There are several reasons why I have chosen the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as the topic for my term paper. The main reason is that I have been fascinated by Alice’s adventures as a series on TV since I was about six years old. I was curious about the overworked rabbit, racked by brain about how Alice would only be able to reach the golden key on the table and I got even more nervous when I saw the Queen than the Knaves of Hearts did.
What I did not understand then was that Alice has fallen asleep in the beginning and all she is experiencing is “only” a dream. However, my illusion has been destroyed when I first read the book at the age of about 12 and I must admit it was then when I lost some of my fascination for Alice. As I read the book again as a preparation for the Proseminar a few months ago I soon started to focus on a certain aspect which I could not let go of and which brought back my fascination for Alice’s Adventures.
It is also the reason I have chosen this topic for my term paper: I am very much interested in the circumstances of the time, in this case the Victorian Age, and the various influences on a person like Lewis Carroll in connection with his ability to create such a powerful, imaginative and attractive idea of a wonderland. I would like to know what kind of person can make up such a story? I have chosen the title “Inventing Wonderland”, which is the name of a book by Jackie Wullschlager, because it precisely expresses the focus of my term paper.
I think the reason why I am interested in this aspect is the following: About three years ago I stayed one year as an Au Pair for a family in Rhode Island. It took me a while to discover how to attract the attention of a 4-year-old, his name was Carter, when the situation required it to be calm. But: I placed young Carter as an additional friend of his favourite character Winnie the Pooh in the centre of a new Pooh-plot and tried to invent an exciting story with dangerous adventures as he sat on my lap listening more carefully than he had ever done before.
I was successful, but of course and without understatement my stories were not in the least as fanciful and imaginative as Carroll’s, not to mention were they worth publishing. And it was exactly this situation, Carter sitting on my lap, that I remembered when I read about Alice’s Adventures, which Carroll also invented while telling them. This recognition more and more arouses my interest in what his time was like and what kind of influences there were, besides is undoubted creativity, that he invented a Wonderland like that. 2. Being childlike –
The influence of his life It seems to me as if Carroll is a person who does not want to grow up in a way and therefore transformed his longing for childhood into this literary revolution. Of course, he is not the only author of his time who writes about children’s fantasies, for example also Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne stand at the centre of a golden age of Victorian and early twentieth-century children’s books. But it all started with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 and it became the first English children’s classic.
At this point I find it interesting to learn more about what such authors have in common; are there any shared character traits or comparable facts of biography that, between 1865 and 1930, led these men to create a radical new literature for children of such fascination and enchantment? I soon found an answer to this question. All, for example, told their stories casually to entertain individual children, without any thought of publication; as we know, Carroll began Alice’s Adventures to amuse Alice Liddell, an Oxford don’s daughter.
Several of the authors lost parents early and had difficult childhoods. In their fantasy they tried to capture the perfect childhood they never had. All shared a reluctance to engage in conventional behaviour and relationships. They were loners, in some sense social outcasts, who found in fantasy an escape and an outlet to express their rage against a constricting adult society. I have found a short description of Lewis Carroll’s, whose real name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, appearance, which shows that he did not conform the usual picture of a young man. It is said that he stuttered and was asymmetric.
His blue eyes were not at the same level and one shoulder was higher than the other; his smile was also slightly askew. He was deaf on one ear because of an illness when he was at Rugby School, suffered from insomnia and was very thin because he ate only one meal a day (he was a little obsessed with eating). In many parts of the book we can find those themes about sleeping and eating, which is interesting for me to keep in mind while reading the book, but of course there are also readers who prefer not to take any biographical facts of the author into consideration.
Here are two examples about sleeping and eating from the book. “They were learning to draw,” the Dormouse went on, yawing and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; “and they draw all manner of things – everything that begins with an M – ” “Why with an M? ” said Alice. “Why not? ” said the March Hare. Alice was silent. The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze . Alice remained looking thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question.
However, at last she stretched her arms round it as far as they would go, and broke off a bit of the edge with each hand. “And now which is which? ” she said to herself, and nibbled a little of the right-hand bit to try the effect: the next moment she felt a violent blow underneath her chin. It had struck her foot! Being childlike led all these writers to be either childless or to have difficult relations with their children. Carroll for example was afraid of the responsibility of becoming a father; he had no children, but sought frenetically to befriend those of other people.
He took lone seaside holidays, in order to meet little girls on the beach, sent them love letters and photographed them nude. I have found these facts a bit distracting, but it motivated me to explore, what kind of relationship it was between Carroll and the girl Alice Liddell and in how far it had influence on the work. I am going to deal with this relationship in an extra point later on. 3. Victorian Images of Childhood – The influence of the era It is as if to every period of history there corresponded a privileged age and a particular division of human life: youth is the privileged age of the seventeenth century, childhood of the nineteenth, adolescence of the twentieth. ” (Philippe Aries) Lewis Carroll was born into a society that made a cult of childhood. From my point of view it is important to take this into consideration in order to fully understand his relationship towards children. The origins of English children’s books lie in the Victorian romance with childhood.
