1. “Trimmer’s textual conversations, Fyfe notes, were ‘controlled by the parent’” (Anthology 739).
The Wikipedia entry comments that Trimmer’s works emphasized hierarchy in concordance with social standing and age. In contrast to parental authority, the power of a child prevails in Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The fact that Trimmer apparently solidifies the command of parents in her books causes me to seriously consider the adult role, or lack thereof, in Alice. Alice’s parents never appear, and even the adults in Wonderland do not present themselves as parental figures. The most notable “parent” in Alice is the Duchess who does a truly horrible job of caring for her baby. I cannot say that I know without a doubt what Carroll’s true intention was when writing Alice (other than appeasing little Liddell), but I’m fairly confident that it wasn’t to maintain the status quo between parents and children.
2. “One of the reasons Trimmer believed fairy tales were dangerous was because they led child readers into a fantasy world where adults could not follow and control their exposure to harmful experiences” (Anthology 742).
This passage made me laugh because Alice is a fictional representation of her fear – a young girl enters a fantastical world without adult guidance and proceeds to follow her curiosity wherever it may lead her. In many ways, Trimmer seems like the opposite of Carroll, for she disliked “scenes of death” (Carroll has a murderous queen) and “characters who were insane” (Carroll has the mad Hatter). I’m excited to explore how her work may connect with Carroll’s.
3. “‘We shall enjoy ourselves very much while we bring up our little family,’ said he; ‘But I dare say it will be a great deal of trouble. I would do it all myself I could, but you see I cannot, do what I will, work hard enough to supply all our nestlings with enough to eat. So you must help too’” (Anthology 756-7)
Wikipedia was right! By the end of the second page, Trimmer’s text already seems to be “question[ing] … [the ideologies] surrounding gender and the family,” for the father bird, the supreme provider of the family during the 18th century, concedes that he cannot take care of their multiple children without the mother’s aid (737). In fact, the mother needs to leave the home to find sustenance for the children, as well.
4. “‘Come, my dears,’ he said, ‘let us see what kind of nurse I can make; but an awkward one, I fear’” (Anthology 763).
Trimmer continues to challenge the traditional perceptions of gender roles in the family, as the father bird willingly acts as a “nurse” to his young chicks, while the mother leaves to gather more food. However, I wonder if Trimmer could have reproduced the same actions in a human setting, where a man took care of the children’s basic needs. I think it would be easier for an 18th century reader to accept a male bird, distanced from the human form, as a “nurse” than to accept a human man as a care taker, for he would most likely delegate such duties to a nanny or female servant.
5. “‘I once had a trouble of the same kind before I married you,’ said the father robin” (Anthology 785).
I was a bit puzzled after I read this line about the robin father being previously married. After all, Trimmer explicitly distinguishes the differences between real life and this “series of Fables,” as she says it in the prologue (745). If she wanted child readers to view the story as particularly fictional, why would she attribute such a humanistic word as “married” to mated animals? Did her desire to promote the teachings of the Church of England (i.e. children within wedlock) supersede her motivation to distinguish animals from humans? I believe so, for the story tells us that the father’s previous “wife” died – one of the few church-approved reasons to remarry.
6. “‘Oh, why will men and boys be so cruel and thoughtless?’” (Anthology 791).
Trimmer seems to be singling out men here. Another example of her slightly feminist attitude, perhaps?
Natalie Frank The Frog King, Or Iron Heinrich I, 2011-14
Gouache and chalk pastel on Arches paper
Immediately after choosing my piece, I read the Grimm’s tale, “The Frog Prince,” which told of a beautiful young princess who bartered with a frog to retrieve her golden ball that fell into a well. Though she detests the slimy frog, the princess keeps her end of the promise (i.e. keeping the frog as a companion) primarily due to her father’s insistence. In the end, the princess angrily throws the frog against a wall, the frog turns into a prince, and the two get married. Reasonable, right?
Even after reading the story, it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust and recognize the illustrated components of the tale in Frank’s artwork. But soon, I identified the girl on the left as the princess, and the golden spheres in the air and in the water as her ball. The image in the middle, of course, is the frog/prince.
