This magnificent and witty study by an unrecognized innovator seeks to define and explore the nature of “nonsense” in literature. Relying mainly on readings of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, Elizabeth Sewell not only sets out plausible boundaries for what or does not constitutes gibberish, but elucidates just how much of what is considered “sensible” writing must rely on nonsense for its power. Comparable only to the greatest works of Viktor Shklovsky, The Field of Nonsense is a masterpiece of American literary criticism.
Elizabeth Sewell was born in India in 1919 to British parents, attended Cambridge University, performed war service at the Ministry of Education in London, and then moved to America, where she taught at Vassar, Princeton, the University of California at Irvine, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, among other schools. Her other publications include critical studies of the works of Paul Valéry and T. S. Eliot, and studies of the connections between poetry and natural history.