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 (March 9, 1919 – January 12, 2001) was a British-American critic, poet, novelist, and professor who often wrote about the connections between science and literature. Among her published works were five books of criticism, four novels, three books of poetry, and many short stories, essays, and other work in periodicals in North America and Europe. Of her books, the most widely held by libraries is The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History.
Sewell completed the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts from Cambridge University in 1942. From then to the end of World War II, she worked for the Ministry of Education in London before returning to Cambridge for a Master of Arts (1945) and a Ph.D. (1949) in modern languages. She first visited the United States in 1949 and became a U.S. citizen in 1973. She taught at Vassar College, the University of Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Fordham University, Tougaloo College, and Hunter College, and she was a visiting professor or writer at other universities.
She held a Simon Fellowship at Manchester University (1955−57), a Howard Research Fellowship at Ohio State University (1949−50), an Ashley Fellowship at Trent University (1979), and a Presidential Scholarship at Mercer University (1982). In 1981, she won poetry, fiction, and nonfiction awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Sewell married Anthony C. Sirignano, a university lecturer in classics, in 1971. She died in 2001 in Greensboro, North Carolina.