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Carroll, Lewis 1832-1898

Lewis Carroll 1832-1898


(Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) English poet, short-story writer, mathematician, and author of juvenile fiction.

The following entry presents an overview of Carroll's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLR, Volumes 2 and 18.


As the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872), Carroll is responsible for the creation of two of the most enduring works of English literature, helping to usher in, what is commonly referred to as, the Golden Age of children's literature. Believed to be one of the most quoted authors in English, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books are credited with establishing a new philosophical approach towards the creation of juvenile literature. The accounting of a wild universe of madcap adventures and surreal inventions, Carroll's Wonderland was atypical in that it shamelessly presented the fantastic and absurd solely for the enjoyment of children, which was an abrupt break from the normative didactic children's books that preceded Alice 's appearance. Carroll was also a master of nonsense verse in the vein of such oblique poetic standards as "Jabberwocky" (1872) and The Hunting of the Snark (1876), whose respective meanings remain under intense critical debate even today. An intensely serious man in private, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's alter ego, Lewis Carroll, allowed him free reign to pen the perennial absurdist favorites that have become some of the most recognized children's works of all time. While the likes of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and the March Hare have indelibly entered the mainstream lexicon, Carroll's works are also deep in subtextual fabric that continues to inspire dozens of scholarly interpretations and reevaluations. In the words of critic Harvey Darton, Carroll did nothing short of "change the whole cast of children's literature."


Carroll—born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—was born January 27, 1832, in Cheshire, England, as the third of eleven children (and eldest of three sons) to the Reverend Charles and Frances Jane Dodgson. The elder Dodgson was a curate at All Saints' Church in Daresbury, but had been a lecturer of mathematics at Oxford before he was forced to step down upon his marriage to his first cousin, Frances. Devout Christians, Charles and Frances taught their children at home during their early childhood, and the nascent Carroll proved to be an able student, reading the entire contents of Pilgrim's Progress by the age of seven. During his youth, Carroll and his family were forced to live a humble life at Daresbury, as the management of a large family on a rector's endowment proved difficult. However, in 1843, the elder Dodgson accepted a posting as vicar in Croft-on-Tees in Yorkshire. While this new position allowed the family greater financial flexibility, they still lived modestly with Carroll's father instilling stern tenets of discipline and moral rectitude in his children. In 1844 Carroll was enrolled at the nearby Richmond School, boarding at the headmaster's home. Demonstrating an early aptitude in math, he was sent to be a full-time boarder at the Rugby School upon his fourteenth birthday. Still an excellent student, particularly in mathematics and divinity, he nonetheless struggled socially due to a speech impediment. In the spring of 1848, he contracted a case of whooping cough, which left him with a lingering cough for much of his life. In the fall of that same year, he developed mumps, which left him near-deaf in his right ear. Carroll left Rugby in December 1849 and entered Oxford University the following May. Initially forced to live at home due to limited availability of accommodations at Oxford, Carroll was eventually able to find lodging at a friend of his father's and moved to the city of Oxford on a near-permanent basis in January 1851. Unfortunately, only two days after he left for Oxford, his mother died suddenly at the age of forty-seven. After her funeral, Carroll returned to school and, earning a reputation for self-discipline, was awarded a Boulter Scholarship entitling him to a limited monetary dispensation. Firmly ensconced at Christ Church, he continued to determinedly follow in his father's footsteps, earning both a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics, which he parleyed into a lectureship in 1852, eventually becoming a full professor in 1855. During this period, his fellowship entitled him to residency at Christ Church, although a requirement of this honor was that he had to take Holy Orders and remain unmarried. Due in part to these vows, he would remain a lifelong bachelor, eventually becoming ordained as a deacon of the church in 1861.

A devoutly conscientious Protestant, Carroll nevertheless declined the chance to gain full priesthood and rarely took to the pulpit due to his stammer. However, Carroll would not realize until later how his tenure at Christ Church would play a significant role in the creation of his Alice books. Alice Liddell was the middle girl of the three daughters of Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church, who assumed his post at Oxford in 1855. The previous summer, Carroll had been introduced to photography and, within a few months, he began developing a passion for it, shooting photos of the various residents of Christ Church, among them Dean Liddell's niece, Fredrika Liddell, Lord Alfred Tennyson's sons, and writer George MacDonald's children. Shortly after, he met the four-year-old Alice and her sisters at a series of boat races in February 1856 and, by April, they were given permission to sit for his camera in their garden. Quickly bonding with the girls, Carroll soon became a regular fixture at the Liddell home. During a boat trip on July 4, 1862, Carroll began telling the Liddell children a story about a fictional girl who falls into a netherworld of oddities called Wonderland. Continuing the tales over the course of two more boating trips in August, Alice eventually asked Carroll to write down his stories of Wonderland. The manuscripts—tentatively titled Alice's Adventures Under Ground—happened to fall into the hands of visiting author Henry Kingsley. Intrigued, Kingsley encouraged the reluctant Carroll to publish the works. Expanding his manuscript and enlisting noted Punch magazine cartoonist John Tenniel as illustrator, Carroll released Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to the public in June of 1865. He had chosen the moniker "Lewis Carroll" after the Latinized version of his real name; Charles became Carrolus, while Lutwidge became Ludovic, the sum of which in turn became Lewis Carroll. Tenniel and Carroll had a difficult working relationship; Carroll proved to be an overly meticulous editor, repeatedly pressing his partner on minor details while Tenniel missed Carroll's self-imposed Christmas publishing deadline, only finishing his illustrations several months later. However, the book became an instant success with audiences of the era and, by 1868, Carroll was already planning a sequel. Despite their earlier tension, Tenniel and Carroll recognized the popularity of their tandem creation and agreed to put aside any misgivings, publishing Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There in 1872.

In the ensuing years, Carroll offered his genial form of friendship to a number of young girls, including Gertrude Chataway, to whom he dedicated his epic nonsense verse poem, The Hunting of the Snark in 1876. By 1881 Carroll resigned his teaching commission, although he remained at Christ Church serving as curator of the Senior Common Room for another ten years. In the course of his later writing career, Carroll's efforts were primarily dedicated towards three genres—a series of mathematics treatises (all of which were published under his real name), examinations on religious theory, and a few last books directed towards children. Mostly, these consisted of a set of puzzle books, although he did write two full-length children's novels, Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893). Despite the effort Carroll placed into these last creations, they never received the attention or acclaim of his Alice books. On January 14, 1898, Carroll died at his sisters' home in Surrey of bronchitis.


Lewis Carroll's novels for children heralded a seismic shift away from the normative definitions of children's books during the Victorian era. Prior to their arrival, the vast majority of published juvenile materials fell into two genres—sermons couched in heavy-handed allegories and the salaciously violent penny dreadfuls. Carroll's primary innovation was to write stories that were meant solely for the enjoyment of children, a driving precept behind the era's Golden Age of children's literature. His fiction reveled in the absurd, heaping a rebellious assortment of fantastical characters and surreal adventures that never stooped to the level of earnestness practiced by his contemporaries. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in particular, established a popular trend of writing to the child rather than for the child, the difference being a desire to place the wants of its audience ahead of its presumed needs. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a bored but headstrong little girl named Alice falls into a rabbit hole and emerges in the imaginative world of Wonderland, where she soon discovers that the solid, logical rules of science no longer apply. In Wonderland, Alice grows and shrinks to absurd sizes, animals talk, and language makes little sense. She meets a peremptory hookah-smoking Caterpillar, a dodo, and then a Duchess with an ever-smiling Cheshire Cat. The Cheshire Cat directs Alice to a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. The Wonderland Queen—a playing-card Queen of Hearts—introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock-Turtle. After telling Alice about the Mock-Turtle's education, the two perform a dance called the Lobster Quadrille. Alice then finds herself at a trial where she has to give evidence in her defense. Finding the trial absurd, she tosses the playing-card participants into the air. Her dream comes to a sudden close, and she finds herself awake on a river bank with her sister. Throughout the book, Alice's understanding of the real world is challenged, and she is left continually unbalanced as she strives to make some sort of sense from the seeming insanity that teeters about her. Ultimately, she is unable to define Wonderland in any terms she can understand and, fed up, wakes to find that these ordeals have apparently just been dreams.

In Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Alice steps through a looking-glass and into the backwards world she has seen from her drawing room. The Looking-Glass world resembles the chess game Alice had been playing, and Alice herself becomes a pawn for the White Queen. She meets other living chess pieces, a garden of talking flowers, and insects that resemble her toys. She again encounters a series of fantastic characters whom entertain her as well as test her patience. Alice is introduced to Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who relate to her the verse tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter, and to Humpty Dumpty, who invents meanings for words and explains the nonsensical poem "Jabberwocky." She also comes across the Looking-Glass equivalents of the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, named Haigha and Hatta. After witnessing a fight "for the crown" between the Lion and the Unicorn, Alice meets the White Knight. Finally, Alice herself becomes a Queen, and her dream ends at a banquet replete with talking food. The banquet soon degenerates into chaos, and the Red Queen turns into Alice's black kitten. As quickly as she arrived in the Looking-Glass world, Alice awakes to find herself safely back in her family's drawing-room. From an analysis of the psychological threads of id and ego to a parodic examination of the Victorian legal system, the Alice books are open to a variety of possible evaluations, many born from the sheer plethora of potential symbolism and contextual contrivances that can be derived from the peculiar vagaries that abound throughout the books.

Though the Alice in Wonderland books remain as Carroll's most enduring legacy, he also published several other significant works of children's literature, particularly in the field of absurdist poetry. Carroll's poem "The Jabberwocky" is one of the most famous examples of absurdist verse, featuring a series of portmanteaus—a fusion of two dissimilar words into a single nonsensical sound from which the reader is supposed to derive their own meaning—such as "slithy" ("lithe" + "slimy") and "chortle" ("chuckle" + "snort"), the latter of which has since entered the English language as a real word. The Hunting of the Snark also regularly utilizes this device, as its very name, "Snark", is a portmanteau ("snare" + "lark"). A long verse story involving the attempts of such figures as the Bellman, the Beaver, the Banker, the Butcher, and the Bonnet-maker to kill the fearsome monster known as the Snark, The Hunting of the Snark was born from spontaneous inspiration after the phrase "For the Snark was a Boojum you see" suddenly came to Carroll one day. For his part, Carroll himself claimed to never understand the meaning of his own creation, though as critic David McLinton has commented that, "[Carroll] did say his favorite interpretation [of The Hunting of the Snark] was an allegory of the pursuit of happiness."


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was well received from the outset, and the demand for the book exceeded all expectations. However, throughout Carroll's life and into the early twentieth century, the Alice books received little serious critical attention, aside from glowing reviews from such luminaries as Virginia Woolf. Beginning in the 1930s, essays by such respected figures as William Empson established the stories as complex literary works that would reward close interpretation. The field was thus opened for a wide variety of approaches to the Alice novels. Philosophical readings have addressed the absurdity of Carroll's world and examined the author's treatment of space, time, logic, lawlessness, and individual identity. Several critics have analyzed the books with respect to the development of children and their movement from a disordered, primitive state to a state of reason and consequence. Focusing on the character of Alice, commentators have noted her various roles as a child, mother, and queen, and disputed whether or not she is truly "innocent." Other scholars have expounded on Carroll's incorporation of violence into Wonderland and identified several incidents of aggression, brutality, and destruction, often citing the Red Queen's desire to chop every-body's head off. Such reviewers have explored the relationship between these elements and Carroll's personal life, while also investigating the effect of these violent episodes on young readers. Provoking much critical debate is also the problematic "nonsense language" in both Alice books. Scholars have speculated that Carroll used nonsensical language and situations in order to break free from the rational, ordered world of his own reality and to transcend his own personal distress. Other topics of critical study include Carroll's fascination with and incorporation of games and puzzles as well as his use of humor, parody, and satire.


Children's Works

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland [illustrations by John Tenniel] (juvenile fiction) 1865

* Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There [illustrations by John Tenniel] (juvenile fiction) 1872

The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits [illustrations by Henry Holiday] (poetry) 1876

Alice's Adventures Under Ground (juvenile fiction) 1886

The Nursery Alice [illustrations by John Tenniel] (juvenile fiction) 1889

Sylvie and Bruno [illustrations by Harry Furniss] (juvenile fiction) 1889

Sylvie and Bruno Concluded [illustrations by Harry Furniss] (juvenile fiction) 1893

Three Sunsets and Other Poems (poetry) 1898

The Rectory Umbrella and Mischmasch (juvenile fiction and poetry) 1932

The Jabberwocky and More Nonsense [illustrations by Simms Taback] (poetry) 1964

Other Works

The Diaries of Lewis Carroll. 2 vols. [edited by Roger Lancelyn Green] (diaries) 1953

The Letters of Lewis Carroll. 2 vols. [edited by Morton N. Cohen and Roger Lancelyn Green] (correspondence) 1979

*Carroll's epic nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" was first published in the 1872 edition of Through the Looking-Glass. The first stanza of the poem had previously been published in Carroll's self-composed periodical Mischmasch in 1855 under the title "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry."

†This edition is a facsimile of the original 1863 manuscript that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was eventually based on.

‡The first edition of Three Sunsets was originally bound with E. Gertrude Thompson's Twelve Fairy Fancies.


Beverly Lyon Clark (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: Clark, Beverly Lyon. "Lewis Carroll's Alice Books: The Wonder of Wonderland." In Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Volume One, edited by Perry Nodelman, pp. 44-52. West Lafayette, Ind.: ChLA Publishers, 1985.

[In the following essay, Clark examines how Carroll's Alice in Wonderland series differentiated itself from similar children's works of the Victorian era, noting that the Alice books "reflect Victorian attitudes and also anticipate twentieth-century approaches to thinking and writing."]

Imagine yourself a child in nineteenth-century England. Imagine yourself constantly admonished to be seen but not heard. Imagine yourself reading about very good little children like the Harry of the popular History of Sandford and Merton, a boy who refuses to tell a hunting squire where a poor hare went and is then badly beaten, but who stoically forbears crying out, and even forgives his tormentor. Or imagine yourself reading about very bad little children, like the Harry in a poem by the popular Ann and Jane Taylor, a boy who has cruelly caught a fish and then is himself caught on a meat hook, so that "from his wound the crimson blood / In dreadful torrents pour'd" (Original Poems 31).

Then imagine yourself reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and you will realize how extraordinary Lewis Carroll's achievement was.

Carroll's 1865 volume ushered in what is generally considered the Golden Age of children's literature in English. Of course, there had been imaginative, nondidactic literature for children before. There were, certainly, fairy tales; translations of the Grimms' tales and of Andersen's were increasingly popular. But not all children were allowed to indulge in such frivolity—what many parents would call lies. The sentiment of many is expressed in the anonymous Parental Instructor; or, a Father's Present to His Children (1820), reprinted in Demers and Moyles' From Instruction to Delight; when a boy asks to hear the stories of Cinderella or Tom Thumb, his father responds,

What!…at your age—would you wish me to relate stories which have not even the shadow of common sense in them? It would really be ridiculous, to see a great big boy of ten years of age, and a young lady of nine, listening, with open mouths, to the adventures of an Ogre who ate little children, or the Little Gentleman with his Seven-league Boots; I could only pardon it in a child, who requires to be rocked asleep by his nurse.

… Absurdities like these only serve to vitiate your taste and weaken your mind, while some of them excite terror and disgust. (77-8)

Pushed only a little further, this position becomes that of Dickens' Gradgrind, a man who insists on Facts, never fancy, on teaching boys and girls Facts and only Facts, a man who castigates horses on wallpaper and flowers on carpets as contrary to Fact. Dickens, of course, did not concur. His autobiographical David Copperfield reads the likes of the Arabian Nights and the Tales of the Genii, which "did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me"; in fact, in a troubled childhood, "This was my only and my constant comfort"—such stories enabled him to survive adversity (105-6).

Nor had English literature entirely lacked portrayals of children of the middle range, neither very very good nor very very bad. David Copperfield himself, though largely the virtuous and innocent victim, has weaknesses: he is obtuse about the hypocrisy of Steerforth and the desirability of Agnes. Victorians did, however, tend to idealize children, tending, on the one hand, to consider children the epitome of innocence and goodness, as did a Romantic like Wordsworth, who saw childhood as trailing clouds of glory; and tending, on the other, to consider children as inherently evil, tainted by Original Sin and requiring strictness and severity. The two tendencies led to portraits of perfect children who modeled good behavior and of evil children who were suitably punished—not to mention constant preaching to the recalcitrant child reader. The fictional child embodying neither extreme was rare. For every child with both good and bad impulses, like David Copperfield, there were dozens of Goody Two Shoes.

So before Carroll there had been some imaginative, nondidactic literature for children and somewhat realistic portraits of children. But not many. And no writer before Carroll had put the two together so effectively. Even when Wonderland was first published, many reviewers recognized its unique qualities. True, some reviewers were negative; the reviewer for The Illustrated Times found the story "too extravagantly absurd to produce more diversion than disappointment and irritation" (Cripps 38). But others praised the book for not being didactic, for being as appealing to the adult as to the child, for being, as the review for John Bull said, "quite a work of genius" (Cripps 36). And by the time Through the Looking-Glass was published six years later, the chorus of praise was well-nigh universal; although some reviewers considered the second book inferior to the first, many agreed with the Manchester Guardian reviewer's statement that in Looking-Glass Carroll "surpassed all modern writers of children's books except himself" (Cripps 40). Another sign of contemporary enthusiasm for Carroll's work is that, within fifteen years of publication, Wonderland was translated into German, French, Swedish, Italian, Dutch, Danish, and Russian. The Victorians pretty soon came to recognize what a treasure the Alice books are.

