Hello! My name is Katie. I’m an English major and a rhetoric and writing minor. I’m set to graduate in December and I just can’t believe I’m almost done! My plans for the summer are up in the air at the moment. I have a six month old (he’s the cutest ever) that I stay home with, so the majority of my summer will be spent hanging out with him; so far we’ve been to the zoo…A LOT. I’m a pretty big reader and I’ll basically read anything but my favorite genres are historical fiction and romance/fantasy. At the moment, I’m rereading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness which is a trilogy and I highly recommend it! I’ve taken so many literature courses and probably half of them have been with Professor DeSpain. I’ve experienced many different teaching styles for literature courses as well and have found what works best for me. I’ve also taken a few lit courses online as well, also both with Professor DeSpain so I’m very familiar with the setup of this course and her expectations for the course.
An ideal student for an online course like this would be one that does more than the bare minimum. They take the time to engage with others in the comments with meaningful input rather than just making evaluative statements. they also should engage with the texts as much as possible to make discussions much more interesting.
Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carrol, took a deep dive into children’s literature and came out with the beloved classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: a tale of the whimsical journey of young Alice through a fairy tale land in which she engages with many magical happenings and peculiar characters. Despite the innocence of such a tale, Dodgson himself seems to be a point of controversy. Not only is his photography under fire, in which a popular subject of his photos were young girls, some of which were taken in less-than appropriate attire, and even nude, as well as having a fixation, and possible inappropriate relationship, with an Alice Liddell to which the piece of fiction is more or less inspired by (Masters). These points have split views on Dodgson, as one flags his behavior as wildly inappropriate and the other more sympathetic and views his actions less as predatory and rather just overly friendly to his “child friends” (The Guardian) .Though I have my own opinion on the matter, Perhaps there is another take on Dodgson’s behavior. After reading Hemmings’s take on nostalgia, maybe it’s possible that Dodgson’s employs nostalgia as a way for him to experience life lived as a young girl.
In Robert Hemmings’s take on nostalgia, there is the point that it is an adult concept that re-materializes childhood in a manner that best comforts the adult’s wishes and wants. He specifically quotes James Kincaid , who notes that nostalgia is a concocted and enforced childhood innocence by adults toward children (Hemmings 56). If you look at nostalgia by this definition, then you see it as a desire to go back not specifically to something the nostalgic person had before, but what they could have possibly had. Its an envious look at childhood mixed with wishful thinking of just what could have been. It is also brought up that nostalgia is a sort of imperialism that is meant to take over the realness of the past (57). If we define nostalgia as this sort of social imperialism and apply it to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, then we get an understanding of that sort of reconstruction of truth at hand.
When I apply these concepts to Dodgson and look at his troubling interest in retrospect, I see that Dodgson quite possibly struggled with gender identity and had longed to have experienced childhood as a young girl. When observing his behaviors, his other actions, his thoughts, his infatuation and borderline obsession, and applying it to the context of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it easily comes off that he wished to live vicariously, through this imperialistic view of nostalgia, as a little girl, specifically as a fictitious version of Alice Liddell, his most beloved subject.
In the story, Alice very frequently asks questions about her identity, as during her time in Wonderland, she doesn’t ever quite feel like herself as she’s experiencing these magical things around her. This is especially so when she’s comparing herself to her peers, which I feel is a subtle hint to Dodgson’s questioning who he truly is in relation to those around him. Another reason to suspect this is at the end when it’s revealed that it is all a dream and then leaps into the perspective of the older sister. The sister can briefly capture the world it is Alice had just experienced, but soon opens her eyes to acknowledge that she, indeed, still in the world she was before, can be an allusion to Dodgson’s temporary moment in this state of living, via the text. This moment allows readers into Dodgson’s actual perception by breaking the barrier of the fictional world and bridging into Dodgson’s real life desires.
Though Dodgson’s behaviors are definitely something to be called in question, the idea that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is quite possibly a way of Dodgson expressing his wanting to have experienced childhood as a young girl, and finds himself as one who views young adulthood through the eyes of a child, his own forgotten and replaced by a re-imagining of this beloved fantasy world.
