chapter  8
Genre, Gender and Canon Formation: The Case of Laura Richards
Pages 14

In 1846, an unknown English painter published a children’s book that would become a best seller and eventually enter the literary canon. In 1850, exactly four years after the debut of Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense, the daughter of celebrated American poet and social activist Julia Ward Howe was born in Boston. Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards would write mainly children’s literature, but also two autobiographies, several biographies of her parents and a few adult books. It was her nursery and nonsense verse, however, that would make her the most renowned nonsense poet in nineteenth-century America. Today, however, Laura Richards is long forgotten; her verses have not been subject to serious scholarly discussion, nor have they remained in circulation. By contrast, Edward Lear’s children’s rhymes did enter the canon – and not merely the limited list of the children’s canon, they gained the honorific term ‘classic,’ and became objects of serious academic critique on both sides of the Atlantic. They are even to be found in recognized repositories of canon such as The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2000). Given that Richards was Lear’s only contemporary American counterpart to receive national acclaim, the fact that she has attracted almost no academic study is noteworthy.