear (1812-1888), who is loved the world over as the author of  the original Book of Nonsense with its famous The Owl and the Pussycat poem, which have given pleasure to millions of children and adults alike. Ironically, Lear saw this only as a sideline to his lifelong career as a leading landscape artist, whose work is now increasingly recognized (one recently sold in New York for almost $1 million).  In addition to writing these classics, Lear was also a popular Victorian travel writer and composer, who put to music several poems by his great friend Alfred Lord Tennyson.

The fact that Lear never married labelled him with a mistaken reputation that he was homosexual. However, here Montgomery finds in Lear’s voluminous diaries and letters that this was not the case. At the age 25 Lear wrote home from his adopted homeland of Italy, ‘I wish to goodness I could find a wife!’  The diaries dispel the notion of his homosexuality and give accounts of 40 pretty females who caught his eye over the next 50 years.

This biography is a wonderfully uplifting, but at the same time deeply tragic, tale of his lifelong battle against a host of adversities: his humble origins, perpetual poverty, poor eyesight, a weak chest and, above all, epilepsy, which in those days was regarded almost as something akin to madness.

In spite of all these, he succeeded in charming his way into the very highest levels of society, including even Queen Victoria herself and no less a critic than John Ruskin wrote ‘I really don’t know any author to whom I am half so grateful as Edward Lear.  I shall put him first of my hundred authors.’

That Lear never succeeded in his wish to marry was not for any lack of trying.  Even at the age of 75 he was still on the point of proposing, only to draw back at the last minute for fear of imposing the consequences of his epilepsy on another.

Lear’s fans the world over should be deeply grateful to Michael Montgomery for finally correcting the story.  This compelling book should be read by all who want to learn more about this major figure of the Victorian age.

 

 

–           Mrs.  M

 

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