Since then, the books have received boundless recognition. Wonderland has been translated into more than fifty languages, including Shorthand, Esperanto, Thai, Croatian, and, most recently, Tamil, Farsi, Lettish, and Pitjantjatjara. Tenniel's illustrations have appeared on biscuit tins and jigsaw puzzles and bars of soap. Dozens of film and stage versions have appeared, ranging from operatic to cartoon to absurdist. A recent memorial in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey commemorates Carroll's work. In fact, it's not hyperbolic to state that every middle-class British or American child knows Alice. Not to mention every middle-class adult—the Alice books are the most quoted works in English after the Bible and Shakespeare. As Virginia Woolf has noted, Carroll's are "the only books in which we become children" (1, 255).

For Carroll entered the mind of the child to an extraordinary degree. Not for him was the moralizing that metastasized in other nineteenth-century children's literature. Even other works of fantasy, like Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies and George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, have an underlying moral import; for all their imaginative wonders, they urge the child to be good, as Tom the chimneysweep learns to be and as the sickly Diamond already is. Instead, Carroll simply aimed to delight the child. Not for him the "nice little stories" he mentions in Wonderland "about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds …" (10-11). Not for him the perpetual moralizing that he satirizes in the Duchess, who talks, for instance, of a mustard mine and then adds, "… the moral of that is—'The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours'" (Wonderland 72).

Furthermore, Carroll portrays a believable Alice, neither a paragon nor a terror. She is sensible, courageous, dignified, thoughtful, imaginative; yet she is hardly perfect. She may try to be polite, but somehow she can't stop mentioning the predatory virtues of her cat in front of a mouse and some birds, and the verse she tries to recite comes out sounding rather bloodthirsty. Carroll's portrait of Alice in Wonderland and Looking-Glass is remarkably refreshing, not only by comparison with the way other nineteenth-century authors portrayed children but also with the way Carroll portrayed children in his verse and later fiction. In Sylvie and Bruno, for instance, Sylvie is impossibly virtuous, the kind of child who, when presented with a kiss for her birthday instead of a toy, piously enthuses that the kiss was the best gift of all.

How did Carroll manage to avoid such saccharine excesses in the Alice books? How did he manage to write such a great work of children's literature? For one thing, he was inspired by his affection for a particular child, to whom he told the tales that he later incorporated into Wonderland and Looking-Glass. On July 4, 1862, Carroll told the initial Wonderland story to ten-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters, as he and Robinson Duckworth rowed them on the Isis. Alice later begged Carroll to write the story down, and he did, eventually presenting her with the manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, an expansion of the oral tale, in 1864. In going on to prepare Wonderland for publication he further embellished the manuscript, eliminating some of its references to excursions with the Liddells, though some echoes of the original audience remain: for instance, the Duck, the Dodo, the Lory, and the Eaglet, who emerge from the pool of tears, are reflections of Duckworth, Dodgson, Lorina Liddell, and Edith Liddell. Carroll's literature for children always evolved from his oral story-telling, and his best works grew out of tales told to a particularly inspiring child.

Another reason for Carroll's success is that he was at heart a nineteenth-century scientist, a keen observer. And he keenly observed the ways of children. Certainly, as a photographer, he needed to learn what puzzles, games—and especially stories—could mesmerize a wriggling child for the minute or more that it took to record her image.

Finally, Carroll managed to trick himself into believing that his excursions into Wonderland and Looking-glass world were simply temporary escapes from the serious business of life. The adventures were mere diversions from the "real" world, where the books begin and end, Alice eventually waking up from her dream. And because he considered his imaginative fantasies ultimately unimportant, Carroll could permit himself anything in them. At other times he lived a pious upright life and diligently plodded at his mathematics; in this realm he needed to be serious.

But in his fantasies he could escape seriousness, foregoing the somewhat ponderous and exacting pedanticism of the rest of his life. Fantasy was, for him, profoundly liberating; he could give his imagination free reign, whether inventing flamingo mallets in an absurd croquet game or, in the person of the White Knight, horse anklets to ward off shark bites. He may try to undermine Wonderland and Looking-glass world by declaring that the adventures were just a dream, but this afterthought does not negate the liberating vitality of the tales.

Thus Carroll essentially considered his works amusing diversions. He was not using them to teach "real"-world precepts. They were not the vehicles of allegories. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the creatures and events in his stories and the creatures and events in some other realm. The books are too richly evocative to be reduced to a single meaning, and that is another facet of their greatness.

Nevertheless some critics have tried to make the Alice books into allegories (though some of these critics have admittedly been tongue in cheek). One approach is to declare that Carroll was not the real author just as some have claimed that Shakespeare was not the true author of the plays—and then to extrapolate to what the books are really about. In the most recent effort, based on a word-frequency study of italicized words in the Alice books and Queen Victoria's diaries, commentators claim that the true author was Queen Victoria and that the books reveal the torment of her wretched royal childhood; Father William, for example, is Victoria's uncle, William IV, and the nine haystacks in Tenniel's illustration represent the shrouds of those who had to die before William became king, while the ten teeth on a nearby rake represent his ten illegitimate children. Another claim is that the true author of the Alice books was Mark Twain, who, anticipating Doris Lessing's recent exploit, changed his pen name to see if the books could stand on their own merits, without the benefit of his reputation.

Other critics have found religious allegories. One decodes Looking-Glass to find references to Judaism: if, for instance, you read "Jabber" and "wocky" backward, you almost come up with Rabbi Jacob. Another finds veiled references in the two books to religious controversies at Oxford: the Jabberwock, for instance, embodies the common British view of the Papacy, and the attempt to behead the Cheshire Cat is reminiscent of Parliament's futile attempt to sever Catholic Bishops from their titles. Still another critic equates the Red Queen with Popery, the White Queen with Dissenters, and Alice with the True Church. But all that religious allegorizing is hardly likely from an author who changed the passion flower in Looking-Glass to a tiger lily as soon as he heard that the former referred to Christ's passion.

Then there are the inevitable psychoanalytic critics. They argue that Alice, expanding and contracting in a womb-like hall, is a penis. The behavior of the kings and especially the queens proves, of course, that Carroll felt unloved by his parents. The episode with the Duchess, the baby, and the Cook conceals a lesson in toilet training, with the sneezing symbolizing defecation—though another Freudian equates the sneezing with masturbation. The creation of portmanteau words treats words with a ruthless lack of consideration. And, more generally, Carroll writes with a sadistic and cannibalistic destructiveness from which our tender-hearted children must be protected.

Many other versions of Alice abound also. One critic argues that in the "Pig and Pepper" chapter Alice represents Queen Elizabeth I rescuing her natural son Bacon from a murderous plot. And there are pornographic and drug-trip versions, hinting at Queen Victoria's secret sex life or what Carroll did to combat migraines.

Such flat-footed allegorizing, such insistence on necessary one-to-one correspondences, is amusing—but silly. Still, the fact that the Alice books attract so much attention testifies to their continuing vitality. And, indeed, the books are not utterly divorced from Victorian "reality." The least heavy-handed of the Freudians, William Empson, acknowledges ambiguity and recognizes, for instance, that Carroll's portrait of Alice derives in part from Romantic notions of the child's unity with nature but also from what he calls rogue-sentiment, from the child as representing freedom and independence. Or a non-Freudian like Roger Henkle explores how the Alice books become a vehicle for expressing veiled criticism of and ambivalence about such Victorian attitudes as belief in progress. Thus Carroll reflects Victorian attitudes, though complexly and indirectly.

The books do, further, contain some satire of things Victorian. The trial at the end of Wonderland, for example, satirizes the legal system. In part this chapter simply turns usual judicial procedures and paraphernalia—like the jury-box—upside down for the fun of it. Yet look at what happens to the Knave's failure to sign the ambiguous poem attributed to him: it proves not that he didn't write the poem, as an ordinary person might think, but rather that he felt too guilty to sign it. Thus Carroll satirizes the too-subtle ingenuity of lawyers.

Carroll also satirizes the educational system to which Victorian children were subjected. He recognized, for instance, how tiresome children found it to memorize edifying poems. So when Alice tries to recite some of this improving verse in Wonderland, somehow it "all comes different." Isaac Watts' enormously popular "Against Idleness and Mischief," which extols the little busy bee for improving each shining hour—for gathering honey, skillfully building cells, neatly spreading wax—is transformed into an absurd celebration of the hypocrisy and guile of the crocodile:

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,

With gently smiling jaws! (Wonderland 17)

Carroll did not want to undermine the virtues of hard work—that's not what such a conscientious Protestant would satirize. But he did satirize inflicting such poems on children to teach moral precepts, once again showing sympathy for the child's point of view. And perhaps Carroll's satire of the didacticism of previous children's literature cleared a niche for the new kind of children's literature that he wanted to write. Much as Alice tries to define herself by attempting to recite familiar verse like that by Watts, Carroll seems, intentionally or not, to be defining his fiction through Alice's mangling of traditional children's literature.

Even now, more than a century later, this niche that Carroll created in children's literature seems new. For his work is startlingly modern and adult. Some twentieth-century commentators, such as Virginia Woolf and Martin Gardner, even argue that the Alice books are more appropriate for adults than for children. True, an occasional child may find some aspect of the tales distressing, just as an occasional child may be overwhelmed by Sendak's Wild Things in Where the Wild Things Are or the death of White's Charlotte in Charlotte's Web. But most children do not. Most find the plot and events engaging, even if they do not understand all the play with words and logic. Children can still enjoy the nonsense of the books, even if adults feel that full comprehension requires an adult intelligence.

What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that the Alice books are for both children and adults. On the one hand, there's the philosophical Alice, for those who delight in logical play; the most comprehensive and amusing commentary of this sort is Peter Heath's. Carroll plays with the concept of "behead," for instance, when the Queen of Hearts orders an executioner to behead a bodyless Cheshire Cat, already a head without a body. Carroll exploits the ambiguity of language, such as the meanings of "every other day" and "tomorrow," when the White Queen explicates the expression "jam every other day" as meaning jam always tomorrow and yesterday, never today. Carroll reifies an abstraction, or hypostatizes the null class, when the white King commends Alice for being able to see Nobody, and at such a distance.

Then there's the literary Alice, for those who delight in modernism and postmodernism; Michael Holquist makes a compelling case for this sort of reading. In different ways, both Wonderland and Looking-Glass anticipate twentieth-century trends in mainstream adult fiction. Wonderland 's modernity includes its associative, non-sequential plotting, anticipating the thematic structuring of works like Ulysses or Mrs. Dalloway. That of Looking-Glass includes its verse. As I argue elsewhere, Carroll's parodies here are not true parodies; instead, they play against the scaffolding of pre-existing poems—like some of Yeats' poetry, which draws upon the imagery in A Vision yet does not require that structure in order to be appreciated. Carroll's verse too can stand alone, divorced from its sources. Not, though, from the narrative—and this integration of verse and narrative also seems modern. Recent works like Nabokov's Pale Fire incorporate verse yet subvert strict boundaries between poem and prose, the plot of the novel growing out of footnotes presumably annotating a poem.

Carroll anticipates twentieth-century adult fiction by defying other boundaries also. His Alice books are incipiently self-conscious. That is, they remind us that we are in fact reading a book. When, for instance, Alice thinks, "There ought to be a book written about me" (Wonderland 29), she indirectly reminds us that we are indeed reading a book about her. Both books tend toward self-consciousness, Looking-Glass more radically than Wonderland. When Alice notes that the Wonderland Mouse has reached the fifth bend of his tail-shaped tale, she is being self-conscious about his tale, but only about his tale, not about the creatures she encounters nor about her own adventures. Her comment underscores the differences between the Mouse's tale and the rest of the narrative, which thus seems more "real." In Looking-Glass, though, she self-consciously wonders if she is part of the Red King's dream. She is wondering whether the entire narrative and all the characters, including herself, are fictional. Such self-consciousness can at first remind the reader of the boundaries between fiction and reality, since the fiction stresses its fictionality. Yet the self-consciousness also hints that what appears tangible in Looking-Glass may be only a dream, that presumed realities are really fantasies, that reality is subjective. The poem that concludes the book even ends with " Life, what is it but a dream ?" (209). Looking-Glass may not be as self-conscious as more recent works, but it does begin to confound reality and fiction. And thus it anticipates trends in contemporary adult fiction.

Carroll created great children's books by portraying a realistic child in imaginative, non-didactic works for children, works that continue to attract the attentions of commentators of all persuasions. But the Alice books resist commentary. And therein perhaps lies the root of their greatness. The books defy categorization, transcending traditional categories: they are for adults as well as children; they are light-hearted but also serious; they reflect Victorian attitudes and also anticipate twentieth-century approaches to thinking and writing.


Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland: Authoritative Texts of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking-Glass; The Hunting of the Snark—Backgrounds; Essays in Criticism. Ed. Donald J. Gray. Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 1971.

Clark, Beverly Lyon. "Carroll's Well-Versed Narrative: Through the Looking Glass. " English Language Notes 20, 2 (1982): 65-76.

Cripps, Elizabeth A. " Alice and the Reviewers." Children's Literature 11 (1983): 32-48.

Demers, Patricia, and Gordon Moyles. eds. From Instruction to Delight: An Anthology of Children's Literature to 1850. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Dickens, Charles. The Personal History of David Copperfield. Ed. Trevor Blount. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1966; rpt. 1981.

Empson, William. "Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain." Some Versions of Pastoral. New York: New Directions, 1935. 253-94.

Gardner, Martin. "A Child's Garden of Bewilderment." Saturday Review 17 July 1965: 18-19.

Heath, Peter. The Philosopher's Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. New York: St. Martin's, 1974.

Henkle, Roger. "The Mad Hatter's World." Virginia Quarterly Review 49 (1973): 99-117.

Holquist, Michael. "What Is a Boojum? Nonsense and Modernism." Yale French Studies 43 (1969): 145-64.

Taylor, Ann and Jane. Original Poems for Infant Minds and Rhymes for the Nursery. Pref. Christina Duff Stewart. New York: Garland, 1976.

Woolf, Virginia. "Lewis Carroll." Collected Essays. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967. 1, 254-55.

Jennifer Geer (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Geer, Jennifer. "'All Sorts of Pitfalls and Surprises': Competing Views of Idealized Girlhood in Lewis Carroll's Alice Books." Children's Literature 31 (2003): 1-24.

[In the following essay, Geer argues that the framing structures Carroll uses to bookend the more fantastical aspects of his Alice in Wonderland novels emphasize the differences between adult and juvenile perspectives of an idealized fairy tale universe.]

The opening and closing sections of Lewis Carroll's two classic children's novels, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, have posed perennial difficulties for critics. The prefatory poem and final paragraphs of Wonderland, as well as the poems and drawing-room scenes that frame the central narrative in Looking-Glass, are nostalgic, gently teasing, and ostensibly serene—and they stand in sharp contrast to Alice's unsentimental, chaotic, and often violent adventures. Although this dichotomy has been interpreted in several ways, most critics agree that the framing sections give a much more conventionally idealized picture of Alice and her dream-journeys than the adventures do.1 Such idealization is hardly surprising in light of Carroll's legendary devotion to little girls, but in the context of Alice's adventures, the frames do surprise. Their portrayals of her journeys through Wonderland and Looking-glass country bear so little resemblance to the journeys themselves that it is difficult to take the frames quite seriously. The closing paragraph of Wonderland is lovely but absurd as it blithely affirms that the tale of Alice's adventures, in which mothers sing sadistic lullabies, babies turn into pigs, and little girls shout at queens, will lead Alice's older sister into reveries about delightful children and domestic bliss. From a logical perspective, this final scene is as nonsensical as anything in Wonderland. I would like to suggest that the contrast between frames and adventures in the Alice books implies that the frames' idealized visions of Alice are themselves constructed narratives, as fantastic in their own way as the dreamtales they so radically reinterpret.

The Alice frames encourage readers to interpret Alice's adventures as fairy tales, a category that in nineteenth-century usage includes literary and traditional tales, nonsense, and what we would now call fantasy fiction. In mid-Victorian discourse, fairy tales often exert a recognizably domestic influence on their readers or listeners. Contemporary periodical articles and reviews commonly portray the tales' virtues as analogous to an ideal home's: readers young and old will find their sympathies awakened and the corrosive effects of an amoral, competitive, and violent world lessened.2Wonderland and Looking-Glass, like many Victorian texts, thus characterize the values inscribed in idealized childhood and its tales as domestic and feminine. The Wonderland frames suggest that the tale of Alice's dream fosters the happy, loving childhood that will enable her development into a good woman and mother, while the Looking-Glass frames anticipate that the tale will create a domestic space powerful enough to keep the stormy world at bay.