Carroll’s Alice was published during the Victorian period and during this period the expectation was for women to stay and happily serve in the domestic sphere. These gender roles were clearly defined in Victorian England with Queen Victoria being the supreme example of how women should behave. In the BBC article linked in the Week One Initial Post by Professor DeSpain, Lynn Abrams defines the Victorian Era as “epitomized by Queen Victoria, who came to represent a kind of femininity which was centered on the family, motherhood and respectability”. Very early on in the novel Alice is upending this expectation of womanhood. She goes on an adventure that takes her away from reality and into a world of fantasy, she is also curious and very outspoken, and she isn’t afraid to take up space in the public sphere that is reserved for men. The perfect example of this is at the end of the novel when Alice is at the trail for the Queen of Heart’s stolen tarts. At the beginning of the trial, Alice experiences a “very curious sensation” and begins to grow back to her normal height. In response to her increasing size, the Dormouse tells her that she has “no right to grow here” (Carroll 98). This is important because this is taking place in a court room, a place that is in the public sphere and where women were kept out. Alice is growing and literally taking up space in a setting that is typically male dominated. Not only that, but she is also extremely outspoken and even argumentative (I don’t mean this negatively) while she’s testifying as witness. First, the Queen of Hearts tells Alice to “hold [her] tongue!” to which Alice responds, “I wo’n’t!” (Carroll 107). Then after this, the Queen of Hearts yells “off with her head!” and Alice, back to her full size, yells back “who cares for you…you’re nothing but a pack of cards!” (Carroll 108). I think the setting of this scene is so important when thinking about gender in this novel. A court room is like one of the most masculine arenas a woman, or in this case a young girl, could be in. The combination of Alice growing to her full size and Alice’s outspokenness really highlight her differentness (is that the word I’m looking for?) from the traditional expectations of women during this period.
When one hears of Lewis Carroll, they think of the Mad Hatter, Cheshire cat, and the childlike adventure illustrated in Alice in Wonderland. This story came to life due to a little 7-year-old girl, Alice Liddell, who was good friends with the author during this time. Inspiration stuck on a sunny day of 1862, when Lewis Carroll, also known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was entertaining Alice and her two other sisters on a boat trip (Popova 2016). Alice loved the story so much, she begged Dodgson to write the story down into a book. In 1864, Dodgson presented the manuscript “Alice Adventures Underground” to Alice, which led to the famous story becoming translated and retold throughout the entire world today (Popova 2016).
What seems the origin of this story to be innocent is actually questionable to historians and critics of the work and life of Charles Dodgson. He was known for having multiple “child friends” and fully admitted into having a preference of girls. He entertained little girls with his stories, forged an intimate relationship, and write love letters to them. In a letter for a 10-year-old girl, he writes:
“Extra thanks and kisses for the lock of hair. I have kissed it several times for wanting of having you to kiss, you know, even hair is better than nothing” (The Guardian).
Also well known for being a prolific amateur photographer and artist, he even went as far as creating over 30 photos and art pieces of children nude or semi-nude. As a bachelor, he chased teenagers and young women, presenting himself as “the role of an older, non-threatening, uncle-type figure” as a loophole to spend time alone with these women during an era which such acts where forbidden (Elliot 2017).
Critics state that these acts were disguised to fulfill his pedophilic desires towards children. Fans of Carroll defended his position, stating that it was not uncommon for children back then to be photographed nude. He received permission from their parents before they are photographed. This is to capture the embodiment of innocence during the Victorian Era (Elliot 2017). However, during this time, as the view of innocence in children is displayed through art and literature, the dark thoughts of sexual desire also flourished (The Guardian).
There is multitude of evidence that Carroll’s fondness in children was more sensual than familial and pure. However, the argument is grey on whether to view him as a complete monster, or an innocent man. Despite his desires, he tunneled those feelings into creating his life’s work. In one of his mathematics books, Curiosa Mathematica, he states 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” (The Guardian). This evidently displays his strong self-restraint; to do anything that deviates his dark thoughts. His anger and frustration to go against his desires poured into creating the fantastical world of Alice in Wonderland. He chose to suffer loneliness and in silence, than to become the devil inside him. So the question lies, is Lewis Carroll innocent, or guilty?