Men like Carroll took this romance to an extreme, but everywhere in the nineteenth-century society and art a fascination with childhood is apparent. Two new ways of looking at children developed at this time: The first was a dawning sense of childhood as a special state and not just a period of training for adulthood, but a stage of life of value in its own right. The children’s needs, desires and behaviour were finally recognized and they became a symbol of hope and optimism in an environment of commercial and industrial expansion and progress.
The second was a vision of children as good, innocent and in some way connected with spirituality and imagination. Together, these two views lay at the core of a powerful fantasy about children, which adults worked out in response to their own hopes, fears and doubts about themselves and the world. This change of view can be recognized in many parts of the Victorian life, like in the educational adaptation, literature, and especially arts. Before the 19th century family portraits mostly show children dressed like their parents and deporting themselves with gravity and dignity as mini-adults.
As we can also see in Carroll’s pictures the view is now a different one: now the specific qualities of children matter, their laugh, pout, play with toys, blow bubbles, spill milk etc. Social developments paralleled the new awareness of a specific childhood world. The “Factory Act” in 1833, for example, limited the work for children under thirteen to eight hours’ work a day and was the first legal definition of childhood in terms of age in England. Many social reforms fixed on children and charities were founded to protect their interests.
Education became more important and therefore more widely available and by 1870 an Education Act was passed which for the first time envisaged education becoming universal and compulsory. From my point of view, Lewis Carroll is very much ingrained in these new developments, and I think he was aware of that. As we can see in his books, he very often refers to this new estimation of education and holds up a distorted mirror to the Victorian manners. Before him, children’s books were educational tracts preaching conformity and obedience, now he and the other fantasy writers mock adult institutions and customs.
As an example I would like to quote Carroll’s snipe at judges and the legal system. “Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day. “No, no! ” said the Queen. “Sentence first – verdict afterwards. ” “Stuff and nonsense! ” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first! ” “Hold your tongue! ” said the Queen, tuning purple. “I won’t! ” said Alice. “Off with her head! ” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
Another aspect of Carroll’s time is that the families grew smaller and the parent-child relationships became closer. What we call the “nuclear family” began in the nineteenth century , thus, spending time and playing games together was becoming more and more important. Carroll himself was devoted to games as croquet, backgammon, billiards and chess, enjoyed conjuring and card tricks and invented many mathematical and word puzzles, games, ciphers and aids to memory. Moreover, he was very interested in new inventions and invented many things himself, for example a tool for writing in the dark.
Around this type of the nuclear family a new commerce grew up: Mass production and middle-class prosperity together created a huge increase in children’s toys, clothes and books. Children’s books, on of the most profitable parts of the Victorian publishing industry, belonged to this works and were imbedded in the middle-class culture. Lewis Carroll was influenced by all of these aspects of this time and at the same time certainly made one of the biggest contributions to it. 4. Just good friends? – The influence of his passion
As already mentioned before, I was a little irritated when I first heard that Carroll had a very close relationship to his “muse” Alice Liddell. That’s why I think it’s very important to deal more thoroughly with that problem, in order to avoid that I simply label Carroll as paedophile and run in danger to appreciate his contribution to literature less. My question is: Was there something sinister about his fixation with the seven-year-old Alice Liddell? It is true that Lewis Carroll, who was not only a teacher for mathematics, but who was also ordained a deacon in the Church of England, liked little girls.
He himself once wrote: “I am fond of children (except boys). ” He took exquisite, melancholy photographs of little girls, and, as already mentioned before, befriended little girls on beaches and in the houses of friends. Especially one particular girl, Alice Liddell, became his great passion. Unfortunately for Carroll, the 21st century does not look kindly on a single man who is devoted to seven-year-olds. It is almost impossible for us to look at a man who falls in love with little girls without wanting to put him in prison.
By the way, Carroll was by far not the only one at his time who had such obsessions (and is by far not the only one even nowadays that some can even afford building their own Neverland-Ranch) Consequently there are many strong reactions to that. In my sources I’ve found two extremes in argumentations: On the one hand, there are (feminist) critics, who have darkly suggested that Carroll was a paedophile and who have condemned his objectification of the immature female body. On the other hand, there are also many defenders of Carroll, who attempted to argue that he was utterly without feeling for little girls.
They tend to portray him as a shy, stuttering bachelor with a fondness for children that may as well have been a fondness for stamps or dolls. From my point of view we can not put Carroll in categories of black or white. In my opinion is not totally innocent and he had strong feelings for the girls, as many of his diary entries prove, but for me it is very important that he did not “do” anything and act on his feelings. His affection for what he called his “child friends” was always mixed with a kind of yearning.
He wrote to one 10-year-old girl: “Extra thanks and kisses for the lock of hair. I have kissed it several times – for want of having you to kiss, you know, even hair is better tan nothing. ” I admit, this does not sound reassuring and I do not know how I would react if I was a mother of a 10-year-old and my child would get such letters. Carroll’s deep aesthetic appreciation of the girl’s physical presence was conspicuous and it’s not easy to deal with that, even if we don’t think in categories of black and white. But as some might not believe, Carroll himself was aware of that.