In both novels, the contrast between frames and adventures works to undermine such hopes and suggestions by foregrounding potential conflicts between adult and child figures. Adult and child characters in the Alice books, as well as the implied readers, often want rather different things from one another; tale-telling both fulfills and frustrates their desires.3 In Wonderland and Looking-Glass, Carroll ultimately suggests that both adults and children want power as well as comfort, and that the domestic world of little girls and fairy tales is the unlikely site of power struggles over the comforts of home and childhood. Still, Carroll does not reject the ideals of fairy tales and femininity he so deftly ironizes. He may delight in exposing their illogic, but he remains deeply committed to their emotional power. As Carroll's fellow Oxford don T. B. Strong noted, Wonderland and Looking-Glass draw heavily on mid-Victorian mores, often taking common words or phrases literally and pressing conventional assumptions to their logical conclusions. The books reveal "all sorts of pitfalls and surprises round the ordinary course of conversation" (Strong 306). Paradoxically, "pitfalls and surprises" can make conventional forms all the more alluring; by implying that the idyllic world of little girls and their fairy tales is really a narrative told by adults for self-interested purposes, the Alice books only intensify adult readers' desire for those idealized visions.

The many Victorian critics who defend fairy tales as an indispensable part of middle-class childhood commonly invoke the innocent, visionary child of Wordsworth's "Intimations" ode and then present fairy tales as a means of sustaining that child's happiness, innocence, and promise in later life.4 The critic Edward Dowden thus warns that children will retain their "beautiful soul[s]" only if they are given the proper reading matter: "the natural craving of a little child's mind is for romance. Supply it with mere facts and figures, and you starve it as effectually as if you offered a new-born infant a cask of sea-biscuits" (497, 501). In particular, these writers often assume that the tales will aid moral growth by delighting young readers. Joshua Fitch defends "fictions and tales of wonder" in the Methodist London Quarterly Review on the grounds that "childhood is a time of enjoyment, and the great object of books, toys, and such devices is, after all, to make the little ones happy " (483).5 Such happiness "is a necessity of the moral nature.… cheerfulness is the sunshine of the young soul; and in it all good and beautiful qualities are likely to thrive" (Fitch 483-84). Read against this background, the connection Wonderland draws between the dream-tale and "a merry crew" of children is more than mere sentimental nostalgia (Wonderland 21). This emphasis on the child auditors' enjoyment encourages readers to believe that the tale will have a beneficial influence on the girls' development.

The novel's closing paragraph, in which Alice's sister dreams of the girl's future, uses the tale to link a delightful childhood with domestic happiness. Focusing on the adult Alice's happy memories, this scene echoes the prefatory poem's request that she treasure the story as a remembrance of her "Childhood's dreams" (23). Memories of the original dream-tale will allow Alice to retain her child self even after she becomes a woman: she will "keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood … remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days" (164). This image of a serene mother who has never forgotten her childhood affirms the contemporary belief that an ideal woman retains a child's unselfconscious spontaneity and innocent affection. The sister's vision of Alice closely corresponds to John Ruskin's statement in Sesame and Lilies that "the perfect loveliness of a woman's countenance" combines "majestic peace, which is founded in the memory of happy and useful years … with that yet more majestic childishness, which is still full of change and promise" (106). The fact that the sister's dream evokes a delightful "little Alice" who then transforms into a serene adult reinforces this conception that the woman will retain the girl's virtues (162). At the same time, the sister's dream also implies that Alice's development from girl to woman will be smooth and unconflicted.

The revisions Carroll made to his original manuscript when he decided to publish Wonderland suggest a deliberate attempt to appeal to the public by associating Alice's adventures with conventional ideas about femininity and fairy tales. Although the manuscript copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground that Carroll originally gave to Alice Liddell concludes with the sister's vision of an adult Alice, it does not include the prefatory poem or the portion of the sister's dream that focuses on the young Alice. Instead, the Under Ground dream begins with a reference to the boat trip on which Carroll first told his tale to the Liddell girls, invoking "another little Alice, who sat listening with bright eager eyes" to the dream-tale as her boat "went slowly gliding" along the river (89). The manuscript thus makes an appeal to Alice Liddell by including her in the story in her own proper person, distinct from the tale's Alice. Wonderland, on the other hand, omits this private reference and identifies the little girl "with bright eager eyes" as the fictional Alice, the same child who grows into such a serene woman in the sister's dream (162). By making this revision, Carroll positions the published version more firmly within established narratives of fairy tales' influence on girls' development.

Carroll's later addresses to readers and revisions to Wonderland only intensify the portrayal of nonsense as conductive to domestic happiness. Addresses such as the "Easter Greeting to Every Child Who Loves 'Alice'" are among the most widely ridiculed of all Carroll's writings, but they constitute an earnest appeal to the domestic and religious sentiments of many middle-class Victorians. By reiterating the common contemporary belief that children's "innocent laughter is as sweet in [God's] ears as" any hymn, the "Easter Greeting" works to assure readers that the tales of Wonderland and Looking-glass country are perfectly compatible with moral seriousness and domestic piety (249). Carroll's address "To All Child-Readers of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'" presents the same theme in a less overtly religious form, envisioning readers who sit cozily at "English firesides" and prompting them to find the "truest kind of happiness" through sharing "innocent amusement" with others (247).

This attempt to fix Alice's adventures and their child readers ever more firmly within idealized domestic spaces culminates in The Nursery Alice, Carroll's revision of Wonderland for "Children aged from Naught to Five" (preface). In this version, Carroll eliminates Wonderland 's framing sections altogether and heavily revises Alice's adventures. The parodies of children's verse disappear, as do the more antagonistic scenes between Alice and the Wonderland creatures. The Caterpillar no longer becomes angry at Alice, and the episode in which the dove calls her a serpent disappears entirely. Alice still kicks Bill the Lizard up the chimney, but it is "a little tiny kick" and the narrator quickly interjects, guiding the reader's responses away from aggression and toward sympathy: "Poor little Bill! Don't you pity him very much? How frightened he must have been!" (20). The earlier novel's shifting, dreamlike qualities also figure much less prominently in The Nursery Alice ; the narrator carefully explains Alice's transformations and many of the creatures' motives. These revisions severely downplay the aggressive and unsettling aspects of Wonderland. The contrasts between the earlier novel's frames and adventures disappear: all the adventures of The Nursery Alice resemble the sweet, serene depictions in the Wonderland frames.6

Wonderland itself, however, has a more complex relationship to popular Victorian conceptions about feminized children and their tales. Even its frames subtly undercut the claim that good children's literature provides material for happy memories that influence child readers and inspire adults. These scenes portray fictions, not memories. Carroll's choice of words in the closing scene is characteristically precise; the sister "pictured" Alice's future as a mother, "dreamed about little Alice," and "half believed herself in Wonderland" (163-64). This reverie is only a dream, as the sister remains well aware. The prefatory poem also calls attention to itself as a literary object, with its carefully patterned verse form, word-play, and conversion of little girls into the three Fates. It even casts some doubt on its own version of events: the sixth stanza, unlike the first five, asserts that the tale was "hammered out" over a period of time rather than being told in one "golden afternoon" (23, 21). Furthermore, neither the prefatory poem nor the closing scene goes so far as to show Alice as an adult who has accepted and been influenced by the tale; they simply leave open the reassuring possibility that these things could happen.

The prefatory poem and closing reverie domesticate Alice's chaotic adventures: Wonderland becomes a pastoral daydream or, as Sarah Gilead has put it, "a pleasant escapist fantasy" (282). Gilead argues that the frames misread the adventures (282), but in the context of contemporary views about children and their tales, these sections more closely resemble rereadings. Although the frames do imply that the tale will help Alice grow into a woman who retains the best characteristics of her childhood, the contrast between frames and adventures indicates that the original dream-tale must be edited in order to produce this developmental narrative. Alice's experiences in Wonderland are mediated through the adult narrator who tells of her adventures, but they emphasize her reactions to the strange world around her. The frames, which introduce another level of adult mediation by including the sister and the prefatory poem's speaker, shift the center of attention away from Alice, concentrating instead on adults' reactions to her and her tale. The disjunction between the frames' placid visions and Alice's anger, frustration, and bewilderment in Wonderland calls attention to the differences between Alice's experiences and the desires of adult figures.7

The frames work to erase suggestions of tension between children and adults, imagining an idyllic world where adult control over children offers a foundation upon which both groups can satisfy their presumed desires. In the prefatory poem, the speaker's stories lead to reciprocal delight: by telling the tale, he gratifies his desire to amuse the children and their demand to be amused. Of course, the speaker pretends to be too weak to do anything but capitulate to the children's demands, yet this stance is all part of the game. The girls are well aware that he is only tantalizing them; his reluctance functions as an irresistible prelude to the story and gives further evidence of his narrative skill. At the same time, his claim of weakness masks the actual power imbalances between himself and his young listeners. The closing scene also downplays such imbalances by emphasizing reciprocal pleasure in the interactions between Alice and her older sister. After Alice relates her adventures, the sister drifts into a reverie about the girl's delight in telling the tale, and then into an inspiring dream about her possible future. Alice's cheerful obedience to her sister's request that she go in to tea also satisfies the adult's desire that tales amuse children while teaching them compliance (Gilead 282-83). Alice herself seems content with this arrangement; she will finally get the tea she had been denied in Wonderland.

The contrast between frames and adventures, however, suggests that conventional Victorian ideals of girlhood and its tales are deeply implicated in the very structures of domination and self-interest that they attempt to disavow. In Wonderland, the frames' depictions of innocent play, domestic happiness, and intergenerational harmony occur when adult figures exercise their power to dismiss the child and retell her experiences in ways that correspond to their own conceptions about fairy tales and little girls. The frames may emphasize play and reciprocity, but they rest on adult power and self-interest. It is no accident that Alice's sister sends the girl in to tea before beginning her own reveries. Neither the sister nor the prefatory poem's speaker has any interest in understanding the more disturbing or rebellious aspects of Alice's adventures. On the contrary, the sister's musings emphasize the delights of this "strange tale" (164). Similarly, in keeping with the conventional stress on cheerful tales and innocently charming girls, Alice's generally uncomfortable and even hostile interactions with the Wonderland creatures become "friendly chat[s]" in the prefatory poem (23).

The adventures, for their part, act as amusing correctives to the frames, emphasizing conflicts between thoroughly self-interested child and adult figures. Alice's adventures thus work to satisfy two desires that the frames, in common with most nineteenth-century idealizations of fairy tales, are careful to disavow: the adult's desire to dominate children and the child's desire to resist that domination.8 The adventures draw upon and complicate an established nineteenth-century tactic of praising fairy tales by contrasting them with so-called moral and informational literature, which attempts to convey factual information or to mold the child's beliefs and behavior by means of precept and direct example. Although Romantic and Victorian devotees of fairy tales tend to define moral and informational literature loosely, they are quite certain about its effects on children who read too much of it. The young unfortunates will become self-interested, conceited monsters such as the Infant Prodigy of Wordsworth's Prelude and Bitzer in Dickens's Hard Times, or they will die of mental strain as do the children on Charles Kingsley's Isle of Tomtoddies. This strategy of contrasting fairy tales with moral and informational literature assumes a sharp dichotomy between the wise, benevolent adults who give their children fairy tales and the overbearing, foolish adults who press nothing but facts on them.9 Such a scenario admits the possibility of bullying adults and resistant children, yet disavows it as a sad consequence of ignorant pedagogy.

Alice's adventures, however, work to collapse distinctions between fairy tales and moral or informational children's literature. Alice is given a fairy tale whose parodies of poems such as Isaac Watts's "How Doth the Little Busy Bee" or Robert Southey's "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" incorporate the standard attack on other types of children's literature. Unlike most contemporary defenses of fairy tales, however, Wonderland does not assume clear divisions between the unfettered freedom of imaginative worlds and the tedium of tracts or primers. Nor does it necessarily offer Alice a joyous, comic world of free play.10 The frames do allow such a view of Wonderland, but the adventures themselves present Alice with a fantasy world that casts her as the child who must resist the domineering adult figures who supposedly populate moral or informational literature. When she enters Wonderland, Alice expects her experience to correspond to the frames' harmonious model of childhood and children's literature. She would like to be amused and is determined to get into the Queen of Hearts' garden, which she thinks will be a delightful world of "beds of bright flowers and … cool fountains" (30). She also would like to impress others with her learning and manners, even going so far as to practice a curtsey as she is falling down the rabbit hole. The creatures, however, are distinctly unimpressed. Many are disposed to dislike Alice, they rarely listen to her, and "instead of encouraging her to speak for herself they make her recite … prefabricated piece[s] of discourse" such as lessons and poems (Hancher 193). The creatures' behavior suggests a world more akin to caricatures of moral or informational literature than to conventional Victorian images of fairy tales. The ease with which these two categories of children's literature blend into one another implies that fairy tales are hardly free from conflicts of interest between overbearing adults and recalcitrant children.

Domestic order thus disappears in Wonderland: traditionally feminine spaces such as kitchens, croquet grounds, gardens, and tea-tables are infused with the contentious, competitive values that Victorian domestic ideology ostensibly relegates to the public sphere.

In such a world, Alice can gain happiness only by being rebellious and calculating.11 The adventures do draw upon contemporary associations between childhood and adult femininity: Alice often resembles older female characters such as the Duchess or the Queen of Hearts. In a neat comic reversal of Victorian conventions, however, the characteristics Alice shares with the Duchess and Queen are not self-denying love and service, but individualism and a will to power. She does emulate these figures, but the result is conflict rather than harmony, since each party attempts to satisfy her own interests at the expense of the other. Alice is extremely reluctant to accept the Duchess's supposedly friendly advice, given in the form of moral maxims. As Alice is well aware, the Duchess's morals neither draw on nor encourage reciprocity between children and adults. Instead, they are products of an arbitrary and self-interested will to power. The Duchess's comment about minding one's own business rebukes Alice's concern about the pig-baby, and her later "moral" that "''tis love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round'" works to define her own familiar behavior toward the girl as love (80). The two morals contradict each other, of course, but consistency is not the point: both these sayings justify the Duchess's attempts to position Alice in subordinate roles. Understandably, Alice resists the Duchess's familiarity—and her morals.

Alice's wistful hope that she herself may become a Duchess suggests her own desire to gain power. It also prefigures her more dramatic challenge to the Queen of Hearts during the trial scene, in which Alice effectively, if only momentarily, takes on the Queen's role of a screaming, domineering woman.12 For an instant, Alice assumes a position directly contrary to those prescribed by domestic ideology or ideals of girlhood. Instead of comforting adults or joyfully playing, Alice contradicts the King and screams at the Queen. The trial scene, perhaps more than any other part of Wonderland, breaks down distinctions between public and private, masculine and feminine, child and adult, nonsense rhymes and edifying poems. The Queen's fury is as childish as it is despotic, while the King is an infantilized, henpecked ruler who cannot quite tell the difference between "important" and "unimportant" (155). In her position as mother and wife as well as ruler, the Queen of Hearts embodies what Adrienne Munich has called a "particularly problematic" slippage between a sovereign's public power and a woman's private influence (265). This slippage is made even more acute by the trial itself; it parodies a traditional nursery rhyme in which the Knave of Hearts steals the Queen's tarts, is beaten for it, and promises never to steal again (Reichertz 8, 93-99). In Wonderland, this domestic, childish crime and punishment becomes a very public and ceremonious trial, complete with jurors—albeit incompetent ones—and a herald. The trial thus emphasizes the tensions between the Queen's public position as monarch and her private role of wife and mother: she intimidates her husband and threatens to execute her son. Not surprisingly, the nursery rhyme's clear moral disappears. No one present thinks to ask whether the charge of theft is true, and Alice's dream ends before the trial concludes.13

The trial's nonsense is comic, but also unsettling: it is a rather frightening farce. In Wonderland, power rests not with the rule of law as in the ideal public realm, nor with the affections and conscience as in the ideal domestic realm, but with the individual who can dominate others most successfully. Kathleen Blake has suggested that Alice's experience in Wonderland resembles that of a participant in a competitive game whose rules are "adjusted constantly at the whim and to the advantage of the strongest player" (149). According to Blake, Alice's final challenge to the King and Queen of Hearts represents a rebellion against Wonderland's games: Alice destroys the frustrating game that has left her at a continual disadvantage (130-31). Alice's actions are certainly rebellious, but her anger seems directed against other players' attempts to dominate her rather than against the game itself. She denies the validity of the Queen's commands, refuses to obey them, and finally challenges the court's ability to rule at all, shouting, "'Who cares for you ?…You're nothing but a pack of cards!'" (161). In challenging the King's "Rule Forty-Two" and the Queen's dictum of "'Sentence first—verdict afterwards!'" Alice openly embraces Wonderland's tactics, loudly declaring her status as the player powerful enough to create and enforce her own rules.

Alice's antidomestic outburst draws on and marks a transition back into the domestic, however. To a large extent, she is willing to assert her authority because she understands her own world's hierarchies well enough not to feel threatened by the playing-card King and Queen. Although her final assertion of power shatters the conventional mid-Victorian image of a loving, self-sacrificing girl, it does so by reasserting an ordinary domestic hierarchy in which girls do control inanimate objects such as playing cards. The chaotic trial scene thus encourages readers to hope that Alice will rebel against the King and Queen in order to reinstate order, a desire that Alice's waking ultimately fulfills. The abrupt shift from the trial to the closing scene, however, suggests that Wonderland's anarchy is less an outright reversal of contemporary idealizations of girlhood and domesticity than an exaggeration of tendencies already present within those ideals.