When I first approached Frank’s painting, it was this two-faced image of a man’s face with a long tongue next to a round-eyed creature that caught my attention. The frog prince is not only the heart of the story but also of Frank’s work. The expression within the man’s deep blue eyes and the softer rounded eye of the frog speaks volumes. In a podcast available at the museum, Frank said, “For me, eyes are a way for the reader, the viewer, to enter the stories and the picture very concretely – and because the world of the Grimm’s is so chaotic and fantastic, it’s a way to keep normality … eyes are this portal that calms the picture down.”
I fully agree with her commentary. Even if the bright blue of the water or the multi-colored sky initially consumed a viewer’s attention, his or her gaze would eventually find the central, calming eyes of the frog prince. The eyes do serve as a portal into the story of the painting. Even though the fairytale has no mention of the frog or prince crying, Frank distinctly depicts tears falling from their eyes. After being cursed by a witch and abused by a child, their sadness is justified. We can enter the image from their point of view – from the bank, the frog watches a blond girl toss her golden ball into the air, and when it falls into the water, the naked prince, trapped in his animal from, dives into the water to retrieve it.
Just as in Alice, animals play a significant role in Frank’s painting and the Grimm’s tale. However, I’m immensely happy to say that unlike the blonde princess, our Alice does not verbally degrade animals with vicious words or trick them for her own benefit. Even though she kicks poor Bill, I don’t think someone could mimic Frank’s work by replacing the frog prince with Bill the lizard and the young princess with Alice – at least, not with the same effect. Alice’s treatment of animals doesn’t hold the same malice as the young princess’s. Frank’s portrayal of the princess’s face even appears slightly grotesque (with her pointed teeth), subtly hinting at her true nature.
Overall, I thought Frank created a mysterious world of color and magic that provides deeper insight into the written story with its unique presentation of the frog prince and princess.
1) “It is remarkable, too, that in this country animal rights protests are usually made up of whites, with little representation from Asians, Hispanics, or African Americans. It seems that to some extent prosperity and material comfort release energies that people turn to animal welfare, and sometimes, animal activism” (Anthology 861).
How true is this? I must admit that I know many white, older women who spend an excessive amount of money and time on their pets (for hospital bills, animal comforts, etc…).
What does this mean in terms of our priorities? Is it admirable that my aunt paid for a dog whisperer to calm down her schizophrenic dog (I’m not joking – it chases and bites imaginary rodents) instead of giving that money to a disaster relief agency or a homeless shelter? If I’m being honest, I love that my aunt cares so much for her dog – to me, it shows how incredibly compassionate and loving she is.
But, at the same time, shouldn’t we take care of other humans first? Is that flawed thinking? Maybe it is. Maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps, we just have to do the best we can to love those around us – both humans and animals.
2) “Animal extremists are idealists turned revolutionaries … their intense idealism has found a constituency—innocent animals—that is above reproach and will never disappoint their dream of a better world” (Anthology 862).
I was shocked by the potential truth of this passage. I never considered animal extremists in this light before, but it certainly makes sense. For someone to develop extremist passions for a subject/theme/belief, such a subject must maintain a sense of infallibility in order to justify and even encourage their actions. Animals, who aren’t cruel, greedy, or manipulative, thus serve as ideal subjects for some extremists.
3) The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights: “Don’t dissect. If you are a student, refuse to dissect” (Anthology 612).
Wow, this elicited a flashback to 10th grade when I dissected a frog in Biology class. In reading all about animal testing and research, I never once thought of my frog dissection as questionably moral. During the dissection, I learned a lot about a frog’s anatomy, and though I have no immediate plans to enter the medical profession, I would assume the young doctors in my class significantly benefited from the dissection. Nevertheless, as I look back on that time, I can’t recall if my teacher said where the frogs originated. Were they gathered and killed only to be sold to schools? Did they die of old age? I have no idea. Of course, I hope it was the latter, but I wish I had been more cautious and questioning.
4) Batty Rap: “And exercise a little prudence, When dealing with humans, *people talking* Phone call Mr. Darwin All the graduate students please move closer…scapel, more nitrous oxide” (Anthology 851).