The opening poem, “All in a Golden Afternoon”, seems to be so essential to the text because it acts as context to why the story was told in the first place and to whom it was told. I only really understood this after reading this article which Professor DeSpain linked in her original post and another article which lends more context. They each reference the boat trip but the second article mentions not only Alice but also her sisters being present along with Lewis Carroll. This trip was where he first told the three sisters the story of Alice.
The second and third stanzas are very interesting and humorous after realizing the context of having the three sisters on board while trying to tell a story. “To beg a tale of breath too weak / To stir the tiniest feather! / Yet what can one poor voice avail / Against three tongues together?” (9-12). The last two lines must refer to Mr. Dodgson telling the story and the three sisters interrupting or adding to the story while he did so. The first two lines are a bit harder to decipher. Perhaps he is referring to Alice, although that really doesn’t seem to fit since she is a very outspoken character, her voice is hardly weak. Maybe the real life Alice, Alice Liddell, was soft spoken, but honestly this really doesn’t fit either considering she’s the one who asked for the story to be written down by Mr. Dodgson in the first place. Could it be himself in which he refers to? Could Mr. Dodgson be the one who felt too weak to speak the tail of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? This seems to fit much better if you consider that Carroll called the story a “love-gift” (“Just Good Friends?”). It might’ve been hard for him to show such a fascination towards Alice Liddell as to tell an entire made up story about her, in front of her sisters no less.
The third stanza is very illuminating to how Carroll characterizes childhood because he refers to three different children, most likely the three Liddell sisters, and how they each react to his story telling. “Imperious Prima flashes forth / Her edict ‘to begin it’: / In gentler tones Secunda hopes ‘There will be nonsense in it!’ / While Tertia interrupts the tale / Not more than once a minute” (13-18). We see a parallel between these three depictions of children and the character Alice herself. Throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland we see Alice rushing creatures to tell her stories, interrupting creatures, and kind of taking the nonsense as it comes and embracing it to some extent. “‘When we were little,’ the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly though still sobbing a little now and then, ‘we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle–we used to call him Tortoise——‘ ‘Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Alice asked. ‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily. ‘Really you are very dull!'” (Carroll, 83). The Mock Turtle appears to be a creature with the head and feet of a cow, but the rest of his body resembling a turtle. And yet he refers to growing up going to school in the sea, so we assume he hasn’t been like this forever, but Alice doesn’t question these discrepancies at all, or the fact that turtles have school in the first place. She is more focused on the story the Mock Turtle is telling, and at a turtle rate all the same. Maybe this is why when she interrupts the Mock Turtle to simply ask about his teacher he calls her “dull.” Carroll seems to play around with what we perceive as “normal” in this interaction.
This could be considered an adult’s perspective of childhood in the sense that it’s somewhat flat. Alice almost feels like the typical “bratty girl” character who talks back, interrupting you before you’ve gotten your thought out. Bits and pieces of a round character show through as the story progresses but the overall impression I got was of a girl who didn’t know what was up from down, let alone who she was. “‘…I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is “Who in the world am I?”‘” (Carroll, 17-18). This was probably done on purpose, to make us question if the story is simply a metaphor for how it feels to grow up, trying to wade through the waters of the onslaught of adulthood without loosing your footing, only to realize that you’ve been an entirely different person and upside down the entire time.
The most remarkable feature of Alice seems to be her ability to accept the reality in front of her, along with questioning everything in the same instance. Earlier I referenced the passage with the Mock Turtle which applies here as well. We can see Alice accepting the reality that there is such a think as a Mock Turtle, but then question the fact that he called his teacher Tortoise even though the teacher was also a turtle. Of all the aspects of that interaction Alice picks such a seemingly simply question to ask compared to all the options, such as “How did you become a Mock Turtle?”, “Why are you crying constantly?”, and my personal favorite “You’re telling us about your schooling while we’re in Wonderland, how are you any less dull than I am?”
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London, Penguin Classics, 1998.