Secondary Online Sources

Here are online sources dedicated to the analysis of nonsense, formal and informal

Most of the top scholarship on nonsense is not easily accessible online, but I’m trying to gather as much as possible here. See the secondary bibliography for a full list of sources, most of which are accessible through JSTOR, WorldCat, or other content distributors. Through your local or school library, you often have access to these services–just ask your librarian! Below, you will find some more “academic” studies (like PhD theses, essays from journals), and some more “popular” ones (like newspaper articles). Be aware!

General sites and analyses

Literary Nonsense on Wikipedia (where the verbiage might look familiar!) ☞

An interesting mix of scholarly approaches. But who are these people? Well, here’s the blog… you be the judge!  ☞

Holbrook Jackson’s “Masters of Nonsense” (go to page 30 in link), in All manner of folk; interpretations and studies (1921). This discusses the work of Lear and Carroll. Jackson was the editor of a Complete Edward Lear edition that was standard for a long while, until Vivien Noakes came to town.

G.K. Chesterton, “A Defence of Nonsense” in A Defence of Nonsense, and other essays (1911). On Lear and Carroll. This is one of the classic early analyses of nonsense. Chesterton takes the angle of nonsense as an expression of spirituality.

Hana F. Khasawneh, The Dynamics of Nonsense Literature: 1846-1940. Unpublished PhD thesis. The University of Sussex. 2008. An ambitious thesis tackling Victorian nonsense, the avant-garde, Samuel Beckett, and Flann O’Brien.

[Strachey, Sir Edward], “Nonsense as a Fine Art,” Quarterly Review, 167 (October, 1888): 335-65. Online.

Bonnie Tulloch’s Master’s thesis, “A spoonful of silly : examining the relationship between children’s nonsense verse and critical literacy”(Simon Fraser University, 2013, unpublished) looks at Seuss, Silverstein, Dennis Lee, and JonArno Lawson in terms of how their nonsense reminds “children that childhood is essentially an adult concept—a subjective interpretation (i.e., translation) of their lived experiences.” The result is a “potential relationship between nonsense verse and critical literacy.”

“Word-Twisting versus Nonsense.” The Spectator, no. 3067 (9 April, 1887): 491-2. Online.

“Nonsense Pure And Simple” The Spectator. Nov. 3, 1888. 1503-1504.  OnlineA response to Strachey’s article “Word-Twisting versus Nonsense.” This article is on a beta site, and the transliteration of the text is seriously faulty. Rather than read the type, be sure to click on the pdf pages, the original pages.

Edward Lear

Historical analyses on Edward Lear and Literary Nonsense can be found on Marco Graziosi’s site, here.

Antinucci, Raffaella.”Sensational nonsense: Edward Lear and the (Im)purity of Nonsense Writing.” in English Literature. 2:2 (December 2015): 291-311. Web.

Marco Graziosi’s Most Noble Nonsense Site, dedicated to Edward Lear and more, and also  A Blog of Bosh. Marco has been doing this for a long while and has impressive resources.

_______________, “The Limerick” on Edward Lear Home Page.

Michael Heyman. “Isles of Boshen: Edward Lear’s Literary Nonsense in Context.” University of Glasgow, Faculty of Arts, Department of English Literature, 1999. On parody, illustration, and nonsense as manifestation of the Romantic concept of the child.

_______________. “The Original Interactive Multimedia Game: Edward Lear’s Literary Nonsense.” in The Five Owls. 15.4 (2001): 81-84. Web.

Nöth, Winfried, “The Art of Self-Reference in Edward Lear’s Limericks” in Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics and Semiotic Analysis. 10.1, (2005) 47-66. Web.

George Orwell, “Nonsense Poetry” Tribune. London. December 21, 1945.

Clifton Snider, “Victorian Trickster: A Jungian Consideration of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Verse.Psychological Perspectives 24 (1991).

Peter Swaab, “Edward Lear: Genius in a World of Nonsense” (2012), an article in The Telegraph on Lear’s bicentenerary.

Jackie Wullschlager, “Edward Lear” a quick piece on Edward Lear basics.

Lewis Carroll

Here is a good start if you’re looking into Carroll, at the Poetry Foundation.

Leonard Marcus, lecture at the Library of Congress, “Lewis Carroll in the Mirror of Surrealism” (2016). This is wide-ranging and good as general introduction to Carroll. Marcus touches on Romanticism, the evolving concept of the child, and of course Carroll and his influence on surrealist art. (Lecture starts around 9:30).

This is site devoted entirely to the 150th Anniversary of Alice, with various resources.

The British Library celebrated the 150th anniversary with this exhibition (and article, by Helen Melody (2015).

Another British Library article on the 150th anniversary, this by Will Brooker (2015).

Michael Heyman’s lecture (video, 2015) at the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, San Diego State University, on the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. David Hasselhoff and Suzanne Somers appear in this–but you’ll never guess how.