I’ve never heard of Ferngully before, but I just had to figure out how this song came about. I listened to Robin Williams’ delivery of the song, and it’s actually much more frightening to hear it than just read the lyrics. Over the “*people talking*,” lullaby-like music plays, giving a stark juxtaposition to the grotesque dissection being verbalized and the sweetness of the tinkling music. Young children probably find the song catchy and entertaining, but adults would certainly be aware of its deeper issues, startlingly portrayed in a light-hearted way.
1) “7. That the evil charged against vivisection consists chiefly in the pain inflicted on the animal.
I maintain, on the contrary, that it consists chiefly in the effect produced on the operator.” (Anthology 353).
Carroll’s commentary on the seventh fallacy of vivisection greatly moved me. I felt as if he were saying, Even if we set aside the rights of an animal for moment, is not the resulting precarious state of our inherent morality and soul enough cause for concern? He brilliantly appeals to one of humanity’s most basic instincts: self-preservation. In this case, the self-preservation of one’s soul.
2) “Is the anatomist, who can contemplate unmoved the agonies he is inflicting for no higher purpose than to gratify a scientific curiosity, or to illustrate some well-established truth, a being higher or lower, in the scale of humanity, than the ignorant boor whose very soul would sicken at the horrid sight?” (Anthology 358).
Carroll’s rhetorical question (which answers itself) vividly illustrates that education does not always correspond with morality. As a liberal arts kid, I hope my education does augment my morality and sympathy for suffering. Even if reading heart wrenching immigration tales and first hand accounts of minority subjugation hasn’t forced me to contemplate my own ethical compass, I know that this class will.
3) “[A]nd when the man of science, looking forth over a world which will then own no other sway than his, shall exult in the thought that he as made of this fair green earth, if not a heaven for man, at least a hell for animals” (AA 360).
The emotional power of these lines cannot be overstated. Carroll’s final juxtaposition between heaven and hell strongly reminded me of a quote by Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.” Is humanity so consumed with asserting its dominance, with “reigning,” that we’ve created a hell for other creatures? It’s incredibly disheartening to think that we can’t coexist on “this fair green earth” without subjugating another for our own benefit.
4) “Animal suffering, once dismissed as an unavoidable certainty, inspired public sympathy” (Anthology 370).
I’m grateful that animal suffering shifted from a disregarded subject to a public travesty. I think sympathizing with the pain of animals represents an essential component to the development and preservation of our morality. In caring for other creatures, we can expand the realm of our benevolence and confirm the inherent decency of our souls. Additionally, animal sympathy has become a medium of connection for many people who’ve bonded over their extraordinary love for animals. If you need assurance of this fact (though I’m sure we don’t), try listening to this tale of a police officer and his dog without tearing up at least a little:
5) “If medical students had identified the [antivivisectionism] movement with women, people were now beginning to see it as a working-class issue” (Anthology 849).
This passage from Lansbury’s account of “Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England” serves as evidence for Carroll’s claim that the most educated among us are not always the ones with the greatest morality. In Edwardian England, the women and working class, not the educated students, recognized and opposed the brutality of vivisection.
I must reluctantly admit that the character of Alice always scared me as child. Though I have since discovered her admirable bravery and wonderful imagination, my fear of her character affected my initial reading of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I continually sought out her flaws, perhaps in a half-hearted attempt at justifying my unfavorable stance towards her. Thus, when Alice, trapped in the White Rabbit’s house, kicks the Bill the lizard out of the chimney, I decried the brutality of her act. It was only after the fact that I realized Lewis Carroll intended for this moment to elicit amusement from his young audience, not outrage. Upon this discovery, I began to notice that Carroll’s moments of humor often emerge through casual cruelty. In discussing the topic, Professor Bump also suggested that such references were not confined to his fictional work but appeared in his private correspondence, as well. Thoroughly intrigued, I set off to find evidence of dark humor in Carroll’s personal and professional life.
At the Harry Ransom Center
Following up on Professor Bump recommendation, I visited the Harry Ransom Center in search of Lewis Carroll’s personal letters. While the Byron Sewell collection offers an extensive number of handwritten letters by Carrollians, I found a compilation of letters by Carroll, himself, in the Warren Weaver collection. While his writing gave ample insight into his character and unique style of comedy, I was elated to find a single letter by his father, the content of which clarified, to a great degree, the potential origin of Carroll’s comedic style. My research at the HRC set the stage for my analysis of his unique wit.
Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s renowned work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, represents one of the most majestic and thought-provoking novels for children. The story’s pure originality develops in a myriad of elements, from its fantastical implementation of mathematics and logic to its particular brand of humor. Though Carroll’s humor often derives from an excessive display of nonsense – the backbone of Alice’s tale, it occasionally manifests a degree of sadism. Such dark humor does not merely appear in Wonderland but also arises in Charles Dodgson’s personal letters throughout his life. In considering Carroll’s private application of dark wit, along with its appearance in Alice, one may contend that Carroll accompanies humor with pain and death to mitigate the gloomy notion of our inevitable mortality for children.
Before delving into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it’s important to note how casual cruelty plays a role in Dodgson’s personal letters. The Harry Ransom center provides a thorough compilation of his private correspondence in its Warren Weaver collection. Though often given without extensive context, the documents provide insight into Dodgson’s propensity for dark humor. In fact, within his family, such a propensity does not solely reside with him but may originate from his father, the Reverend Charles Dodgson. In January of 1840, Dodgson senior, while away from home, received a note of request from his 8-year-old son to bring him back a file, screwdriver, and ring. In answering his letter, Reverend Dodgson assures young Charles that his wish will be fulfilled:
As soon as I get to Leeds I shall scream out in the middle of the street, Ironmongers, Ironmongers… I WILL have a file and a screw driver, and a ring, and if they are not brought directly, in forty seconds, I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the whole Town of Leeds, and I shall only leave that, because I am afraid I shall not have time to kill it.
The father goes on to describe how, until such items are brought, chaos will reign with “tearing of hair” and “fat geese trying to squeeze themselves into pencil cases.” While his outlandish prose gives insight into the origins of Carroll’s nonsensical writings, it also possesses quite a few witty allusions to sadistic behavior. For instance, Dodgson senior threatens to destroy the entire town if his demands go unmet. The violence appears particularly brutal as three small trifles serve as “sufficient” instigation for such destruction. Moreover, disregarding linguistic subtly, Dodgson declares that only a single cat will remain, simply because he has no time “to kill it.” While the Reverend is, of course, joking with hyperbolic depravity, the fact remains that he’s writing to his son, only 8 years old at the time. By referencing death in jest, he lightens the preconceived severity it may hold in the eyes of a young boy, employing comedy as an outlet for fear.
Perhaps in the footsteps of his father, Dodgson junior also includes elements of death and pain in his humor, evidenced by his letters to children, such as Hallam Tennyson and Agnes Hughes. In January of 1862, Hallam, a young friend of Dodgson’s and an occasional subject of his photography, received a letter from him in reference to a knife Dodgson gave him as a present:
I am glad you liked the knife…perhaps you have begun to use it by this time: if you were allowed to cut your finger with it, once a week, just a little, you know, till it began to bleed, and a good deep cut every birthday, I should think that would be enough.
The relationship between Hallam and Dodgson must have been quite well founded for his suggestions to come across as funny, rather than perverse. Dodgson’s sarcasm may derive from the reality that he will accidently cut himself at some point, and by directly suggesting he do so repeatedly, he prepares him for the inevitable, albeit much less extreme, occurrence. Beyond their sarcastic nature, Dodgson’s words allude to the eventual acceptance of pain, almost as an unavoidable part of life. Curiously, he ends his proposition with “that would be enough.” However, his lack of explanation stimulates many questions: It would be enough for what? Enough to recognize the dangers of a knife? To learn the reality of pain? His true meaning, as it often does, remains a mystery.
In addition to the encouragement of self-harm, the product of dark wit appears in another letter by Dodgson to a young girl by the name of Agnes Hughes. In 1871, he wrote to her of a fantastical incident in which three cats knocked on his door:
Why, they were three cats! Wasn’t it curious? However, they all looked so cross and disagreeable that I took up the first thing I could lay my hand on (which happened to be the rolling-pin) and knocked them all down as flat as pancakes! “If you come knocking at my door,” I said, “I shall come knocking at your heads.” That was fair, wasn’t it?