There is no doubt that he was tormented by what he called “the inclinations of my sinful heart”. Even his mathematical writings were marked by his struggle. In the introduction to Curiosa Mathematica, he wrote that fixing one’s mind on mathematics as one lay in bed could ward off “unholy thoughts, which torture with their hateful presence, the fancy that would fain be pure”. This is a very strong language for a book about trigonometry. The picture we get of is of a man afraid of his own dreams, struggling for command over himself.
In one of his analyses, the biographer Morton Cohen actually charted Carroll’s moments of greatest torment and insomnia in his diaries and found that they correlated to the days on which he saw Alice. For me it is a good sign to see that Carroll was aware of his weakness, or better, dangerous passion. And the important thing is: his response to any heightened agitation he felt with children was not one we would object to: he sat with Alice in a boat gliding along the glittering river and made up stories, the more outlandish the better. His feelings rhymed and punned themselves into expression.
So I think (and hope) what Carroll did was to convert all his longings and affections into his fantasy and, thus, channel his devotion into a wild and lovely literary universe. Might this have contributed to the fact that his wonderland is so imaginative and fanciful? When we talk about such a crucial topic we must not forget one thing: We can only consider the life of the nineteenth century in today’s light and express it in today’s language with today’s advanced knowledge. We must not forget to accept that we are not able to fully put ourselves in Carroll’s or Alice’s or position.
For me understanding literature depends on understanding the predominant mentality and “Zeitgeist”. That’s why I do not to condemn Carroll overhasty, but try to understand what the Victorian Are, his life and his passion was about. 5. Other influences Although Carroll invented Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the entertainment of children, many scholars have discovered various underlying influences in his work. The books have been explained from all kinds of viewpoints, like drug use, Freudian influences, mathematics, political satire, sex and paedophilia, nonsense, etc.
The Alice books have always been a favourite subject for analysis, as the story lends itself to various interpretations. Carroll himself wrote the following to a friend in America, when being asked about the meaning of ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. I think this comment Is applicable to many of his books: “I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense. Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer means. So, whatever good meanings are in the book, I’m glad to accept as the meaning of the book. In reference to this comment I’ve found it quite interesting to read a little bit into the topic of nonsense literature. Unfortunately the length of this term paper does not allow me to go in full detail. Nonsense literature is intrinsically linked to the history of literary realism. The novel is supposed to portray the life of its hero within a realistic fiction of the social world. Even the so-called psychological novel with its attempt to evoke the inner lives of its characters is still concerned with realism and mimesis.
The Victorian genre of nonsense literature, by contrast, emerges at the beginning of a far-reaching break with the mimetic tradition. Writers begin to free the materiality of language from meaning and reference. They care more about sounds than sense, play with words and create silly puns or discover the children’s sound games in order to produce nonsense. Carroll experimented with the technique of automatic writing in order to disrupt the wilful control of speech in his literary production of nonsense, long before anyone else did.
Carroll’s early break with the mimetic tradition anticipated many new literary techniques. Nonsense literature is about refusing to serve as a mirror of nature, language does no longer represent, but mock its very foundation and it speaks on its own against rhetorical convention, rules and codes, in order to disturb and recreate the relation between words and worlds. Again, I think Carroll was aware of the fact that he contributed to the creation of this new genre of nonsense literature. And this awareness had an influence on his further writings. Another influence often cited is the huge topic of drug influence.
Drugs enthusiasts relate Alice’s adventures to the “trip”. I am not sure if it is necessary to analyse the plot according to the effect of drugs, I even think it is sometimes overdone and overvalued. What if Carroll had simply read a couple of books on the effect of drugs or talked to a friend about it without having tried drugs once? I would also be able to write a fantasy story about a trip without having tried drugs before- so people 100 years from now might also accuse me of drug abuseStill, I can not deny that there are certain aspects of it in the book.
But this does not mean that I suggest that Carroll took any kind of drugs. Drugs heighten awareness to the surroundings. This stronger sense of awareness is sometimes accompanied by a “slowing down” of one’s sense of time and movement. This “slowing down” sensation can be found in the very first chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when she is falling down the rabbit hole. While falling, “she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next. ” The mind expanding drugs can also have influence on the vision.
Alice’s trips through Wonderland certainly contain an abundance of imaginative visual experiences. At every turn Alice comes into contact with strange animals and objects. One good example of this is the disappearing and reappearing Cheshire Cat. The fading grin of the Cheshire Cat is one spectacular imaginative psychedelic vision. Another good example is the Caterpillar. His hookah has become a common way to inhale marijuana. The Caterpillar also imparts some very interesting advice. That is, to eat the mushroom. The mushroom can expand the mind as much as it did Alice’s height. 6. Conclusion
As I have already claimed above, I think it is important get at least some idea of the “Zeitgeist”, in which a book was written, in order to understand its significance. From my point of view, being interested in the background factors of an author’s life and era not only helps to get a better understanding of the meaning of a book, but it also makes me appreciate it more. I think everyone acts and speaks according to what he or she is influenced by. If this is determining for the value a book is another question, but I think it is important that it is up to everyone if he or she would like to know more about the author.