Can we finally put to rest the myths about Dodgson? Here is a Smithsonian article (2010) that helps.

Making sense of nonsense is a dangerous business, but sometimes it may be possible, as in this nifty comparison of Alice and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, by Maryn Brown, “Making Sense of Nonsense: An Examination of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth as Allegories of Children’s Learning” (2005).

Frank Key

Jordison, Sam. “I’m talking nonsense. In a good way.” in The Guardian books blog. 15 Nov. 2007. Web.

John Lennon

An excerpt from Philip Norman’s  John Lennon: The Life. (HarperCollins, 2009).

An in-depth interview (1968) with Lennon, with a focus on the origin and nature of his nonsense, his songwriting, and the connections between it all.

Mervyn Peake

Edmund Milly (2013) “Nonsense and Trauma in the Works of Mervyn Peake” a Master’s research paper. To claim that Peake was only “ostensibly” writing for children starts this on a wrong foot or three (children think about death and darkness too), but there is much that is good here–and scholarship on Peake’s nonsense is rare.

Peake has a website, here, which exhibits his wide-ranging genius, in novels, plays, poems, and art.  Here is the link to a timeline of his life, with photos and drawings.

Anushka Ravishankar

Michael Heyman, “Anushka Ravishankar’s Indian Nonsense” in Horn Book Magazine, (Nov/Dec. 2006), a piece on one of the few current nonsense writers and rock star badminton players in India. Things have changed some since then, with more writers surfacing. Ravishankar has also published many books since then.

Saritha Rao Rayachoti, “This ‘Indian Dr. Seuss’ Is Very Fond of Nonsense,” Atlas Obscure (web), June 14, 2017

Carl Sandburg

Michael Heyman, “Pigs, pastures, pepper pickers, pitchforks: Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories and the tall tale.” in European Journal of Humour ResearchVol. 5. No. 3. (2017): 56-67. Web.  A look at what distinguishes American nonsense, not just in terms of theme, but especially in relation to the folk tradition, the tall tale, and Paul Bunyan.

Ross Simonini, “Carl Sandburg Stops Making Sense.” Very little out there on Sandburg’s amazing Rootabaga Stories. Such a shame!

Alan Watts

☞This is a lecture on nothing less than meaning and life, given by one of the great Zen/Buddhist philosophers of the 20th century. Nonsense, in a way, is the answer.

Zippy the Pinhead

I suppose this would have to be considered “primary,” but it is a surprisingly earnest attempt (for Griffith) to educated the masses, who are looking for the “joke,” on how this comic is different.  In the following series of six strips, Zippy and Griffy explain how the comic functions,  and though it doesn’t recognize itself as the nonsense genre, much of the mechanics are similar. Click here for the main page, with all six “tutorial” strips, and click your way through them. Lesson Three, in particular, is useful in terms of understanding how Griffith’s “nonsense” works.


Michael Heyman’s☞“The Perils and Nonpereils of Literary Nonsense Translation,” Words Without Borders, 2014.

A blog post by the enigmatic “lprothwell1,” on Sukumar Ray and Sampurna Chattarji’s translations. Why don’t they post their names on this blog? Secret nonsense society, eh?

Nonsense in India

An analysis of the illustrations of the great Bengali nonsense writer, Sukumar Ray, by Poushali Bhadury. “Fantastic Beasts and How to Sketch Them: The Fabulous Bestiary of Sukumar Ray.” in South Asian Review. 34:1 (2013) 11-38. Online.

In this essay, “Postcolonial Responses to the Western Superhero: A Study though Indian Nonsense Literature” (2015), Anurima Chanda takes on nonsense in India, by way of nonsense superheroes created by Samit Basu

Urmishree Bedamatta’s essay argues that nonsense is not only a tool for literacy, but a bridge between languages in multilingual classrooms in India. This is dense reading, it might warm your literary waddles. “Playing with Nonsense: Toward Language Bridging in a Multilingual Classroom” (Children’s Literature in English Language Education, 1: May, 2013).

Nonsense and Modernism

Eric John Rettberg. Ridiculous Modernism: Nonsense and the New in Literature Since 1900. PhD dissertation, Dartmouth College.  Elk Grove Village, Illinois, 2003. Web.

Nonsense in Pedagogy

Margaret Wallace Nilsson, Better a Railing at the Top of the Cliff than a Hospital at the Bottom!”: The use of Edward Lear’s nonsense ABC as a didactical tool in the development of pronunciation skills in young learners of English. Kristianstad University, Spring 2011.

This study focuses on the use of nonsense language in Second Language educational settings in order to introduce phonology and phonetics at the earliest stage of English language acquisition to encourage correct pronunciation in young L2 learners of English. The materials chosen for the study are selected verses from Edward Lear’s nonsense ABC. The nonsense ABC is introduced as a teaching/learning tool to help young primary school children in Sweden develop their pronunciation skills and avoid fossilized language patterns at a later stage of Second Language Acquisition.