In contrast to his commentary on Hallam’s knife, Dodgson begins this tale apropos of nothing but for the ostensible purpose of entertaining young Agnes. For Dodgson, the curious appearance of three cats and their hasty destruction into pancakes serve as viable material for children humor. Ultimately, the complete absurdity of the incident supersedes the indifferent brutality of his actions. The rhetorical question at the end of his account, “That was fair, wasn’t it?,” further solidifies the content as sarcastic. Nevertheless, readers should consider his motivation behind writing such a savage account. As later letters reveal, the three cats do indeed survive. Thus, perhaps Dodgson employs animal cruelty in conjunction with humor to alleviate the gravity of suffering and death, for despite their terrible odds, the cats live to see another day.
While Dodgson employs sadistic wit in his letters to young children, his alter persona, Lewis Carroll, does the same, but with a much wider audience, in his brilliant tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. One manifestation of Carroll’s unique humor emerges from the Duchess’s lullaby. During her journey, Alice enters the home of a Duchess, where she hears, amidst the clatter of flying pans, the Duchess singing to her baby: “[S]he began nursing her child again, singing a sort of lullaby to it as she did so, and giving it a violent shake at the end of every line: ‘Speak roughly to your little boy, / And beat him when he sneezes: / He only does it to annoy, / Because he knows it teases.’” The verse, a parody of the poem “Speak Gently,”  appears alarmingly abusive. Comedic surprise develops from the juxtaposition of the poem’s classification as a “lullaby” (i.e. a soothing song) and its contrastingly disturbing content. Additionally, physical brutality buttresses the poetic assault as the Duchess “violent[ly] shake[s]” her baby throughout her recitation of the verse. While Carroll’s sadistic parody may humorously deride the excessively sweet nature of some Victorian lullabies, the Duchess’s maltreatment of her child by “shak[ing],” “tossing,” and “flinging” him calls into question the severe consequences of her actions. Though death would certainly serve as a potential consequence in the real world for her abuse, Carroll does not kill the child but turns him into a pig, suggesting that the worst outcome of physically abusing an infant would merely be its transformation into an animal. In this episode, Carroll oversteps the strict confines of humans’ mortal limitations, using magic as a loophole.
For many readers, in considering Carroll, humor, and death, the first idea to come to mind would naturally be the Red Queen’s mantra, “Off with their heads!” After all, the Queen’s cry for multiple beheadings represents a primary source of humor due to the contrast between her adamant demands and her total lack of seeing them completed. During her time with the Queen, Alice becomes the victim of her fury, but she refuses to abide by the Queen’s ridiculous orders. Through poignant syntax, Carroll conveys the novel’s view of death:
The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at [Alice] for a moment like a wild beast, screamed “Off with her head! Off—”
“Nonsense!” said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.
In interrupting the Queen’s murderous orders with the exclamation, “Nonsense!,” Carroll cleverly surmises the meaning of death throughout Alice’s entire tale: death is nonsense. Alice may experience temporary fear of a white Rabbit, a raving mad Hatter, or a royal procession, but in the face of death, she fearlessly unmasks its true nature. In fact, Carroll may be trying to tell his young readers that fearing death is ultimately nonsensical, for we cannot avoid our mortality. We must simply journey through Wonderland and make the most of our adventures.
An examination of Lewis Carroll’s personal letters and published novel for children reveal his generous application of dark humor. Perhaps emulating his father, Carroll plays upon the death and suffering of children and animals as a comedic medium. While such prose initially seems perversely sadistic, further consideration suggests that Carroll uses cruel humor to alter a child’s perception of death. Instead of portraying death as a fear-inducing fate, he outwits it, calling it nonsense. Death may serve as the conclusion of all mortals, but children should not dwell upon the severity of the inevitable. They should enjoy life. They should laugh.
Word Count without Quotations: 1,608
 Morton Cohen, ed., The Letters of Lewis Carroll Vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 4.
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.
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.
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.
1. “This took a long time to manage, though Alice held the bag open very carefully, because the Knight was so very awkward in putting in the dish: the first two or three times that he tried he fell in himself instead” (AA 237).