The logic of Wonderland, in which stronger players alter situations to their own advantage, continues in the closing scene as the adult narrator replaces chaotic nonsense with an idyllic tableau. If the final paragraphs are to reassert domestic order and intergenerational harmony, they must contain Alice's rebellion and bring her back into willing submission to loving adult figures. Immediately after her outburst, the narrator deflects Alice's rebellion and asserts his own control over tale and child, identifying her adventures as a dream and characterizing her as a delightful girl who is happy to obey her indulgent and caring older sister. The final paragraphs, with their peaceful, gardenlike setting and evocation of Alice "lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister," reassert an idealized domestic hierarchy (162). The adult male narrator creates and controls the scene, the older sister takes on a maternal role as the narrator's agent in caring for Alice, and Alice herself figures as the affectionate, obedient girl who accepts adult guidance as she was singularly reluctant to do in the adventures.

Wonderland itself functions much as Alice's outburst during the trial scene does: it draws on, undermines, yet eventually intensifies the desire for idealized visions of childhood and domesticity. The ways in which Carroll exposes the intergenerational tensions that underlie and enable contemporary narratives about fairy tales and little girls is certainly subversive, but Wonderland as a whole works to contain those tensions and make them serve conventional ideals. The contrasting frames and adventures allow the text to satisfy its adult and child readers' presumed desires even as it reveals conflicts between them. Alice's adventures allow readers of all ages to indulge their fantasies of rebelling against unjust authority figures while defining themselves as children who only want to play in a garden and impress others. Along the way, adults and older children can share in Alice's pride at her supposed "knowledge" of big words and arcane facts—and satisfy their own sense of superiority by laughing at her mistakes. During the Knave's trial, for instance, the narrator inserts a nonsense definition of "suppressed by the officers of the court" that Alice takes quite seriously. The humor lies in the disjunction between Alice's complacent remark that she has read the term but "'never understood what it meant till now'" and the officers' method of suppressing the guinea pigs: pushing them head first into "a large canvas bag" and sitting on them (149-50). Readers who understand the joke gain the pleasure of seeing the world through a literal-minded child's eyes while using their own superior knowledge to see the humor in such a view.

Because the narrator's asides stress the limits of Alice's knowledge, they work to soften the impact of her rebellion by reminding readers that she is after all a very young girl. The frames also reaffirm conventional ideals of home and family. They soothe children who might wonder whether Alice will ever get home again and offer adult readers narratives that subsume aggressive impulses into a domestic space that proves able to accommodate them. The frames, then, are integral to Carroll's attempt at balancing an emotional attachment to idealized visions of fairy tales and little girls with an intellectual delight in exposing their illogicalities. These sections hint that contemporary ideals can be undercut by their own premises, but they also encourage readers to believe that stories such as Wonderland can fulfill and even reconcile the many desires that surround Victorian conceptions of childhood and its tales. The closing paragraph, in particular, delicately balances irony and idyll in its vision of Alice as queen of her children's hearts. On the one hand, it recalls what Carroll's contemporary Elizabeth Sewell termed the "training of the heart" (387): a girl should be prepared "to dwell in quiet homes … to exert a noiseless influence" over her family (396-97). At the same time, however, the passage allows readers to see what Alice's sister does not: echoes of Wonderland's tyrannical and selfish Queen. Wonderland tacitly accepts that an antidomestic Queen of Hearts might enable this final vision of domestic harmony but works to forget her, preferring to dwell on the more conventional lessons that Alice might learn from her childhood tales.

Although Wonderland offers the possibility that its antidomestic tale will foster Alice's development into a model of ideal womanhood, Through the Looking-Glass is far more skeptical about the tale's impact on her future. Much of this skepticism occurs because the later novel draws on rather different views of the relationships between adults, children's literature, and little girls. The Wonderland frames certainly idealize Alice, but their emphasis on the benefits she will reap from remembering the tale and retaining "the simple and loving heart of her childhood" assumes continuity between the child's experience and the woman's (164). The Looking-Glass frames, however, tend to follow another influential contemporary model of development, which portrays childhood as an innocent, feminized state vastly different from the corrupt, sorrowful adult world. Childhood becomes a sort of secular Eden, a paradise "inviolably, savingly separate from the adult world of anxiety" (Gilead 283). Because this model perceives childhood as separate from and superior to adulthood, it holds that adults do not retain their childlike hearts. Adults can only recapture momentary glimpses of childhood's bliss by interacting with children or by reading, telling, or writing idealized forms of children's literature such as fairy tales. At the same time, childhood becomes the site of a deep sentimental regret that children must lose their innocence as they grow up.14

Looking-Glass is thus more determined to idealize the child Alice and more pessimistic about her growth than Wonderland is.15 Whereas Wonderland 's prefatory poem gently teases the children who listen to the tale, its Looking-Glass counterpart does not. The Looking-Glass Alice is an ethereal "Child of the pure unclouded brow" rather than a pair of "little hands" steering the boat with "little skill" (173, 21). The Looking-Glass poem also assumes that Alice will lose her joyous innocence as she grows up. The simple, loving girl will develop all too quickly into a "melancholy maiden" subject to adulthood's "bitter tidings" and "unwelcome bed" of anxiety, sexuality and death (173). Although the poem's speaker wishes Alice to remember him and her happy girlhood, his sad prediction that "No thought of me shall find a place / In thy young life's hereafter" and his reference to "vanish'd summer glory" suggest that she will forget (173-74). These circumstances lessen the tale's value as a potentially formative influence on Alice. Instead, Carroll's speaker maintains that his "fairy-tale" will preserve an idealized, domestic childhood world that exists in comforting opposition to "the blinding snow" outside (174). The tale also will help delay Alice's departure into adulthood by weaving "magic words" to "hold [her] fast" in "childhood's nest of gladness," if only for a moment (174).

Yet Looking-Glass indicates that this desire to see childhood as a domestic paradise separate from and superior to adulthood is problematic as well as alluring. In particular, the novel explores the conflicted relationships between Victorian ideals of femininity and a model of childhood that contrasts innocent, feminized children with corrupt, implicitly masculine adults. Although recent studies by U. C. Knoepflmacher and Catherine Robson have examined the ways in which idealizations of little girls play into Victorian narratives about middle-class men's development, these idealizations also interact—often in unsettling ways—with contemporary notions of adult womanhood.16 Robson correctly notes that domestic advice literature often upholds the girl as an "embodiment of the ideal home," whose "powerlessness in some ways makes [her] more 'feminine' than the grown woman" (52). But this idealized girl is not merely a prepubescent, more charmingly dependent version of the adult angel in the house. She tends to undercut her adult counterpart; a model of girlhood which assumes that adults are anxious, sinful, and separated from their past implicitly contradicts the domestic ideal of a calm and cheerful woman who retains her childlike heart.

Mid-Victorian writers often try to avoid this contradiction by quietly omitting the figure of the woman; they portray the adult world in exclusively masculine terms and transfer the feminine powers of comfort and moral influence onto the child. Looking-Glass, however, takes the view of innocent child and corrupt adult to its logical conclusion, suggesting that adult womanhood is as competitive, individualistic, and disappointing as manhood. Such a move confirms adults' worst fears about children's growth, since it implies that all children, even girls, will lose their innocence and selfless affection as they mature. By undercutting the figure of the ideal woman, Looking-Glass increases adult readers' desire for an idealized girl who will perform the womanly functions of comfort and inspiration. The notion that childhood is precious yet fleeting also intensifies adults' desire for a tale that portrays the child and works to prolong her brief stay in paradise. Yet even as Carroll fosters these desires, he suggests that they are impossible to satisfy. Although the image of childhood as separate from and superior to adulthood may be inspiring, such a paradise is by definition inaccessible to adults. Furthermore, Looking-Glass indicates that the tale that might give adults a glimpse of childhood's bliss is at least as implicated in questions of power and self-interest as the Wonderland tale. The later novel assumes Alice will grow and indeed is eager to do so, but her eagerness only increases adults' futile wish that she remain young. Precisely because of its sentimentally nostalgic vision of girlhood, Looking-Glass presents adults' and children's desires as mutually exclusive. Such conflict, in turn, places enormous strain upon the tale: a story that satisfies adult readers' desire to fix Alice in her blissful childhood will hardly please child readers eager to grow up.

Although the prefatory poem's speaker may wish to fix Alice in an idealized childhood world, her adventures portray her as conspicuously uninterested in any such thing. As Knoepflmacher has pointed out, Alice's desire to play Looking-glass chess signifies her desire to grow up and gain an adult woman's powers ("Balancing" 511). In Looking-glass country, these desires are inseparable from ambition and competition; Alice is willing to enter the game as a Pawn, but she would "' like to be a Queen, best'" (Looking-Glass 208). The speed and relative ease with which she wins the game and becomes a Queen has led Knoepflmacher to argue that Looking-Glass endorses Alice's desire to grow, at least until Carroll abruptly rescinds that endorsement in the final chapters (Ventures 197-200; 216-26). Looking-Glass certainly does depict Alice's progress and implicitly her growth as inevitable: she is a Pawn whose moves are mapped out for her even before she begins to play. But her smoothy overdetermined journey to the Eighth Square does not necessarily indicate acceptance of her growth. The contrast between her success and the coronation feast which literally overturns her triumph only intensifies the sense that maturity is no prize at all, but a profound disappointment. Alice herself, who calmly pretends to mother the black kitten once she returns to her own drawing-room in the final chapter, never quite grasps this implication, but it certainly is available to the adult reader.

Alice initially believes the Red Queen's assurance that "'in the Eighth Square we shall be Queens together, and it's all feasting and fun!'" (212). Once Alice arrives at the Eighth Square, however, she discovers that her new role is hardly fun. The Red and White Queens are determined not to let her take her place with them as an equal. Instead, they assert their own superior status by treating her like a child, dismissing as ignorance and ill-temper all her attempts to establish her position as Queen. They even go so far as to invite themselves to her coronation dinner, justifying the breach of good manners by accusing Alice of not having "'had many lessons in manners yet'" (320). The Queens' rudeness and Alice's bewildered resentment cast ironic doubt on adults' desire to place children in a world of youthful bliss. Alice's relationships with adult figures are no more blissful in Looking-glass country than they were in Wonderland. Her position during and immediately before her coronation feast may be childlike, but it is hardly the "nest of gladness" that the prefatory poem extols (174).17

Alice's uncomfortable position as child-Queen suggests that the combination of a child's heart and a woman's offices might destroy domestic competence rather than create it.18 She fares no better at her coronation dinner than David Copperfield's "child-wife," Dora, does at housekeeping in Dickens's novel. Her title notwithstanding, Alice lacks the social experience to be an effective hostess, let alone a ruler. At first, she is even a little relieved when she discovers the feast has started without her; she remarks that she "'should never have known who were the right people to invite!'" (320). All too soon, however, the order that should have characterized a combination of state dinner and Victorian dinner-party plunges into chaos in the face of her inexperience. As an un-tutored girl, Alice has neither a ruler's public authority nor a hostess's social and managerial skills. The polite compliance that an upper-middle-class girl such as Alice would have been taught in nursery and schoolroom only compounds the social reversals, as she bows to subjects who understand Looking-glass etiquette. And if chess pieces can exercise power over a human Queen at her own coronation dinner, the food and tableware might logically aspire to rule, also. The result is a sort of domestic coup: Alice looks up to find the leg of mutton in the White Queen's chair, the Queen herself in the soup-tureen, and the soup-ladle advancing purposefully toward her own chair, "beckoning to her impatiently to get out of its way" (336).

Admittedly, the combination of a child's character and an adult's position serves Alice well in one respect. She manages to restore order by combining the traits of the mischievous child and the furious, domineering woman. Childishly, Alice demands attention by disrupting the already chaotic feast: "'I can't stand this any longer!' she cried, as she jumped up and seized the tablecloth with both hands: one good pull, and plates, dishes, guests, and candles came crashing down together in a heap on the floor" (336). She then abandons the child's role for the furious woman's, asserting her own dominance by "turning fiercely upon the Red Queen, whom she considered as the cause of all the mischief" (336). Since the scene is already a reversal of conventional order, these additional reversals succeed in righting it. The Red Queen begins to turn into the harmless black kitten on the spot, and Alice soon wakes to find herself back in the snug comfort of a drawing-room armchair. With Alice and the Red Queen restored to their respective roles as child and kitten, the adult narrator can reestablish control over the scene and return to a peaceful vision of Alice in her drawing-room.

As it turns out, however, this return to order is even more tenuous than in Wonderland. On the surface, the end of Alice's dream satisfies child and adult readers' impulse to halt the feast's frightening chaos, as well as adult readers' desire that Alice return to a safe, enclosed childhood world. But although Looking-Glass applauds Alice's actions, it also ironizes them. The violence Alice herself does in restoring domestic order suggests that neither the ideal woman nor the ideal girl is fully recoverable: the furious woman underlies the former, while the mischievous child underlies the latter. Thus, even the scenes of Alice in her drawing-room question the figure of the loving, authoritative yet childlike woman more than the closing frame of Wonderland does. Because Alice is pretending to be a mother, these scenes imply that the ideal woman who can combine an adult's competence with a child's simplicity exists only in the imagination. Furthermore, Alice's games retain subtle forms of Looking-glass country's conflicts between child and adult figures. Alice mothers her kittens by imitating adult authority figures' treatment of herself, never quite forgetting that she remains under their control. Thus, when she is playfully telling the black kitten that she will punish it for its faults, she begins to wonder if the same technique could be applied to her: "'You know I'm saving up all your punishments for Wednesday week—Suppose they had saved up all my punishments?… What would they do at the end of a year?'" (178). The effect is to emphasize the scene's fictionality (readers know they are watching a child pretending to be a mother) and the possibility of conflict even in Alice's supposedly happy family.

Given Looking-Glass 's persistent sense of the ways in which adult figures bully child figures, the mischievous or rebellious child is never far from Alice's games, either. Alice may pretend to be a benevolent mother, but she does not pretend to be a compliant child. The narrator mentions that "once she had really frightened her old nurse by shouting suddenly in her ear, 'Nurse! Do let's pretend that I'm a hungry hyaena, and you're a bone!'" (180). Even her dream-journey into Looking-glass House begins with Alice perched on the chimney-piece, which she almost certainly is not allowed to climb—especially when there is a fire burning. When Alice takes on a motherly role, she playfully recreates her own rebellious impulses in the figure of the black kitten, who is "'a little mischievous darling'" (178). To a large extent, these fantasies are charming to adult readers: they can recognize their own aggression in Alice's but rest assured that she herself is only "a little mischievous darling." On another level, however, Alice's games are slightly worrisome to adult devotees of idealized little girls. Because this dream-child happily pretends to be an adult and to resist adults, her games remind adults of childhood's transience and of potential conflicts between children's desires and their own.

These tensions between child and adult figures severely limit the possibility of creating a narrative that satisfies adults' longing for an idealized childhood paradise while also amusing child readers. The prefatory poem, for instance, suggests that the tale is as difficult to grasp as Alice's dream-rushes, which begin "to lose all their scent and beauty, from the very moment that she picked them" (257). Like the White Queen's jam, the idealized "fairy-tale" of the Looking-Glass poem exists yesterday and tomorrow, but not today. The speaker promises that he will continue "[a] tale begun in other days," but that tale remains an elusive future pleasure (173). The tale of Looking-glass country as presented in Alice's adventures does not exactly live up to this promise; although it certainly resembles her adventures in Wonderland, it is hardly a vision of "childhood's nest of gladness" (174). Moreover, even the delightfully nostalgic and sentimental tale the poem promises remains a product of adult fiat that may clash with the child's desires. The Looking-Glass poem's overtures may be flattering, but its consistent use of imperative verbs and negative constructions implies that it is as much a command as an invitation, and one Alice might choose not to heed.

Alice's adventures in Looking-glass country also question conventional notions of the benevolent tale-teller, the children who wish to be delighted, and the charming tale. Alice is usually reluctant to listen to Looking-glass poetry and remains skeptical of the creatures' claims that their poems will comfort or amuse her. The creatures' poetry and conversations often have the effect of delaying Alice's progress in the chess game; like the prefatory poem's ideal tale, they work to arrest her symbolic journey toward adulthood. This tendency may satisfy adult readers, but it exasperates Alice, who only wants to advance to the next square and become a Queen. Thus, when Tweedledee asks her if she likes poetry, her response is hardly enthusiastic: "'Ye-es, pretty well—some poetry.…Would you tell me which road leads out of the wood?'" (233). The Tweedle brothers' determination to recite the longest poem they know dismays her still more. The poem they tell Alice, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," reveals that she has good reason to be wary. The Walrus and Carpenter lure the "young Oysters" out for what they claim will be "A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk / Along the briny beach," but the walk ends with their eating the young guests (234). The poem's nonsense exaggerates conflict between generations. Adult figures' benevolence is nothing more than a hypocritical cloak, and the desire to arrest children's growth is literalized as a desire to kill them. The same themes recur during Alice's encounter with Humpty Dumpty. His response to her remark that "'one can't help growing older'" reveals ominous undertones behind adults' desire that children not grow, as he takes the premise to its logical conclusion by asserting that "' One can't, perhaps …but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off'" growing (266). Alice, understandably alarmed, hastens to change the subject.

