Sylvie & Bruno – A Fairytale (?)

Sylvie & Bruno: Chapter 14

1. “[T]o me it looked like the natural action of a lover, who, even while his heart was singing, ‘She is mine!’, would fear to paint his happiness in the cold phrases of a written letter, but would wait to tell it by word of mouth” (Anthology 431).

I was quite surprised when I read this line, for after perusing hundreds of Carroll’s letters at the HRC, I would never have imagined him to say, “the cold phrases of a written letter.” I wonder why he, as an author, would call written words “cold.” Perhaps, despite being a prolific letter writer, Dodgson still preferred face-to-face conversation to written correspondence.

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2. “He either fears his fate too much, / Or his desert is small, / Who dares not put it to the touch, / To win or lose it all” (Anthology 431).

When I came across this stanza of poetry, I was initially struck by the last line: “To win or lose it all.” A powerful antithesis. However, after considering the passage further, I realized the equal significance of the previous lines.

The narrator alludes to these lines of poetry after Arthur declares that he is not going to ask Lady Muriel if she has another suitor for fear that the answer is yes. In such a context, the first line, “He either fears his fate too much,” is applicable to Arthur’s trepidation for the unknown future. He doesn’t trust fate enough to risk asking a potentially heart-breaking question. However, the second line, “Or his desert is small,” opens many doors of interpretation. The “desert” may symbolize one’s capacity for pain, for we often perceive the desert as an incredibly harsh environment to endure. Thus, Arthur’s capacity for suffering may be too small to handle Lady Muriel’s possible rejection. The third line, “Who dares not put it to the touch,” reminded me of the contemporary phrase, “Put it to the test.” However, I like poem’s version much better, for it suggests the idea that in asking a difficult question, Arthur would be bravely sticking out his hand to touch something potentially dangerous. The last line, of course, cinches it all together: If we overly fear the future, refuse to endure pain, or fail to reach out our hand, we may lose it all. Ultimately, we must become vulnerable if want a chance for love.

This stanza actually comes from a beautiful 17th century poem called “My Dear and Only Love” by James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. I highly recommend it.

3. “In the first place, I want to know – dear Child who reads this! – why Fairies should always be teaching us to do our duty, and lecturing us when we go wrong, and we should never teach them anything?” (Anthology 431-2).

In line with Carroll’s habit of parodying common Victorian children stories and songs in Alice (like “How doth the little busy bee” AA23), here he asks the Child reader to question the practice of blindly accepting the morals of children stories and the ideas they implement. In his usual fashion, Carroll turns conventions of their head, suggesting that perhaps, we, the human reader, may have something to teach the mythical, untouchable creatures of children literature.

4. “[I]t was as much as she could do, with both arms, to roll the heavy thing over; and all the while she was talking to it, half scolding and half comforting, as a nurse might do with a child that had fallen down” (Anthology 433).

This line caught my interest because it reminded me of Alice’s interaction with the black kitten at the start of Through the Looking-Glass: “‘Oh, you wicked wicked little thing!’ cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace” (AA 138). Carroll thus twice (that I can recall) references this dual temperament – “half scolding and half comforting.” I think in both instances, he depicts the ideal, in that we can admonish animals while still showing love for them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always occur.

Sylvie & Bruno: Chapter 21

5. “‘I’m afraid even ladies go to hunt them, sometimes.’

Sylvie shuddered. ‘Oh, no, not ladies!’ she earnestly pleaded” (Anthology 441).

After reading Alice, with a lizard-kicking, queen-defying, adventure-seeking heroine, I was a little surprised by the dramatic, sexist declaration, “Oh, no, not ladies!,” as if that’s where we draw the line for animal cruelty. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Perhaps it’s a compliment for women, as Carroll sees them as gentle humans who often abstain from such practices as animal hunting.

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The Clandestine Adventures of Alice in Saudi Land

6. “Do you think that Alice seems Saudi to you?” asks book club president, Haifa AlOwain with a mischievous smile. A few hushed moments later, answers morph from a definite “No, she is not at all!” to “Maybe she could be, in certain ways.”

This is so true! The transition these women undergo from complete disassociation with Alice to an unexpected connection reminds me of how I often feel about characters in literature. Initially, it seemed like Alice was this other worldly character unconnected to me, just a young girl who goes on nonsensical adventures. However, in conversing in class and thinking critically for blog posts, I began to find small elements of Alice that reminded me of myself. To me, the heart of an English major is fulfilled in class discussions, when you hear something that grabs your interest and leads you to an observation which, if you share, can lead to someone else’s discovery or newfound understanding. The character of Alice is so complex and almost mysterious. In openly discussing her at book clubs or class discussions, we can learn so much more than we would if we accepted our initial reaction of disassociation.

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