More than any of the five previous Lear biographies...Ms. Uglow’s nearly 600-page book miraculously takes wing, soars higher and provides a more inclusive bird’s-eye view of almost every aspect of Lear’s life ... At various moments throughout this avian journey, Ms. Uglow swoops down to examine and explicate with hawk-like acuity the ludic complexities of Lear’s writings. She brilliantly elucidates the interplay between the drawings and words in Lear’s limericks ... Mr. Lear is lavishly produced and resplendently illustrated with color and black-and-white reproductions of paintings, drawings, sketches and photographs—many of which have been rarely seen. For me there is just one word to describe Jenny Uglow’s book, a word that Lear used to describe a sumptuous dinner party ... splendidophoropherostiphongious.
...capacious and astute ... Among the many pleasures of this biography are its frequent quotations from Lear’s journals and fanciful letters ... Among Uglow’s most valuable and personal chapters are those devoted to Lear’s fantastic, in all senses, drawings and verse. Some of his later poems, such as 'The Dong With a Luminous Nose,' can be decidedly pensive or bittersweet, but as Uglow writes, the limericks in his first collection, A Book of Nonsense (1846), are 'comprehensible as both the foolery of childhood and the foolery of carnival, turning the world upside down.'
The astonishing thing is that Lear’s serious paintings and nonsense verses were produced by the same person, but Uglow makes a convincing case for thinking that he needed both. His was a life of art and nonsense, the sublime and the ridiculous ... Uglow’s writing is equally good at switching lenses, interspersing generous overviews with intimate details such as the fact that Lear sailed to Corfu in 1855 carrying in his pocket a conker given to him by Tennyson’s son Hallam. The text is also full of memorable word-pictures ... Uglow’s triumph is to show how his most famous works brought these contradictions together and struck sparks of creative life from them.