Looking-Glass never comes to a definitive conclusion about the best ways to balance adult and child readers' desires. It simply gives—and undercuts—two possibilities for creating a tale that can amuse children while satisfying adults' wish for a nostalgic escape into a blissful childhood world. Alice's encounter with the White Knight implies that one way to create such a tale is to ask all parties to pretend. During this scene, Alice graciously submits to a deluded but well-meaning adult's determination to tell a tale, feigning interest in order to please him while giving her future adult self an opportunity to redefine the event in nostalgic, escapist terms. The White Knight casts himself as the ideal tale-teller, and according to the narrator, Alice eventually remembers him in such an idealized light.19 Admittedly, this memory of the Knight's "mild blue eyes and kindly smile … and … the melancholy music of the song" is a doubtful one (307). In typical Looking-glass fashion, it is a memory which has not yet happened to the Alice of the adventures, and as Knoepflmacher points out, it is by no means an accurate depiction of her experience in the narrative present (Ventures 221-23; "Balancing" 514-15). Although Alice may someday remember herself enjoying the beautiful picture the Knight makes with "the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light," Carroll gives no indication that she has this reaction while listening to the Knight's song (307). In the narrative present she is somewhat bored and even critical; she remarks that "'the tune isn't his own invention'" and works hard at "trying to feel interested" in yet another piece of poetry (306). Yet even if Alice's fondness for the Knight and his tale is only an illusion created in retrospect, Looking-Glass ultimately presents it as both lovely and fulfilling. Alice's meeting with the Knight suggests that the conflicting desires behind Victorian ideals of girlhood and fairy tales can be well served by a deluded storyteller and a child's polite deception. Because he believes himself wise and benevolent, the Knight is one of the few characters in Wonderland or Looking-glass country who is courteous or helpful to Alice, and for all her impatience, Alice hides it well. Her actions form Looking-Glass 's closest approximation to the ideal little girl or to the ideal woman who retains her childlike heart. By exercising an adult's diplomatic tact, Alice manages to fulfill the ideal girl's role of delighting her elders, even if she is only feigning interest.

The closing poem also presents the child and her tales as a lovely yet satisfying illusion. It represents an ingenious, if tenuous, solution to the problem of creating an idealized childhood world. As Wonderland does, this poem validates storytelling—or in this case, poetry—as the best way to satisfy the desires behind mid-Victorian idealizations of childhood. The poem is an acrostic on Alice Pleasance Liddell's name; although the children who listened to the original tale of Wonderland have faded into memory and those who will hear the tale have yet to do so, the ideal child remains inscribed into the poem's present. And although Alice does not become an ideal woman who can delight her own children with her tales, this poem recreates the tale of Wonderland and Looking-glass country in a form that offers continuity across generations. Recurring tales of "a Wonderland," told to successive groups of children, will ensure that the girl and her tales remain present, even though each telling's "[e]choes fade and memories die" (345). The poem thus attempts to fix Carroll, the real Alice Liddell, the fictional Alice, and child-listeners in a perpetually available childhood world.

At the same time, however, the closing poem remains well aware of the irony in its depiction of a childhood paradise. After all, this idealized setting bears little resemblance to the Wonderland (or the Looking-glass country) of Alice's original adventures: the poem's inhabitants certainly do move "under skies / Never seen by waking eyes" (345). Other children are present only as passive listeners, their desires carefully edited to correspond to those of the adult speaker, who creates the poem unilaterally and takes for granted his audience's "[e]ager eye and willing ear" (345). The final stanzas wryly undercut the notion of an eternal tale even as they long for it. The idealized childhood world that tale and poem create may seem to exist in a timeless lyric present, but the double meanings of lines such as "Ever drifting down the stream" reveal that it does not (345). The final lines encourage readers to dream but remind them that they, too, are drifting steadily toward death and destruction, however they may wish to linger along the way:

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream? (345)

Images of idealized childhood and its tales can delight, but they are dreams, illusory and fleeting; furthermore, the adult tale-teller and imaginary child-listeners cannot escape the fact that "summers die." In Looking-Glass, however, the very transience and elusiveness of ideal childhood only increase adults' desire to tell lovely if delusive tales for and about little girls.


  1. For studies that focus on the frames, see Coveney 195-201; Polhemus 604; and especially Madden 362-71 and Gilead 282-84. For interpretations that address the frames as representations of tensions between the narrator's desires and Alice's, see Kincaid, Child-Loving 289-95; and Knoepflmacher, "The Balancing of Child and Adult" 511-19 and Ventures 157-226.
  2. Carroll called Alice a fairy tale on more than one occasion, most amusingly when he termed the oral story which was the book's genesis "my interminable fairy-tale of Alice's Adventures " (Diaries 1.185). Claudia Nelson has argued that much mid-Victorian children's fiction, including fairy tales and fantasy, works to teach readers of both sexes characteristics that are coded as domestic and feminine. This tendency is particularly pronounced in contemporary critics' discussions of fairy tales; Dickens's "Frauds on the Fairies," for instance, maintains that the tales teach "gentleness and mercy … [f]orebearance, courtesy, consideration for the poor and aged, kind treatment of animals … [and] abhorrence of tyranny and brute force" (566).
  3. I follow Jacqueline Rose in assuming it "more or less impossible to gauge" actual child readers' responses to children's literature (9). I am more interested in tracing the various desires that Carroll's texts suggest their implied readers, young or old, may have, and the ways in which they portray child and adult figures. Rose's suggestion that child figures are constructed by adults in order to satisfy their own desires has also been a very helpful starting point for this analysis.
  4. For other Victorian reviews which quote or strongly echo Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb, see Johns; Fitch; "Children's Pleasure-Books"; and Dickens's "Frauds on the Fairies."
  5. All italics are in original sources unless otherwise noted. All quotations from Wonderland and Looking-Glass are from The Annotated Alice.
  6. The cover art of The Nursery Alice, designed by Carroll's friend M. Gertrude Thomson, is particularly appropriate in this respect. It depicts Alice lying under a tree, dreaming about a Wonderland that resembles the one Carroll attributes to the sister's dream in the earlier text.
  7. Paradoxically, then, both Gilead and William A. Madden are correct in their seemingly disparate readings of the Alice frames. Madden argues that the frames help readers view the adventures as representations of the "potential madness" underlying adult reality and encourage readers to combat this madness by affirming childlike virtues (370). Gilead questions this interpretation, arguing that Alice's sister's vision "rewrites and softens" the adventures (382). If what I am suggesting is correct, Wonderland simultaneously invites and ironizes both these readings. The frames do encourage readers to affirm childhood's virtues, but suggest that the original tale must be rewritten from an adult's perspective to obtain this result.
  8. Ironically, the emphasis on intergenerational conflict in Carroll's revisions is quite true to the spirit of many traditional fairy tales. Victorian idealizations to the contrary, in traditional tales the child hero or heroine often must confront a parent, stepparent, or other authority figure, and these confrontations are often quite violent. For discussions of familial dysfunction and violence in the Grimms' tales, for instance, see Tatar.
  9. Mitzi Myers has noted the oversimplification involved in placing such a large and varied body of children's literature into a single category, but nineteenth-century advocates of fairy tales rarely trouble to distinguish between poetry and prose or between various authors' political or religious affiliations. Myers, Alan Richardson, and James Holt McGavran, Jr. have demonstrated that this contrast between fairy tales and moral or informational children's literature was by no means as absolute as defenders of fairy tales made it appear. Even Carroll's parodies of Southey, Watts, and Howitt assume complete familiarity with their targets; readers must know the originals in order to catch the jokes.
  10. See Knoepflmacher, Ventures 172-80; Kincaid, "Alice's Invasion of Wonderland."
  11. For studies that focus on Alice's competitive or predatory desires, see Auerbach 31-41; Blake 94-148; Kincaid, "Alice's" 92-104 and Child-Loving 289-95; and Knoepflmacher, Ventures 182-85.
  12. For a discussion of the similarities between Alice, the Duchess, and the Queen of Hearts, see Auerbach 38. In Carroll's original manuscript, later published as Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the Queen and Duchess were the same figure, the Queen of Hearts and Marchioness of Mock Turtles.
  13. Significantly, The Nursery Alice 's trial scene works to reinstate conventional boundaries. It omits all reference to the King's incompetence, explains the circumstances that led up to the Knave's trial, and justifies Alice's outburst as prompted by her sense of the Queen's unfair insistence on sentence before verdict (54-56).
  14. For two recent discussions of this view of childhood, see Plotz and Robson.
  15. This view of childhood has very different implications from the view I have associated above with Wonderland, but the two are closely intertwined. Contemporary reviews and periodical articles often indicate both views within a paragraph or two, assuming that there is no conflict between them and that the same readers will respond to both; see Boyd 316 and Fitch 500. Elements of both views can be found in the Alice books as well. Although Wonderland presents a generally optimistic view of Alice's future, the sister does welcome reveries about the tale as a momentary escape from adulthood's "dull reality" (163); similarly, Looking-Glass temporarily abandons its emphasis on the separation between childhood and adulthood when it suggests that Alice will remember the Knight's tale.
  16. See Robson's study and the chapters on Thackeray, MacDonald, and Carroll in Knoepflmacher's Ventures; see also Plotz's chapter on DeQuincey.
  17. Alice does rock the White Queen to sleep later in this scene, but even here she initially acts under the Red Queen's direction.
  18. See Davidoff and Hall 451 and Gorham 7 on this tension within Victorian domestic ideology.
  19. See Hudson 199; Kincaid, Child-Loving 297-98; Cohen 217-19.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. "Alice and Wonderland: A Curious Child." Victorian Studies 17 (1973): 31-47.

Blake, Kathleen. Play, Games, and Sport: The Literary Works of Lewis Carroll. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1974.

Boyd, A. K. H. "Concerning the Sorrows of Childhood." Fraser's Magazine 65 (1862): 304-17.

Carroll, Lewis [Charles Lutwidge Dodson]. Alice's Adventures Under Ground. 1886. New York: Dover, 1965.

——. The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Ed. Martin Gardner. 1960. New York: Wings, 1998.

——. The Diaries of Lewis Carroll. Ed. Roger Lancelyn Green. 2 vols. London: Cassell, 1953.

——. "An Easter Greeting to Every Child Who Loves 'Alice.'" 1876. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Roger Lancelyn Green. London: Oxford UP, 1971. 248-49.

——. The Nursery Alice. London: Macmillan, 1890.

——. "To All Child-Readers of 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.'" 1871. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Roger Lancelyn Green. London: Oxford UP, 1971. 247.

"Children's Pleasure-Books." Dublin University Magazine 43 (1854): 72-90.

Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll: A Biography. London: Macmillan, 1997.

Coveney, Peter. Poor Monkey: The Child in Literature. London: Rockliff, 1957.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.

Dickens, Charles. "Frauds on the Fairies." 1853. Charles Dickens: Selected Journalism, 1850-1870. Ed. David Pascoe. London: Penguin, 1997. 566-72.

Dowden, Edward. "Nursery Classics." Temple Bar 8 (1863): 494-502.

Fitch, Joshua. "Children's Literature." London Quarterly Review 13 (1860): 469-500.

Gilead, Sarah. "Magic Abjured: Closure in Children's Fantasy Fiction." PMLA 106 (1991): 277-93.

Gorham, Deborah. The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal. Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 1982.

Hancher, Michael. "Alice's Audiences." Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England. Ed. James Holt McGavran, Jr. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1991. 190-207.

Hudson, Derek. Lewis Carroll. 1954. London: Constable, 1995.

Johns, Bennett G. "Books of Fiction for Children." The Quarterly Review 122 (1867): 56-89.

Kincaid, James R. "Alice's Invasion of Wonderland." PMLA 88 (1973): 92-99.

——. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Knoepflmacher, U. C. "The Balancing of Child and Adult." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 32 (1983): 497-530.

——. Ventures into Childland: Victorians, Fairy Tales, and Femininity. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998.

Madden, William A. "Framing the Alices. " PMLA 101 (1986): 362-73.

McGavran, James Holt, Jr. "Catechist and Visionary: Watts and Wordsworth in 'We Are Seven' and 'Anecdote for Fathers.'" Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England. Ed. James Holt McGavran, Jr. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1991. 54-71.

Munich, Adrienne A. "Queen Victoria, Empire, and Excess." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 6 (1987): 265-81.

Myers, Mitzi. "Romancing the Moral Tale: Maria Edgeworth and the Problems of Pedagogy." Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England. Ed. James Holt McGavran, Jr. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1991. 96-128.

Nelson, Claudia. Boys Will Be Girls: The Feminine Ethic and British Children's Fiction, 1857-1917. New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1991.

Plotz, Judith. Romanticism and the Vocation of Childhood. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Polhemus, Robert M. "Lewis Carroll and the Child in Victorian Fiction." Columbia History of the British Novel. Ed. John Richetti. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. 579-607.

Reichertz, Ronald. The Making of the Alice Books: Lewis Carroll's Uses of Earlier Children's Literature. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1997.

Richardson, Alan. "Wordsworth, Fairy Tales, and the Politics of Children's Reading." Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England. Ed. James Holt McGavran, Jr. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1991. 34-53.

Robson, Catherine. Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or, The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Ruskin, John. Sesame and Lilies. 1868. New York: John Wiley, 1889.

Sewell, Elizabeth M. Principles of Education, Drawn from Nature and Revelation, and Applied to Female Education in the Upper Classes. 1865. New York: Applegate, 1866.

Strong, T. B. "Lewis Carroll." Cornhill Magazine 77 (1898): 303-10.

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.



Jan Susina (essay date winter-spring 1989)

SOURCE: Susina, Jan. "Educating Alice: The Lessons of Wonderland. " Jabberwocky—The Journal of the Lewis Carroll Society 18, nos. 1-2 (winter-spring 1989): 3-9.

[In the following essay, Susina argues that Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is intended as a less overt presentation of proper values for children, rather than simply representing the antithesis of Victorian didacticism in children's literature.]

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)1 has frequently been celebrated as a ground-breaking text that liberated nineteenth-century children's books from the didacticism which burdened earlier forms of children's literature. F. J. Harvey Darton in Children's Books in England2 has suggested that Wonderland changed 'the whole cast of children's literature' (p. 252) while Percy Muir in English Children's Books3 sees Wonderland as such a pivotal text that he dates children's books as 'From Harris to "Alice"' and 'After Carroll' (pp 100, 148).

Rather than a radical departure from the tradition of literary fairy tales for children, Wonderland is a part of the well-established British tradition of didacticism for children. In composing his fairy tale, Carroll uses both his imagination and the belief that children's fiction ought to be entertaining as well as edifying. Although Wonderland does not provide the same overt sort of moralizing and conventional piety as does Kingsley's The Water-Babies (1863)4 or MacDonald's Dealings with the Fairies 1867,5 it does contain a number of social lessons for its younger readers.

Lessons and rules abound in Wonderland, which is curious for a book frequently praised by critics as being nondidactic. Even Alice realizes this: 'How the creatures order one about, and make one repeat lessons! … I might just well be at school at once' (p. 82). Alice is constantly referring to her lessons whether they be geography, mathematics, history, foreign languages, or natural science. She is frequently being given advice by the Caterpillar, the Duchess, the Hatter and the Mock Turtle and even herself, 'though she very seldom followed it' (p. 12).

Alice is an exceptionally articulate seven-year-old. She is seldom shy in displaying her accumulated, although imperfect, knowledge. Alice is a bit too pleased with herself, and is just as apt to give a recitation whether or not there is an audience. The narrator notes that Alice recites bits and pieces from her geography lessons while falling through the rabbit-holes:

though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over … (p. 8)

She uses her lessons as a form of self-validation, a sort of 'I can recite, therefore I am.'

I'm sure I can't be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh, she knows such a very little! (p. 16)

Alice uses her knowledge as a marker of social status. When she engages the Duchess in conversation, Alice is 'glad to get the opportunity of showing off a little of her knowledge.' (p. 48) Her education is shown to have little to do with understanding a subject but rather with making one feel superior to someone else. So while Wonderland is a book full of conversations—'and what is the use of a book … without pictures or conversations?' (p. 71—there is very little communication. The game of 'who knows more' is constantly being played in the Mouse's history lesson, the Hatter's riddles, the Caterpillar's questioning, and the moralizing of the Duchess.

What is curious about Wonderland is the absence of the religious sentiment and moralizing which is so evident in those fairy tales by Kingsley, MacDonald and other writers of the genre. It is certainly not that Carroll was any less concerned with morality and up-bringing of children. Carroll was much more orthodox and conventional than Kingsley or MacDonald in his religious beliefs and did not question the basic tenets of Victorian Christianity.