I love when Carroll manipulates physical dimensions, allowing a whole man to fit inside his saddlebag. I think transcending the physical restrictions of reality is an essential element of the imagination. Plus, this passage reminds me of Hermione’s all-consuming bag in Harry Potter, on which she casts a spell that extends the internal dimensions of the bag without affecting its external appearance.
Chapter IX: Queen Alice
2. “‘[The White Queen] never was really well brought up,’ the Red Queen went on: ‘but it’s amazing how good-tempered she is! Pat her on the head, and see how pleased she’ll be!’ But this was more than Alice had courage to do” (AA 257).
The Red Queen is a bit more subtly mean here than her counterpart in Alice’s Adventures, who was quite verbose about wanting certain heads removed. She treats the White Queen like an animal, marveling over how “good-tempered” she acts and asking Alice to “pat” her on the head. One thing that I didn’t understand about this passage, however, was the last line. Does Alice view patting the queen on the head as a nice gesture, and thus, she doesn’t have the courage to simply be so forward? Or, is she aware of the degrading nature of the act, and doesn’t have the courage to be so belittling? I’m a bit confused as to how Alice’s “courage” plays into it.
3. “‘What is it, now?’ the Frog said in a deep hoarse whisper.
Alice turned round, ready to find fault with anybody. ‘Where’s the servant whose business it is to answer the door?’ She began angrily.
‘Which door?’ said the Frog.
Alice almost stamped with irritation at the slow drawl in which he spoke. ‘This door, of course!’” (AA 259).
We witness a side of “Alice, the Bad” in this scene, who seems to be overcome with a queen’s pretentious sense of self-importance after seeing the inscription “Queen Alice” over a door. Even though Alice has been on the receiving end of many creatures’ irritation (the Duchess’s, the Mad Hatter’s…), she shows no sympathy or patience for the frog. Moreover, the fact that she “almost stamped with irritation” portrays her as a somewhat petulant child, not as a queen.
4. “‘You look a little shy: let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,’ said the Red Queen. ‘Alice—Mutton: Mutton—Alice.’ The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and Alice returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused” (AA 261).
As if we needed any additional incentive to consider Carroll’s portrayal of animals, he literally resurrects Alice’s sheep meat, anthropomorphizing it to the point that it has the courtesy to bow. The Red Queen doesn’t even allow Alice to eat it because they’ve been introduced, and it certainly wouldn’t be “civil” to eat something she’s met.
Chapter X: Shaking
5. “She took her off the table as she spoke, and shook her backwards and forwards with all her might” (AA 267).
As we soon discovery that the Red Queen is actually the kitten, I’m a bit concerned as to how roughly she was shaking poor black kitten. Unlike in Wonderland, reality has consequences for physical tussles.
1. “There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck, / Or would sit making lace in the bow: / And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck, / Though none of the sailors knew how” (Anthology 393).
In portraying the Beaver as one who often “mak[es] lace,” a stereotypically effeminate pastime, Carroll ascribes a gentle nature to the animal. At the same time, the beaver seems to possess a mysterious yet significant power in that he/she has often prevented potential shipwrecks. Because Carroll gives so much attention to animals in Alice, I don’t think it would be too far fetched to suggest that Carroll uses the Beaver’s status as a model for that of all animals – highly important, yet frequently gone unrecognized.
2. “The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because / He had seven coats on when he came, / With three pair of boots – but the worst of it was, / He had wholly forgotten his name” (Anthology 394).
This initially reminded me of when Alice visited the wood of no-names (AA Ch III) and temporarily forgot who she was. Carroll seems to be quite interested in self-identity or lack thereof, as the worst part of the Baker’s misfortune is that “he had wholly forgotten his name.” However, Carroll’s use of “no-name” functions differently in “The Hunting of the Snark” than it does in Alice. While in Alice, Alice’s loss of identity allows her to befriend a fawn, thus transcending cultural preconceptions of man/animal relationships, in “The Hunting of the Snark,” the Baker’s lack of a name causes no immediate results.
