Week 1–Alice in Wonderland, Initial Post

Getting Started with Initial Posts

This is my first example of a post to help guide your reading and thinking about the text. What I’ve discussed here is meant to get you off to a good start. If you find other topics of interest as you read, please feel free to comment on them either in response to this post or as a part of the primary blog discussion developed by your classmates.

In your weekly comments, I will specifically take note of your ability to engage with the content and questions I have proposed here. It is important that you visit all of the links below in order to fully understand and participate in our discussion.

Also, please take note of the format of this post. I’ve embedded links in the text, I’ve added descriptive captions to photos, I’ve explained why I’ve included the links that I have, and I’ve provided a works cited for all external materials discussed in the post. This same level of care is expected of you.

Also, please note that many of the links I’ve presented below are what I would characterize as reference materials. They come from reputable sources (e.g. BBC, The Victorian Web, The University of Virginia), but they aren’t necessarily peer-reviewed articles. These kinds of reputable reference sources are ideal for you two blog posts, but you’ll want something more thorough and vetted for your final project. See Purdue OWL for help citing your sources.

The Importance of Alice for Defining YA Lit

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of the first exemplars of young adult literature. It opens our consideration of young adult literature as a genre because it is a hallmark of:

  • The use of fantasy in the genre
  • The characteristics of the “coming of age” story
  • nonsense as a method of exposing the irrationality of the rules and formalities of the adult world
  • The importance of gender identity in YA lit
  • The blending of themes perceived to be appropriate for women and children
  • Disguised sexuality
  • The unique perspective of adults imagining or conceptualizing the needs and identities of their Young Adult audiences.

Nostalgia and Victorian Depictions of Childhood

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) was a mathematician and a photographer as well as an author. Dodgson primarily photographed children whom he dressed in a variety of costumes, including street waif and Orientalist fantasy. Wealthy Victorians considered it a great honor to have their children chosen as models for Dodgson’s photographs. View some of these images, as well as Dodgson’s photos of the real Alice: Alice Liddell. From a modern perspective these images appear as both controversial and exploitative, but they may help us gain a more complicated perspective of the poem with which the novel opens detailing the book’s composition as a result of Dodgson’s outings with Alice and her sisters. If you look at the photos and find yourself at a loss for what to think of Dodgson’s relationship to young girls, this article from The Guardian might help temper your viewpoint some. This article from the Victorian Web about perceptions of childhood might also put Dodgson’s predilections in context for you.

The opening poem sets the stage for Carroll’s nostalgic depictions of childhood as a state. Why is this opening poem so essential to the text itself? Take the time to close read this epigraph. How does Carroll characterize childhood? How might Hemmings’ article help us to critique this understanding of childhood? In what was is this an adult’s perspective of childhood?

As these characterizations of the real Alice blend into the novel’s depictions of Alice “the dream child,” what do we see as the remarkable features of her character? What makes her “Alice?”

Gender

Gender is of continual importance in literary works because it is a core aspect of the formation of a person’s identity. Gender often takes on an even more critical role in young adult literature because characters in the genre are only just beginning to understand themselves and their place in the world. Going forward, it may help to understand that gender refers to a set of expectations that define people’s appearance and behavior in relationship to their sex. So, putting a baby girl in a pink outfit to announce her femininity is an example of gender at work. Telling a little boy who has fallen off his bicycle that real men don’t cry is another example of gender at work. While some people may feel at home in the gender ascribed to their sex, others do not.

Each culture and period has its own set of gender norms upon which people are judged and categorized. This article from the BBC will help you understand conceptions of womanhood during the Victorian period. How does Alice conform to or defy the expectations of proper womanhood during the period? Where in the text do we see her struggling with these definitions and trying to understand what they mean to her own identity?

Alice is also struggling with “growth.” How do her changes in size affect how she sees the world around her and her place in it? Does her perspective change throughout the novel? Do we see development in her character? What moments seem to be climactic for this development? Why?

Empire

Carroll wrote the novel during a moment of extensive expansion of the British empire, for a historical overview of empire, see this article from The Victorian WebWomen and children were often understood as ideal representations of the comforts and morality of the “home” that provided a safe location from which to imagine a masculine expansion of the empire. This short article from The Victorian Web, might help you conceptualize how women and children stood in relationship to the nation. Alice’s age, appearance, and class were all important in her development from child into middle class Victorian woman. Pick out examples that demonstrate the training Alice has already received in manners and mores. How has she understood this training? How has she adapted it? By the novel’s end, what sense do we have of her ability to resist these social ideologies? Tim Burton’s adaptation of the novel expands upon hints of Alice’s rebellious nature. How accurate is his revision of an older Alice?

Illustrations

Carroll wrote and published Alice during the “Golden Age of Illustration.” At the back of our book, you will notice Alice Underground, Carroll’s original manuscript with his own drawings of Alice. How do these compare to John Tenniel’s now iconic illustrations? Tenniel and Carroll worked closely together to illustrate and envision the images in relationship to the text. Find examples wherein the illustrations actively add to or contribute to the text. How do they do so? What would we lose without them?

Since’s its initial publication, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has undergone a long history of adaptation. The text was particularly inspiring to some of the earliest filmmakers.

This is the first filmed version of Alice’s Adventures  in Wonderland

The book has also been widely illustrated since Tenniel’s initial 1865 illustrations. Do a quick Google Image search of the novel’s illustrations and you will find several. Pay particular attention to those by Arthur Rackham and Jesse Wilcox Smith.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Alice (fron...

Arthur Rackham’s Frontispiece depicting Alice, available for reuse on Wikimedia Commons.

Salvador Dalí’s 1962 illustrations are among the most remarkable demonstrations of the book’s adaptability.

Also see Barry Moser’s detailed woodcuts of Alice.

See Yayoi Kusama’s most recent modernist adaptations of the book in this book trailer.

Works Cited

Abrams, Lynn. “Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain.” BBC History Talks. 9 Aug. 2001. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/women_home/ideals_womanhood_01.shtml&gt;.

Banerjee, Jacqueline. “Ideas of Childhood in Victorian Children’s Fiction: The Child as Innocent.” The Victorian Web. 13 Aug. 2007. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/childlit/childhood1.html&gt;.

“Barry Moser.” R. Michelson Galleries. n.d. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.rmichelson.com/Artist_Pages/Moser/p/Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass.html&gt;.

Cody, David. “The British Empire.” Nov. 2000. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/history/empire/Empire.html&gt;.

Cody, David. “The British Empire.” The Victorian Web. Nov. 2000. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/history/empire/Empire.html&gt;.

“Just Good Friends?” The Guardian. 29 Oct. 2001. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/29/gender.uk&gt;.

Lee, Elizabeth. “Mothers and Madonnas.” The Victorian Web. 1996. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.victorianweb.org/gender/mothers.html&gt;.

Popova, Maria. “Salvador Dalí Illustrates Alice in Wonderland.” Brain Pickings. n.d. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/11/15/salvador-dali-alice-in-wonderland-1969/&gt;.

Sapir, J. David. “Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll.” Fixing Shadows: Still Photography. University of Virginia. n.d. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://people.virginia.edu/~ds8s/carroll/dodgson.html&gt;.