Much of his other writing for children is conventionally didactic, most notably the fairy tale 'Bruno's Revenge' (1867) and the lengthy Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893). After the popular success of Wonderland, Carroll began to insert into subsequent of its editions and his other works for children introductory material which is as didactic as anything produced by Kingsley or MacDonald. Such insertions as his 'An Easter Greeting to Every Child Who Loves "Alice"' (1876), 'A Christmas Greeting (From a Fairy to a Child)' (1884) (which were also sold independently as pamphlets), and 'Who Will Riddle Me the How and the Why?' (Preface to Alice's Adventures Under Ground 1886), are full of Victorian piety. The religious tone of these pieces is typified by the following selection from 'Easter Greeting' :

Are these strange words from a writer of such tales as Alice ? And is this a strange letter to find in a book of nonsense? It may be so. Some perhaps may blame me for thus mixing together things grave and gay; others may smile and think it odd that anyone should speak of solemn things at all, except in church and on a Sunday: but I think—nay, I am sure—that some children will read this gently and lovingly, and in the spirit in which I have written it.

For I do not believe God means us thus to divide life into two halves—to wear a grave face on Sunday and to think it out-of-place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day.

Carroll's writing for children gradually became more didactic in tone and imbued with moral earnestness, although Morton Cohen6 suggests that 'the moral tone is always present' (p. 8) in Carroll's writing, even in early stories and verses that he wrote as a child for his family magazines The Rectory Umbrella (1848) and Mischmasch (1855-62). This change is not so much one in terms of attitude—Carroll did not greatly modify his religious beliefs during his career—as it is a recognition of the audience that was reading his children's books.

Carroll originally composed Wonderland for Alice and her sisters, the daughters of Henry George Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and undoubtedly felt there was little need to preach to them. Nor would it be considered appropriate to put himself in the delicate situation of writing a tale which sought to tell the daughters of his superior how they ought to behave morally. Once Wonderland had expanded into the popular market with the People's Edition (1887), he began including the religious introductory material. Since he was reaching a much wider audience than he had anticipated—the first edition of Wonderland was published on commission by Macmillan—he sought in later editions to combine his fame as a writer of children's stories with his need to preach the gospel.

Many critics have pointed to Carroll's parodies of Robert Southey 'You Are Old Father William' and Isaac Watts 'How Doth the Little Crocodile' as confirmation of Carroll's strongly anti-didactic stance. Yet we know from his letters and diaries that Carroll agreed with the sentiments expressed in the original poems. He objected not so much to the content but to the manner in which teachers and parents forced young children to memorize instructional verse with the vain belief that it would somehow morally improve the child.

By 1865, the two poems by Watts, 'Against Idleness and Mischief' and 'The Sluggard,' were 150 years old and would not in themselves hold much interest for most Victorian seven-year-olds. By the time that Alice Liddell was forced to memorize them, they had become little more than doggerel. Carroll's imitations are more akin to a silly reworking of over-familiar songs such as 'Jingle Bells' or 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' which closely follow the original text but are hardly intended as a critique of the original.

Carroll suggests that when a dutiful child, such as Alice, is forced to memorize such verses, she is more concerned with the recitation than with the content of the poem. Each time she recites, Alice realizes something is not right, but as the Gryphon points out 'She can't explain it' (p. 83) because she really is more preoccupied with presenting the poem than understanding it.

The same lack of comprehension is evident in her lessons. While Alice frequently shows off her knowledge, it is usually scrambled. As the narrator observes, 'Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but she thought they were nice grand words to say' (p. 8). Carroll's point is not a critique of Watts and Southey but of the practice of recitation which simply produces grand works and little meaning. He is in complete agreement with the Mock Turtle, who cuts Alice off with 'What is the use of repeating all that stuff?…if you don't [or can't] explain it as you go on?' (p. 84).

The Duchess is terribly fond of findings morals and believes that 'Everything's got a moral, if you can only find it' (p. 70). The joke is not the morals that she discovers, but the excessive number of them that she is able to locate. This does not mean that Carroll rejects the concept of moralizing in children's literature. He satirizes what he considers excessive moralizing in children's books while simultaneously promoting middle-class ideology in his own text. The claim that Carroll is anti-didactic, is a sort of critical throwing the baby out with the bath water, something the Duchess might do, but hardly Carroll.

While Carroll rejects the excessive didacticism found in earlier forms of children's literature, he still clearly endorses and promotes certain ideas about social arrangements and codes of behaviour, providing numerous social lessons intended for its younger readers. Alice is an idealized version of the Victorian girl, thoughtful, good-mannered, generous, honest and polite. She is constantly attempting to make herself agreeable with the creatures of Wonderland. When the Mouse is telling its tale, Alice, who was 'always ready to make herself useful' (p. 26), attempts to untangle the knot. When the White Rabbit misplaces his gloves, she 'very good-naturedly began hunting about for them' (p. 27). When there is an awkward pause during one of the Dodo's speeches when ' somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything' (p. 23), Alice pipes up. She waits patiently for the long-winded Mock Turtle to pontificate and attempts to brush off the rude remarks of the Hatter, March Hare, Caterpillar and the Duchess.

She eventually learns not to insult the creatures of Wonderland by mentioning the eating of their species. The punishment of being shunned by the Mouse and birds has salutary effects on her. So when Alice discussed lobster with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, she begins to say, 'I once tasted—' but checks herself hastily, and adds, 'No never' (p. 78). Later in their conversation when Alice is asked about her knowledge of whiting, she carefully observes 'I've often seen them at dinn—' (p. 80) but quickly stops herself.

Unlike the rude and aggressive creatures of Wonderland, Alice is shown to be a polite and obedient child. This is in sharp contrast with child creatures in Wonderland, such as the sulky Lory who insists 'I'm older than you, and must know better,' (p. 21) and the young crab who is rude to its mother, 'Hold your tongue, Ma!' (p. 26).

Carroll had little toleration for ill-behaved and rowdy children, which is undoubtedly why he preferred the company of little girls to little boys. He is speaking in Alice's voice when she warns the baby, 'If you're going to turn into a pig, my dear … I'll have nothing more to do with you' (p. 50). Carroll suggests the importance of manners and training in children when he has Alice think about:

the other children she knew, who might do very well as pigs, and was just saying to herself 'if one only knew the right way to change them—' (p. 50)

While most critics acknowledge that Wonderland focuses on the problems of growing up, it is more specifically about fitting into an existing adult society. Alice's first action in Wonderland while falling through the rabbithole is to remove a jar of orange marmalade and then carefully to put it back into its proper place on a cupboard, in order not to drop it and harm anyone below her. Not only does the action show Alice's attempt to maintain order and be courteous to others, but hints at the domestic side of her personality. Later when she knocks over the jury box, she attempts to put the characters back in their proper places. Alice is constantly trying to fit into Wonderland or to fit things into their proper places.

Rather than being the forceful and aggressive figure that some critics have suggested, Alice generally attempts to please and be agreeable. Her desire to conform is so great that she actually changes shape to fit into her new environment.

The chief role that Wonderland is preparing for Alice is that of motherhood. Many critics treat Wonderland as if it concluded with Alice waking from her curious dream. Carroll makes a break in the text and then, like Kingsley at the end of The Water Babies, concludes the story with a moral tag, although he is not so bold as Kingsley as to label it 'Moral' (p. 369).

After hearing Alice relate her adventures, the older sister has a dream which consciously links Wonderland to the physical world around her. She then continues, in manner typical of closure in Victorian novels, to project what will happen to the heroine in coming years. Alice, the idealized Victorian girl, is rewarded with the middle-class version of the fairy tale ending: a happy Victorian family. Alice has become a 'grown woman' and gathers around her little children and tells them stories, including that of Wonderland.

This conclusion should not come as a surprise since Carroll has prepared the reader throughout the text. At the completion of the Caucus-race, the Dodo declares ' Everyone has won, and all must have prizes' (p. 23). The eager group demands to know who will give out the rewards and the Dodo points to Alice, and says 'Why, she, of course' (p. 23). The group clamours around Alice like a swarm of excited children, as she gives each one a piece from her box of comfits. Alice is clearly the mother handing out comfits/comfort to her children. The animals respond exactly like children: the older ones complain of the taste, while the smaller ones choke and must be patted on the back like infants by Alice. Once their taste for sweets is satisfied, these animals, like young children, demand a story.

Although the Dodo announces that everyone has won and all must have prizes, this is not the case. Alice, like a good self-sacrificing Victorian mother that she becomes at the conclusion of Wonderland, is expected to give without asking for anything in return. In providing the prizes to others, Alice begins to learn her lesson of self-sacrifice: it is better to give than to receive.

While Alice gives comfit/comfort to others, she is presented a thimble, a symbolic introduction to the domestic nature of Victorian motherhood. The children are rewarded with sweets, while Alice is rewarded with the sweetness of working with others.

This role is confirmed in the scene when Alice enters the Duchess' house. In the kitchen, the only episode in Wonderland where all the key characters are female, Alice is confronted with two extreme versions of women: the busy cook, sweating over the stove (the domestic realm) and the haughty Duchess dressed in her finery preparing for the croquet match with the Queen (the social realm). What is missing is the role of the mother, which is literally thrust upon Alice—"'Here! You may nurse it a bit, if you like!" the Duchess said to Alice, flinging the baby at her as she spoke' (p. 49). It is a role that Alice willingly accepts. Concerned for the child's safety, Alice takes the child away with her, which prepares the reader for the conclusion of Wonderland with Alice surrounded by loving children.

The final glimpse of Alice is of a woman who has retained her 'simple and loving heart of childhood' (p. 99) capable of identifying with the 'simple sorrows' and 'simple joys' of the children that flock around her. One wonders if she also remains as simpleminded as she appears in her adventures. Despite her education, Alice's knowledge is decidedly broad but shallow; she is much more concerned with 'grand words to say' than with understanding. Carroll seems to place much more emphasis on her emotional and nurturing abilities than on any skills that might suggest a wider sphere of influence outside of the home.

It is because Wonderland supports rather than challenges many of the values of Victorian society in a charming and entertaining manner that it became such a popular book for the upper-middle and middle classes during the period. Carroll shifted the context of his fairy tale from religious to social lessons. The lack of religious moralizing, while important, is much more the result of the specific audience to whom Carroll was directing his text—the Liddells and later the upper-middle class—than any clear sense of separating education from entertainment. It is the middle class represented by Alice and what Hubert Nicholson7 has characterised as her 'manners of the drawing-room' (p. 7) that triumph over the apparent formlessness of Wonderland. Carroll's emphasis on order, the importance of lessons and rules, and the need to adjust into society made the text popular with parents who gave it to their children.

Alice learns from the Queen's croquet game the need and importance of rules and order. As Alice suggests, it is 'a very difficult game indeed' (p. 66) when played with live flamingoes as mallets, hedgehogs as croquet balls and soldiers acting as arches. Significantly, she complains 'they don't seem to have any rules in particular: at least, if there are, nobody attends to them' (p. 67).

Alice is well aware of the need for rules in even something as simple as a croquet game. In the opening chapter, the narrator notes that Alice had once boxed her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet. Carroll, the consummate puzzle and game maker, firmly believed in the importance of rules and order. While Wonderland may appear on the surface to be random, chaotic and nightmarish, it, like a puzzle, must be carefully pieced together to discover its inherent pattern and its demand for rules and lessons.


1. Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge. Alice in Wonderland: Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Donald J. Gray. Norton, New York 1971.

2. Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social History. 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982.

3. Muir, Percy. English Children's Books, 1600-1900. B. T. Batsford Ltd. London 1954.

4. Kingsley, Charles. The Water Babies. 1863. Chancellor Press, London 1984.

5. MacDonald, George. Dealings with the Fairies. Alexander Straham, London 1867.

6. Cohen, Morton H. 'Lewis Carroll and Morality.' Sexuality and Victorian Literature, Tennessee Studies in Literature, 27, Ed. Don Richard Cox, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee 1984. pp. 3-19.

7. Nicholson, Hubert. 'A Voyage to Wonderland.' A Voyage to Wonderland and Other Essays. William Heinemann, London 1947. pp. 1-17.

Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith (review date 1997)

SOURCE: Bauermeister, Erica, and Holly Smith. Review of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel. In Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14, p. 79. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1997.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a story that sets the imagination soaring. Children and adults alike will delight in young Alice's finding herself in a world inhabited by a Cheshire cat that appears and disappears at will, a fretful white rabbit who is constantly running late, and the always angry Queen of Hearts, whose command "Off with their heads!" is never carried through. Alice tries to make sense of the nonsensical world she lands in after falling through a rabbit's hole, but she soon realizes that she's in a place where she doesn't know the rules. Lewis Carroll makes his readers laugh with continual puns and a madcap pace; John Tenniel's illustrations are a visual feast. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a book to read aloud with children to see their eyes sparkle; a child reading it alone can escape into the never-never land of words.


Karen Alkalay-Gut (essay date fall 1987)

SOURCE: Alkalay-Gut, Karen. "Carroll's Jabberwocky." Explicator 46, no. 1 (fall 1987): 27-31.

[In the following essay, Alkalay-Gut argues that Carroll's use of nonsense verse in "Jabberwocky" allows the reader to better understand the poem's innate meaning by enabling them to concentrate on its context rather than its diction.]

An old professor of mine, warning against the dangers of overinterpretation, would illustrate the extent to which criticism could err by giving an extensive and detailed reading of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" as a religious allegory and "Hickory Dickory Dock" as a paradigm of the existential experience. Perhaps for this reason, I have resisted the temptation to try to understand what has made "Jabberwocky" so popular a poem, both with children and adults; but, its continued popularity continues to puzzle. After all, if it is only nonsense, what distinguishes "Jabberwocky" from any other nonsense verse, from an obscure modern poem, or from formless gibberish? And if it is purely nonsense, then why is it read? The decision, then, to plumb the depths of "Jabberwocky" is based not on a desire to elicit meaning from the poem, but to determine how it manages to communicate despite its defiance of common language.

The first thing to strike the reader about the poem is not its senselessness but its grammatical and structural coherence. "Jabberwocky" follows known patterns. Not only can some sense be comprehended concerning the action from the grammatical logic, there is also a structural coherence in the poem, a structure that is made salient by the identity of the first and last verses of the poem. Even if there is no agreed meaning to the words, a sense to the setting and the plot, it is possible to say that whatever happens the poem ends where it begins, with the events in the middle having ultimately altered little.

Were this the only hint of a structural order, the poem would be too short and the words seemingly too insignificant to reach this conclusion. Yet, a glance at the adjacent verses—the second and the second last reveals other parallels:

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws the bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh, Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

In the former verse, an apparent father-figure speaks, warning the son away from the Jabberwock and the other accompanying monsters. In the latter verse, the same character welcomes the conquering hero on his victorious return. These are clearly equal but antithetical actions. Leaving aside meaning and plot for a moment, the fact that the hero is warned against an action and then praised for the same action by the same elder in itself indicates that in the intervening verses a "turn" has occurred, a "change of fortune."

The third and fifth verse illustrate the same parallelism and the same indication of a "change of fortune" but the implications are more immediate.

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

Although both verses describe an armed hero, the third verse is concerned with departure, contemplation, and pursuit, and the fifth with action uncomplicated by thought, followed by a return home. The fourth and middle verse, the center of the poem, is the encounter between hero and jabberwock.

It would be easy to conclude from this that Carroll has written a perfectly constructed mock heroic poem, using the structure of the epic, but enveloping it in nonsense in order to prove the ridiculousness of all the heroic tales. But it is also possible to conclude the opposite, that the nonsense takes on special significance in the light of the epic structure and lends it a higher meaning.

When J. R. R. Tolkien was defending Beowulf against the charge that the monsters detracted from the dignity of the epic, he noted, "It is not an accident that the tone of the poem is so high and its theme so low. It is the theme in its deadly seriousness that begets the dignity of tone.…"1 Tolkien's contention, that the epic quality of the poem is not diminished because of the seemingly ridiculous subject matter, but that the subject—monsters—becomes elevated to the level of significance because of the seriousness with which it is treated, is also applicable in "Jabberwocky."

Tolkien's theory was that the form of the heroic encounter with the forces of evil was a fixed one, that the features of both may change, but the nature and form of their essential conflict remains. The point of "Jabberwocky" is that if the form is in place, no amount of nonsense can divert the reader from the essential conflict. On the contrary, by using nonsense words, the poem deflects the reader from transient details and allows him to focus on the eternal human conflict with the forces of evil.

This is the purpose of the first verse, an introduction to a mythical atmosphere where there are no identifiable creatures to orient and fix the reader in a realistic world, where words mean nothing and the only order is grammatical. Animals and atmosphere are interchangeable. The nonsense serves a serious purpose here, to dislodge the reader from the fixed, limited world, and provide the possibility of limitless association. It is precisely the tight structure, parallel verses, and grammatical sense which allow for the freedom of non-sense.

Too often, Carroll's use of nonsense has been considered a secret kind of anagram, a trick, a "portmanteau." Using as great an authority as Humpty Dumpty, the words of "Jabberwocky" are dismissed with a "reasonable" explanation. " Brilling, " Humpty Dumpty explains in Through the Looking Glass, "means four o'clock in the afternoon—the time when you begin broiling things for dinner." " Slithy " is defined by the same source as "lithe and slimy" "Lithe is the same as active. You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up in one word." " Mimsy " by this definition, means "flimsy" and "miserable." But Carroll himself seemed to find the whole search for "portmanteau" meaning a joke on the adult reader, and when the newly formed Jabberwock magazine wrote to ask permission to use the word, wrote a preciously pretentious explanation of the word's etymology.