In fact, his name-less reality doesn’t reappear until the end of the poem just before he disappears upon finding the Snark: “They beheld him—their Baker—their hero unnamed – ” (Anthology 416). Perhaps, Carroll is making a comment on the historical reality that many heroes go unrecorded or unrecognized, lost to time. Or, perhaps the Baker doesn’t have a name because he simply functions as a medium to elicit the crews fear and perpetuate their belief in the Snark. After all, it was his haunting tale that introduced the existence of the Boojum, and the Baker’s body was never found. Did he ever exist?
3. “That the Captain they trusted so well / Had only one notion for crossing the ocean, / And that was to tingle his bell” (Anthology 398).
I’m a bit confused as to the significance of the Captain’s bell. Is it a representation of his masculinity which he indulges by embarking upon a dangerous quest in hunt of a mysterious creature?
4. “And the Bellman cried ‘Silence! Not even a shriek!’ … ‘My father and mother were honest, though poor—’ / ‘Skip all that!’ cried the Bellman in haste” (Anthology 401).
In “Fit the Third: The Baker’s Tale,” the Bellman demands absolute silence and then proceeds to rudely interrupt the Baker’s story on two occasions. I found that his complete defiance of his own rule reminded me of the Red Queen and King’s inclination for loud interjections (“Off with their heads!” AA 83, “Stolen!” AA 113). Carroll portrays the Bellman as a very impatient listener who doesn’t take good care of his crew – a poor quality in a leader.
5. “And even the Butcher felt queer. / He thought of his childhood, left far far behind— / That blissful and innocent state— / The sound so exactly recalled to his mind / A pencil that squeaks on a slate!” (Anthology 407-8).
During his hunt for the Snark, the Butcher hears a “scream, shrill and high” (Anthology 407). Thoroughly frightened by the possibility of death, he reminisces on the safety and innocence of his childhood. I’m not a bit surprised that Carroll would depict childhood as the highlight of one’s life, for at the end of Alice he portrays it as a magical time full of imagination compared to the harsh reality of adult life: “So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality” (AA 126).
Additionally, it’s interesting to note the Butcher recalls his lessons – represented by “A pencil that squeaks on a slate!” – with a sense of nostalgia, suggesting that even one’s tedious childhood lessons are preferable to adult life.
6. “While the Beaver confessed, with affectionate looks / More eloquent even than tears, / It had learnt in ten minutes far more than all books / Would have taught it in seventy years” (Anthology 410).
I was a little surprised by this line, for it would appear that Carroll is questioning the effectiveness of books. However, after some contemplation, I don’t think Carroll is diminishing academic texts/studies but rather emphasizing the importance of a passionate and good teacher.
7. “[The Beaver and Butcher] returned hand-in-hand, and the Bellman, unmanned / (For a moment) with noble emotion, / Said, ‘This amply repays all the wearisome days We have spent on the billowy ocean!’” (Anthology 411).
Among this rugged sea crew, Carroll portrays emotion as the antithesis of masculinity, for the Bellman is “unmanned” by “noble emotion.” The adjective “noble” is significant as it conveys that even well justified displays of emotion (not pathetic or undignified) remain in direct opposition to the nature of man. To me, it’s not completely clear as to whether Carroll supports such notions or if he’s creating a parody of them.
I didn’t fully understand what Bernheimer meant when she said this. However, after she showed several images, I realized that I was relating each image with a fairy tale. Well versed in the quintessential elements of our favorite fairy tales (e.g. two lost children, long hair, cruel stepmother), we are able effortlessly identify the language in visual arts, reproductions, adaptations, discussions, etc…
I think there is considerable credence in defining fairytales as a unique language that one “speaks.” Having taken three linguistics courses, I have heard multiple times that languages are easier to acquire and perfect when young, for after a certain age, it becomes increasingly difficult for the brain to learn a new language. Thus, it makes sense that the language of fairytales, taught to us as children, remains with us even as adults.
However, as I never read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a young girl, the story didn’t fully infiltrate my language of fairytales. In addition to this, to me, Carroll’s prose is uniquely his own. After all, I can hardly see the following interaction appear in a “classic” Grimm tale:
“‘I see nobody on the road,’ said Alice.
‘I only wish I had such eyes,’ the King remarked in a fretful tone. ‘To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too!’” (AA 222-3)
I hope that by the end of this class I can speak Carroll, in addition to speaking fairytale.