Mr. Lewis Carroll has much pleasure in giving to the editresses of the proposed magazine permission to use the title they wish for. He finds that the Anglo-Saxon word "wocer" or "Wocor" signifies "offspring" or "fruit." Taking "jabber" in its ordinary acceptation of "excited and voluble discussion," this would give the meaning of "the result of much excited discussion." Whether his phrase will have any application to the projected periodical, it will be for the future history of American literature to determine. Mr. Carroll wishes all success to the forthcoming magazine.2

Concerning this scholarly etymological approach, John Ciardi comments: "Such word-hunting is pleasant enough as a game, and it is clearly founded in the author's own directive. Where, moreover, there is such good reason for believing the poem to be "nonsense," little will be served by denying its character as such. But what is "nonsense"? Is it the same as "non-sense"? Suppose that Carroll had written not a poem but an orchestral scherzo, a simple but brilliant piece of fun-music: Would one be so readily tempted to call such music "nonsense"? Let the Wocky jabber as it will—and beautiful jabber it is—there is still a second sort of performance to which the appearance of "non-sense" gives an especially apt flavor. And that second performance involves a great deal of "sense," if by "sense" one means "meaningful comment upon an identifiable subject."3 Ciardi does not elaborate, but his enjoinder to leave the nonsense as nonsense is an important first step.

The function of nonsense, at least in many of the works of Carroll, is to rid words and events of transient meaning and allow to events their full significance. This is apparently a natural perception for children and corrective measure for the jaded adult. The classical scholar, N. O. Brown, indicated it as a prescription:

To restore to words their full significance, as in dreams, as in Finnegan's Wake, is to reduce them to nonsense, to get the nonsense or nothingness back into words, to transcend the antimony of sense and nonsense, silence and speech. It is a destruction of ordinary language, a victory over the reality-principle.…4

The function of the nonsense is disorientation and reorientation—removing the reader from the world of limited reality and specificity and placing him in a mythical context. Once, for example, we can rid ourselves of the need to define an adjective like "vorpal," we can understand that every hero has some weapon that is in some way outstanding, that makes him stronger than the average man, proves that he has been blessed by the gods, and leaves him vulnerable should it be removed from him. It is an acknowledgement that some form of supernatural help is necessary to cope with the magnitude of the human lot. A precise definition of "vorpal" as well as other undefined words, limits the poem, but an acceptance of the nonsense words facilitates the reading.

The first words to follow the scenic introduction are those of warning: "Beware the Jabberwock my son! /… / Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!" This identifies the Jabberwock as the monster, the gratuitous predator with his evil associates. They are evil not by any standards of fluctuating morality—but more basically—because they should be shunned. Therefore, although we are not told what a "frumious" bandersnatch is, we assume its evil nature because the elder warns against it.

This verse also introduces the basic psychological conflict between generations. For although the "father" (his actual position to the son is rightfully vague) and son agree on the danger involved, the older generation urges caution, suggesting that problems are eternal and cannot be solved but can only be coped with through avoidance.

The unwillingness of the son to disobey entirely the order of the elders of the uncertainty of his worth for such a ponderous task precipitates a period of meditation. As with the situation of most heroes, the action is not taken precipitously or offensively, but after consideration and under duress. From the Prophets who took on God's task with reluctance to Huck Finn, the major heroes of Western Civilization act only when they must, and then defensively.

Because the hero's greatness is measured by the greatness of his adversary, it is important that the battle scene be described, that there be a furious battle. Since it is only the outcome that is important, the nature of the battle or the means of the return home have no significance, and can be blurred with nonsense. Similarly the exact form of joy taken by the elder is insignificant—what counts is the social acceptance of the heroic act.

The final verse returns the scenes to the past of the introduction—for although much has happened, nothing has changed. Heroes come and go and in an imperfectly understood environment only the danger of evil is clear and eternal. Though the Jabberwock is dead, the monsters of the second verse—the Jubjub bird and the Bandersnatch—remain, and the possibilities are endless.

Carroll was not mocking or parodying the heroic tales, but, like a true mathematician, he was formulating them, bringing them down to their common denominator. This is the denominator at which most children begin to comprehend the great myths of society, and the one that adults, caught in the details of the immediate reality, forget.

  1. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984), p. 19.
  2. The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll, ed. Morton Cohen (New York: Pantheon, 1982), p. 173.
  3. "A Burble through the Tulgey Wood", Aspects of Alice, ed. Robert Phillips (New York: Vanguard, 1971) p. 260.
  4. N. O. Brown (Love's Body New York: Random House, 1966) urges the kind of nonsense as a corrective principle.


Donald Rackin (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Rackin, Donald. "Through the Looking Glass: Alice Becomes an I." In "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass": Nonsense, Sense, and Meaning, pp. 68-87. New York, N.Y.: Twayne Publishers, 1991.

[In the following essay, Rackin offers a psychological analysis of Through the Looking-Glass, arguing that Alice's narrative is presented from a more adult perspective than it was in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.]

I don't want to be anybody's prisoner. I want to be a Queen.

One way to account for the remarkably widespread and enduring appeal of Carroll's Alice s is to recognize that they speak to us, covertly, about our most pressing and persistent doubts and fears; that they speak, moreover, in the perennial symbolic language of myth and dream—a language whose archetypical features have preoccupied many of our century's most provocative thinkers, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell among them. In matter-of-fact narratives rendered precisely through a limpid prose style simple enough for little children (and hence for easy translation), Carroll reproduces with uncanny vividness the actual "mad" experience of the fantastic dream state. As if unmediated by a waking consciousness, the Alice s, with their ostensibly free-flowing, indeterminate dream structures and their primal dream symbolism, resonate with the aura of transcendent but elusive truth typically associated with uncensored dreams. Thus, the Alice s are permeated with a haunting sense of mythic applicability to life that seems to defy the boundaries of geography, culture, class, or age.

However, Alice's adventures underground and on the other side of the looking-glass must not be regarded as elusive parts of a single dream that deals in an indeterminate, plotless, and random manner with all life in general, a dream that precludes detailed explication or precise localization in time or place. For Carroll's accounts of Alice's two dreams are of course finally not vague dreams, but highly wrought, deliberately structured works of art rooted in a particular historical setting and culture. They are, moreover, two separate and distinct literary entities, each dealing in its own peculiar fashion with, for the most part, substantially different aspects of life, each rendering its own insights into, first, bourgeois mid-Victorian England and then into many societies and cultures beyond that particular home base.

This means, among other things, that Through the Looking-Glass demands its own critical reading, one that respects its artistic autonomy as well as its close relationships with Wonderland, its seemingly universal aspects as well as its many specific connections to Dodgson's middle-class milieu, to his beloved Alice Liddell, and to the process of growing up in his own world of dizzying change and ominously shifting perceptions of truth, meaning, and human value. Many of Carroll's best critics have treated Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass as if they constituted one seamless text. Despite the fact that the books were composed some six or seven years apart, that their plots, settings, and themes differ radically, and that their heroine manifests in the two sets of adventures two distinctly different stages of human development, little of the massive critical attention devoted over the past 70 years to Carroll's masterpieces treats the two as clearly separate entities. The preceding interpretation of Wonderland and the following one of Through the Looking-Glass try to do just that.

Alice's underground adventures, as I have already suggested, can be understood as the bad dreams of an infantile psyche. Full of random primal fears—the terrors of going out like a spent candle into sheer nothingness, of suddenly losing one's head, of being annihilated by monstrous, inexplicable grown-up creatures who come and go unpredictably; the dread of irresistible raw separation and permanent abandonment, of uncontrollable growth in an ever-constricting womb—Wonderland itself offers the feeble incipient ego no shelter or hope, no means for mastering its own condition. Poor little Alice's only effective defense against this maddening dream reality lies in flight, in retreat to her former childish innocence. Her sudden awakening answers her final screams of "Stuff and nonsense!" and "You're nothing but a pack of cards!" with the safety of a sister's motherly lap and the adult conventions of middle-class Victorian tea. Awake, secure, and no longer bereft, Alice at the end of her adventures in Wonderland remains unaware of the new power she has just exercised: those first verbal assertions of a fragile, budding self to externalize the horrible forces of its own disintegration, to reject its nightmarish fears, and to begin making sense of chaos by imposing upon the hostile powers of dark nonsense some manageable human design. When at the end of Wonderland Alice breaks off her infantile nightmares and returns to the protective care of her loving sister, she is almost back at the beginning. She becomes again a docile, dependent, unthreatened inhabitant of the simple light, cured for the moment of her dangerous curiosity about self and the dark underworld beneath the safe grounds of innocence—a serene Eve-child returned by her protective creator to a bourgeois paradise of infantile stasis and security. Her last thoughts about Wonderland, her memory of dream adventures so frightening she once considered them "enough to drive one crazy" (W [Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ], 46), come merely to this: "what a wonderful dream it had been" (W, 98).

Alice Growing Up

Alice's adventures behind the looking-glass, on the other hand, constitute the dream of a much more mature psyche, one well on its way to satisfactory integration and a conscious grasp of fear, time, evil, and death. Carroll's sequel enacts the myth of an Alice after the fall, a relatively experienced heroine who knows something of underground and mortality, something of her self and the rules of the game—an older, wiser heroine who has already learned to see herself objectively and to externalize and manage much of the destructive power inherent in her ancient fears. Replete with instances of Alice's cool dominance over her condition and over the once all-threatening creatures of her vivid infantile imagination, the Looking-Glass dream comically celebrates the budding mastery of an individuated psyche assuming self-control and a measure of autonomy, a confident Alice rehearsing her independent self in preparation for a rapidly approaching adulthood. Assuming the role played by her elder sister in the frame story of Wonderland, Alice alone in the frame story of Looking-Glass plays motherly mistress to her own real kitten. And within the Looking-Glass adventures themselves, as the self-possessed, indulgent caretaker of the weak, incompetent, silly and infantile creatures of her still lively imagination, Alice plays the integrated self ready and eager for independent queenhood outside the psychic womb.1

Obviously, in the passage from underground to looking-glass, Alice has changed critically. But the only effective way readers can know the events of her change or imagine the thematic substance of Carroll's unwritten account of it (call it, say, "Alice's Adventures between Underground and Chessboard") is obliquely, by conjecture. However, a reliable basis for such conjecture is readily available: in Through the Looking-Glass we can catch some clear dream reflections of those unchronicled but crucial earlier stages of Alice's development—those stages of self-discovery and individuation when the inchoate, underground forces of elemental fear and self-preservation coalesce into a stable, public self, and when that self then dotes dangerously on itself in the narcissistic stasis of a new, more complex version of infantile consciousness.

To reflect those unchronicled stages of Alice's transformation, Carroll's Looking-Glass text depends principally on a series of subtle elaborations of a single specific device, the mirror. Just what readers should have expected, even if they did not know that the adventures had been composed by an author notoriously obsessed with inversions and reversals in words, mirrors, mirror-writing, photography, logic, and life itself—that shy, respectable, and very grownup Oxford don who, in order to conceal his own child's play, invented for his subversive comic fantasies a pen name that is, in essence, simply a backwards mirror image of his adult name above ground and on the outer side of the looking-glass.2

What we typically see in a mirror, besides our own image, is what lies behind us—in a sense, not where we are going, but where we have been. As the White Queen of Through the Looking-Glass tells Alice, the "one great advantage" of living backwards as she does—that is, of moving through the looking-glass to what lies behind you in space and time—is "that one's memory works both ways" (L [Through the Looking-Glass ], 150). Dodgson's own memory often seemed to work "both ways": at the same time he thought often of his approaching death and the sadly unavoidable maturation of the young girls whom he loved for their "pure" youthfulness, he also kept detailed records of his past life, desperately trying to hold back the passage of time because he saw so acutely what lay ahead. By means of such devices as his meticulous Letter Register, his exact diary entries, his lists of now-matured child friends, his photographic records of once-beloved little girls, and his records of luncheons he had given, he worshipped his own memories. Indeed, his curiously religious opening lines to Wonderland beg Alice to take his "childish story" and lay it in "Memory's mystic band," as if its chief value is as a kind of religious memorial to the past that always lies behind us.

Alice's journey through the looking-glass also "works both ways," constituting not only a rapid moving forward, but also a moving backward, recapitulating what she has in her psychological development already passed through. Similarly, in his title Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll, like his childish White Queen, also has it "both ways," characteristically enacted in an elaborated pun on the word through: his (older) Alice progresses through (beyond) the mere reflections of the mirror, away from him and into real grownup life; but at the same time she relives, through (by means of) looking-glass reflections, what already lies behind her, recapitulating the childish stages of her development, the life she had led before crossing over the mantelpiece and becoming a queen, the unrecorded adventures of a young Alice that Dodgson/Carroll had already lost. In Carroll's formulation the mirror is therefore simultaneously a snare and a means of escape: it all depends on what one makes of the seemingly innocuous preposition through.

However, it must be stressed at the outset that literal mirrors never appear behind Carroll's looking-glass. Before her new chessgame adventures begin, Alice has by and large already passed through the critical mirror phase of her development in which the young self fixates on itself in a narcissistic circle of self-discovery iterated and reiterated. Her easy passage across the mantelpiece and through the mirror at the beginning of Through the Looking-Glass serves primarily as the emblem of her past maturation. It is appropriate, therefore, that an explicit mirror appears only once and only briefly at the outer surface, at the very opening of her new adventures. Nevertheless, the implicit idea of mirror dominates this dream, reflecting, by means of a number of childish looking-glass creatures, where Alice has already journeyed, reflecting too in a number of mirror reversals the themes of narcissism, maturation, self-realization, and selflessness that inform Carroll's last tribute to Alice Liddell—who, at the first publication of Through the Looking-Glass, was nearly 20 years old and thus rapidly approaching her majority.

Structural Differences

Before examining several of these elaborations of the mirror motif in Through the Looking-Glass, it is instructive to consider a related matter—a graphic, essential difference between the structural elements of the two Alice books. In Wonderland the dominant geometric pattern is distinctly circular and static. Like the encircling womb memories of psychic infancy, Wonderland enfolds Alice's disturbing dreams in circular, idyllic peace, in a narrative frame that turns back on itself and ends where it begins—with a stable tableau of a sheltered mother-child dyad nestled within a structurally static, centripetal frame story. When Wonderland ends with thoughtless little Alice running off, late to tea, we are returned full circle to the tale's beginning and to the seemingly innocuous White Rabbit darting—also late—down the fateful, yonic rabbit hole, carrying us back, in turn, to the adventures' central episode, the timeless Mad Tea-Party filled with endless circular motion and yet forever still—there at the structural and thematic center of Alice's underground journey. In other words, in terms of psychological development, Alice seems to go nowhere in her dreams of Wonderland. She ends the adventures once again secure in her sister's nurturing care, undifferentiated and safe from the terrifying, erratic dreams she has just experienced. The psychological results of her adventures are effectively symbolized by Alice's own direct involvement in the story's dominant circle imagery: joining a pointless circular caucus race where everyone wins or an endless circular tea party where the food never runs out. These scenes portray infantile images of that earliest stage of consciousness before time and linear progression; the rich, passive, static, undifferentiated and fluid world of the nurturing womb; the concentric id logic of fetal desire: "Beautiful Soup."

Playing the Game

Conversely, Through the Looking-Glass —structured, as Carroll claimed in the preface to the 1895 edition, "strictly in accordance with the laws of the game [of chess]"—is in many ways linear, progressive, and goal-oriented, based as it is on the straight lines and squares of an actual chessboard and (loosely) on the predictable linear movements of the chess pieces, particularly the movements of one little determined pawn as it marches straight across its five squares to its queening. And the sequel's heroine, now aware of the significance of living in space and time (regardless of their ultimate relativity), is decidedly active, logical, and self-directed, making her efficient moves deliberately, advancing on her own impending queenhood and chess victory swiftly and surely. For example, even in the Looking-Glass scene that comes closest to the epistemological anxiety of Alice's identity-threatening adventures underground, the brief episode in the wood where things have no names (chapter 3), Alice reveals a determination to move forward characteristic of a heroine much more mature and sophisticated than the confused little Alice of Wonderland. Despite her timidity over entering such a dark wood, "she made up her mind to go on: 'for I certainly won't go back, ' she thought to herself." For "this was the only way to the Eighth Square" and her queening (L, 135). The developmental advantages of playing the game, in spite of Dodgson's deep doubts about the (constructed) nature of reality and in spite of his distaste for the Rugby school of his youth and its emphasis on violent, but character-building games, are here made evident. As Kathleen Blake observes in her discussion of Alice's game playing in Looking-Glass, "By asserting her own will she at the same time acts in accordance with the rules of actual chess, which are unmuddled, stable, and hence fair enough to make victory possible."3 For, as Blake says, "the main thing [in games] is to fix the perimeter and the internal relationship structure, the terms and rules, of a game system, and make these stick. Then the universe will be secure (what Carroll calls certain), and one will enjoy the freedom of that security."4

Similarly, Alice's response to forgetting her own name in the dark wood of no names sounds a keynote of her grown-up determination throughout Looking-Glass : "And now who am I?" she asks, as if suddenly regressing to Wonderland where this insistent underground question never gets answered. Alice's added "And now," however, deftly marks the difference between her utter childishness in Wonderland and her relativistic, businesslike maturity behind the looking-glass: For one thing, "And now" here seems to allude to the fact that identity is time-specific, contingent—who one is depends on when, as well as where, one is. Furthermore, Alice here valiantly struggles to answer the question herself, and to answer it in terms of her past: "I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it!" (L, 136). A far cry—in substance, voice, and expression—from Alice's comparatively passive and helpless reactions to similar setbacks in the completely timeless, spaceless underground of Wonderland.