2. “There are several techniques applicable to fairytales: depthlessness, magic, abstraction…”
Unfortunately, I didn’t get down every technique Bernheimer mentioned in relation to fairytales, but the list I did jot down perfectly coincides with Carroll’s Alice. Magic appears when a DRINK ME bottle transforms Alice into a ten-inch high figure (AA 17). Additionally, abstraction emerges when the Caterpillar asks Alice the poignant, mysterious, and unanswerable question, “Who are you?” (AA 47).
However, my favorite technique mentioned by Bernheimer is depthlessness, for Wonderland physically and philosophically goes beyond defined boundaries. For one, it literally resides in a depth below the earth, in the “underground.” For another, it’s comprised of logical and linguistically-inclined animals. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is inherently depthless, for it enables both Alice and the reader to go into the depths of their imagination and explore.
1. “‘But it certainly was funny,’ (Alice said afterwards, when she was telling her sister the history of all this,) ‘to find myself singing ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush.’ I don’t know when I began it, but somehow I felt as if I’d been singing it a long long time!’” (AA 182).
I didn’t completely love this unexpected reference to harsh reality, post-Wonderland. Even though Alice sometimes mentions her sisters and her cat in Alice’s Adventures, I don’t recall Carroll including any direct references to her time after leaving. The entire narrative (until the very end, of course) remains in Wonderland. However, now, in Through the Looking-Glass Carroll drags us a little back to reality with this parenthetical note during the midst of a fantastical dancing scene with Tweedledum and Tweedledee and musical tree branches. What is his purpose in including this note? Is this to draw back in the “practical” reader whose suspension of disbelief is dwindling?
However, despite my grumblings about this parenthetical note, it’s promising that Carroll uses the word “history” rather than “story,” as the former adds a sort of credence and sincerity to the event, as if Alice were definitely recounting fact, not fiction.
2. “‘If I wasn’t real,’ Alice said—half-laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—‘I shouldn’t be able to cry’” (AA 189).
I had to stop for a moment after I read this passage because it seemed like something I would read in a regular fiction novel. After Tweedledum and Tweedledee force her to confront the possibility that she’s a figment of the King’s dream, Alice responds like any mature young woman – both crying at subconscious fear and laughing to hide feeling overwhelmed. I wonder if this is a sign that Alice has matured since the first book.
Additionally, this passage is quite interesting, for in saying, “If I wasn’t real…I shouldn’t be able to cry,” Alice suggests that sorrow is a true marker of reality. In contrast, to Alice, unreality or imagination represents a state/place in which sadness cannot exist, only joy.
3. “‘You know,’ [Tweedledee] added very gravely, ‘it’s one of the most serious things that can possibly happen to one in a battle—to get one’s head cut off’” (AA 191-2).
Much like in Wile E. Coyote and the Three Stooges, it appears that Carroll uses the threat of lethal violence to create humor. Alice responds just as children did by laughing right after Tweedledee’s understatement concerning decapitation.
4. “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’” (AA 199).
I clearly remember this last line in Tim Burton’s reproduction of Alice in Wonderland (2010). However, in the film it first appears when Alice remarks to her unappealing suitor, “My father said he sometimes believed in six impossible things before breakfast” (Burton, 6:40). Thus, I was surprised that the line actually comes from the mouth of the White Queen, and not Alice, in Carroll’s book. In the context of the book, it makes sense that the White Queen would say it, for the phrase epitomizes the fantastical nature of Wonderland, separate from Alice. On the other hand, in having Alice say it in the movie, it serves to tie Alice to Wonderland by emphasizing her wild imagination. Burton takes the phrase and runs with it, actually bringing it back in Alice’s final fight with the Jabberwocky, where she recounts six impossible things to give her courage.
5. “‘Let’s hear it,’ said Humpty Dumpty. ‘I can explain all poems that ever were invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet’” (AA 214).
Is Carroll suggesting that most poems, or at least the poems of his time, had the same messages, said the same thing? Thus, in a world full of identical poetry, he had create some nonsense to stand out?
Or perhaps, Humpty Dumpty’s statement is simply another nonsensical remark?