Thus advanced to a new developmental stage, the Alice of Looking-Glass is ready for the final moves ahead that will, by what Carroll calls "the laws of the game," enable her to assume the freedom and strength of a queen, the chessboard's most powerful, mobile, self-sufficient piece. Her matured understanding can reach into fields far beyond those available to the primal consciousness—indeed, can engage the whole world. When, for example, from a "little hill" she first looks down upon the new dream realm neatly and logically laid out for those old enough to master the rules of chess, she declares "in a tone of delight.… 'It's a great huge game of chess that's being played—all over the world'" (L, 125-26). Based on the strict linearity and arbitrary, unchanging rules of chess, on the progressive motions of a knowledgeable player advancing consciously through a timed series of well-defined moves to limited but attainable power and self-sufficiency, these last dream adventures trace Alice's final eager steps toward the victory of competent selfhood in the worldly games waking grown-ups play above the grounds of their infantile (if often valid) fears, as well as beyond the stultifying, deceptive mirrors of their static, childish self-love. Teaching his little-girl friends the moves and rules of chess apparently marked for Dodgson a noteworthy stage in their maturation: even the youngest of his friends could play cards and simple word games, but chess was clearly an adult game that could put his cleverest young protégées on something like an equal footing with their grown-up opponents.

Immediately after realizing the game nature of the world in which she finds herself behind the mirror, Alice says to the Red Queen, "How I wish I could be one of the [chess pieces]. I wouldn't mind being a Pawn … though of course I should like to be a Queen best." The Queen replies, "That's easily managed" (L, 126). Almost a mirror reversal of the generally useless, often exasperating advice Alice received from the maddening creatures of Wonderland, this preliminary advice from the Red Queen is accurate and eminently useful: it will serve Alice well behind the looking-glass. Alice can indeed "manage" now5—first, because she is mature and competent enough to play and win in an adult game like chess (contrast here the infantile, ruleless, and winless games of her adventures underground; contrast also the Wonderland playing-card motif that represents chance in a one-dimensional field rather than skill in the more or less two-dimensional field of the Looking-Glass chess pieces);6 second, and more significant, because she begins her new journey with a self-conception so firm and stable, she is no longer in serious danger of losing her way for long, of becoming ensnared, whether it be in the unprogressive circularity of early infancy or in the later circularity of childish self-worship.

Rising to Higher Things

Yet in her straight and purposeful march to queenhood and victory Alice does encounter plenty of circularity and self-mirroring—now, however, outside herself in the creatures of her imagination, which she swiftly leaves in her wake. In a rich variety of configurations, many of these Looking-Glass creatures repeat (as if in an infinite regression of mirror reflections of mirror reflections) a single narcissistic, circular pattern, a static mirroring of self. And at the very center of these adventures sits the unstable Humpty Dumpty, that imperious, egocentric, spherical big baby who, childishly believing himself "master," unknowingly teeters on the brink of his own inevitable fall and dissolution. Humpty Dumpty can be considered the emblem for the self-centered Looking-Glass personality: like him, almost everyone the shrewd young manager Alice meets beyond the looking-glass is an infantile, permanent prisoner of the mirror through which she has already passed. The Looking-Glass creatures are symbols of her former identities, dream projections and recapitulations of the childish stages she has put behind herself. Indeed, her Looking-Glass journey loosely reenacts that former passage, and during her progress through "that great huge game of chess," in dream play she once again leaves each of these static creatures behind her, frozen forever in the nursery rhymes of her earlier development. Like pieces in a game she has already won—parts of her former psychic self, still in some sense operative, but now subdued, perceived as childish, and thus under her conscious control—these creatures are no longer fully alive in her, no longer capable of pulling her back to the original, undifferentiated Eden before her stable, conscious self emerged.7

Tennyson's In Memoriam (a poem Dodgson so admired that he arranged for his sisters to compile an index of it, which was published in 1862) traces the poet's spiritual journey from deep doubt to ecstatic affirmation, from self-centered, rather infantile despair and disengagement to mature reintegration with nature and society. The extremely popular poem—considered by many modern scholars a literary paradigm of the bourgeois Victorian's spiritual experience—attempts to demonstrate how "men may rise on stepping-stones / Of their dead selves to higher things" (section 1, line 4). The conversion-oriented developmental pattern celebrated by Tennyson occurs repeatedly throughout Victorian literature. And in a sense, it is repeated in the Alice s: the infantile creatures of Through the Looking-Glass represent Alice's "dead selves," the "stepping stones" of her underground infancy and her narcissistic childhood and early adolescence—past selves she has risen on in her drive toward self-mastery and those middle-class "higher things," like the admirable, unselfish social consciousness she demonstrates as the heroine (and eventual queen) of Through the Looking-Glass.

The first characters Alice meets after crossing the mantelpiece are three pairs of disheveled chess pieces—the Red King and Queen, the White King and Queen, and the "two Castles walking arm in arm" (L, 113). These matching doubles prefigure at the outset the self-reflecting circularity within which all the looking-glass creatures seem to exist, the mirror motif that pervades the adventures, and the mirroring symmetrical/asymmetrical field within which the text is cast and upon which Alice must play the game that lies before her.8 Moreover, these incompetent chess characters act as foils for the nearly matured, self-possessed player Alice. Like them, all the other looking-glass creatures Alice meets are childish grown-ups; and consistent with her actions here at the beginning, Alice will almost invariably treat them like children who require her kindly attention and nurture. Hence, we are soon told in this opening scene that "Alice was very anxious to be of use"; she picks up the fallen, crying chess figures "very gently" and puts into order the untidy scene. Smoothing the King's tousled hair as she sets him "upon the table near the Queen," Alice addresses him as "my dear"—a locution often used, in the British vernacular, with small children (L, 114-15).

All this is of course a far cry from Alice's typically frightened reactions to insane royalty and maddening disorder in Wonderland. For here behind the looking-glass Alice makes order and acts the powerful but kindly and patient mother figure in a world of selfish, incompetent children: a self-composed Victorian young lady who chooses to act with the solicitude and noblesse oblige required of her by her upper-middle-class ethos. With the aplomb of an accomplished actress, Alice now plays beautifully the grownup, culture-bearing, dominant role in which her elevated social position has cast her,9 demonstrating, in a mirror reversal of the creatures' narcissistic behavior, that she, at least, has already traveled through the looking-glass, that in a world full of selfish, infantile, incompetent creatures—whatever their chronological ages—she, at least, can see beyond her own reflection and can act with what her class considered authentic, mature altruism.

For while discerning the reflection of one's separate self (in the mirror or elsewhere) marks a major stage in the maturational process, it is of course not the ultimate aim of human development—certainly not for the Reverend Dodgson, nor for his original, bourgeois, Christian audience. To see beyond or through the looking-glass, to see what lies on the other side of self, to accept the human burden of caring for the world and others less fortunate, less "enlightened," or less powerful than oneself—this for Dodgson/Carroll was the ideological imperative for a mature human existence. That his Alice has come, by the beginning of Through the Looking-Glass, to accept such a burden is at once both her triumph and, it seems, an important source of the widespread admiration Through the Looking-Glass continues to provoke.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Not long after the opening episode with the chess pieces, Alice encounters another set of mirror images, the identical, identically reversed twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But even before meeting this "couple of great schoolboys" (as she refers to these men-children), she has already realized that they are not the two separate selves they think themselves to be. Just before the meeting, Alice has spotted their two mirroring signposts: To Tweedledum's House and To the House of Tweedledee. Wise now to the ways of signs, mirrors, and narcissistic self-deception, Alice declares, "I do believe … that they live in the same house!" This realization hints at the measure of her matured understanding about human identity—a topic that has puzzled her from almost the beginning of her first adventures underground. For although the babyish Tweedles in their blatant self-love consider themselves two separate creatures, Alice seems to understand that they are deluded like the self-enamored Narcissus of ancient myth. Moreover, Alice also thinks here about her own process of perception when she immediately adds, "I wonder I never thought of that before" (L, 137). Such contemplation and self-contemplation represent a mirror reversal of the Tweedles' permanent infantile delusion about their identities. Alice accurately sees herself here as two different people, different because time has changed her and matured her understanding ("I [now] wonder" vs. "I [then] never thought"). At some point in her past, she realizes, she too was incapable of distinguishing a doubled mirror identity from a truly doubled reality. Indeed, back in Wonderland she was, as the narrator told us, "fond of pretending to be two people" (W, 12)—a sign of precociousness perhaps, but not a sign of mature consciousness and psychic integration. And that fondness, like the (conjectured) foolish, fond self-love of her later (unrecorded) stages of development, has apparently been overcome in her growth, in her fall from circular, self-satisfied innocence to a new recognition of self-hood and otherness in a world of time and change. Now like a mature adult, Alice can truly "wonder" about her self as an evolving, changing entity living in time, rather than a static, permanently infantile one caught in its own timeless mirror image—like the immortal Tweedle couple thinking of itself as two separate grownups when, in fact, it is for all intents and purposes a single infantile child trapped in a mirror reflection, forever frozen in the immutable text of a well-worn nursery rhyme.10

In a parody of infantile selfishness, the Tweedles (Alice thinks of them as "fat little men") play out their predetermined nursery-rhyme battle (presumably ad infinitum)—all, appropriately, over "a nice new Rattle" (L, 146). Neatly encapsulating the twins' essential contribution to the book's unfolding anatomy of static narcissism, Alice characterizes them as "selfish things!" (L, 146), but of course not out loud: the solicitous, motherly, well-mannered Alice consistently avoids hurting the delicate feelings of the childish Looking-Glass creatures. It is seeing them as "things" that allows Alice—and the reader—to distinguish between the human state beyond the mirror and the less-than-human state inside the mirror. As infants, they are indeed still like things, like mere projections of the id, while Alice, as her well-phrased remarks here indicate, is already a full-fledged human being, a relatively self-willed agent, a nearly mature woman now capable of treating the Tweedles for just what they are—silly mirror babies fighting an endless, harmless mock-battle over a mere rattle: "'Of course you agree to have a battle?' Tweedledum said.… 'I suppose so,' the other sulkily replied.… '[O]nly she must help us to dress up, you know'" (L, 147).

Alice proceeds to humor the Tweedles with motherly patience. Again acting the competent grownup, she dresses the two great babies and gently ministers to their needs, avoiding at all costs wounding their fragile egos. Reacting to a particularly nonsensical remark of Tweedledee's, for example, she manages to turn her loud involuntary laughter "into a cough, for fear," we are told, "of hurting his feelings" (L, 147). Alice's gentle nurturing response even goes so far as to approximate the final developmental stage that awaits her—the maternal, generative, teaching stage: fruitlessly she attempts to teach these selfish Tweedles some of the elements of mature perception, selflessness and self-control—"'And all that about a rattle!' said [the motherly] Alice, still hoping to make them a little ashamed of fighting for such a trifle" (L, 148).

The pattern continues. For example, in chapter 5, "Wool and Water," Alice, again acting the part of the discreet and powerful older woman with the still childish, disheveled, incompetent, and self-centered White Queen, gently dresses her and diplomatically manages the social encounter: "Alice felt if there was to be any conversation at all, she must manage it herself" (L, 149). (Much later, in chapter 9, the Red Queen orders Alice to smooth the White Queen's hair and sing her a soothing lullaby [L, 196]).11 The White Queen's childishness is apparently the result, as she herself admits, of "living backwards"—an allusion to, among other things, the regressiveness Alice has at this stage overcome and put behind her into unconsciousness: "'Living backwards!' Alice repeated in great astonishment. 'I never heard of such a thing!'" (L, 150), despite the fact that in her underground adventures she had experienced much that could justifiably be called "living backwards"—almost to the point of "going out altogether, like a candle" (W, 12).12

In chapter 8, "It's My Own Invention," Alice again plays the indulgent and nurturing mother figure—this time to the aged White Knight, a laughably innocent, senile figure in his second childhood who keeps tumbling off his horse. In a deliciously naturalistic touch, Carroll allows Alice to lose, but only for a brief moment, her mature patience with the Knight's childish incompetence, suggesting he belongs on a child's nursery horse, a hint he characteristically misses:

"It's too ridiculous!" cried Alice, losing all her patience this time.

"You ought to have a wooden horse on wheels, that you ought!"

"Does that kind go smoothly?" the Knight asked in a tone of great interest, clasping his arms round the horse's neck as he spoke, just in time to save himself from tumbling off again.

"Much more smoothly than a live horse," Alice said, with a little scream of laughter, in spite of all she could do to prevent it.

"I'll get one," the Knight said thoughtfully to himself. "One or two—several." (L, 184)

Humpty Dumpty's Narcissism

Perhaps most important in this pattern of child-adult reversal and self-mirroring narcissism traced in this discussion is chapter 6, "Humpty Dumpty," the chapter that serves as the structural center of Alice's 12-chapter adventures behind the mirror. For in Humpty Dumpty Alice meets the reductio ad absurdum of circular narcissism. The spherical Humpty Dumpty, for one thing, believes himself master because he masters words; but what he is ridiculously unaware of is that, like a number of other infantile prisoners of the Looking-Glass world, his very existence, the permanence and integrity of his self is "mastered" by the words of an unchanging text, the nursery rhyme that comprises his only identity, his sole claim on existence. Furthermore, lurking behind Humpty Dumpty's childish bravado is Alice's mature awareness that his fall and disintegration are inevitable and that, unlike Alice's self after her disastrous fall down the rabbit hole, his can never be reconstructed or developed. For his whole existence is merely the fixed mirror image of a predetermined and unchanging verbal text, the last lines of which Alice, with typical polite circumspection, recites silently to herself: "All the King's horses / And all the King's men / Couldn't put Humpty in his place again." Immediately, however, Alice realizes that the "last line is much too long for the poetry" (L, 159). Her doubts here about her memory and the efficiency of her own mental processes offer a neat contrast to Humpty Dumpty's invariable and childish self-assurance. Her compassionate silence stems from her mature realization that the last line is too long to reflect the short life expectancy of an unbalanced egg on a wall.

"Some people … have no more sense than a baby," Humpty Dumpty tells Alice when she begins the episode by inadvertently remarking "how exactly like an egg he is" (L, 159). Humpty's rude remark, of course, like so much else in this pivotal episode, constitutes an ironic mirror reversal. For it is Humpty Dumpty, not the obviously discreet and civil Alice, who has "no more sense than a baby." Indeed, Humpty has so little sense that he remains, like a baby, blissfully unaware of the fact that, as Alice tells him, "one can't help growing older" (L, 162) and blissfully ignorant of the dire consequences of an egg perched precariously on a wall: the impending fall that will destroy his identity forever, a fall ironically guaranteed by rhyme and by words, the element he officiously claims to "master."

Like the self-love of Narcissus, Humpty Dumpty's comically exaggerated self-esteem is finally incorrigible—and fatal. Moreover, he fits perfectly into the self-worshiping mirror motif on which Carroll's narrative depends. His name and the name of his chapter repeat the verbal doubling found throughout Looking-Glass —for example, in the two previous chapter titles, "Wool and Water" and "Tweedledum and Tweedledee," in other key words with doubled letters like "mirror" and "looking-glass," and in the name Alice Liddell (a name that ends the book in the closing poem's acrostic spelling of Alice's full name) or the pen name that seems to mirror hers, Lewis Carroll. In addition, Humpty Dumpty caricatures the egocentricity of the earliest phases of the mirror stage—a babyish nursery-rhyme figure so infantile that he is literally an egg, a prenatal sphere that turns upon itself in a sort of permanent self-absorption, a throwback to the womb circularity of the rabbit hole and the amniotic pool of tears. Completely, egotistically unconscious of his imprisonment in a simple nursery rhyme—that is, in the timeless developmental stage that precedes conscious self-knowledge and self-command—unconscious too of his own precarious state and unavoidable, impending disintegration, Humpty represents the solipsism Alice repeatedly encounters and leaves behind in her accelerating rush toward self-consciousness and the freedom (as well as the burdens) it confers.

Furthermore, Humpty Dumpty's childish ignorance of the way human exchanges require a recognition of other selves and of meanings beyond willful self-assertion makes him, in both linguistic and developmental terms, a lonely, helpless figure imprisoned by a ludicrously circular theoretical approach to the pragmatic question of human communication (a figure we sometimes encounter in real-life academic philosophers and theoreticians). Alice, on the other hand, displays in their encounter the mature sense of otherness and altruism that distinguishes her from all the infantile creatures trapped forever in their texts behind the looking-glass: Alice responds to Humpty Dumpty's outrageous insults by saying "nothing," for she doesn't, as the narrator tells us, "want to begin another argument" (L, 162). And in the conversation with Humpty Dumpty about the meaning of the word glory, Alice demonstrates another aspect of her budding maturity. Humpty asserts that glory means "there's a nice knockdown argument for you!" Alice politely objects, and Humpty declares that when he uses a word it means, as he says, "just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less" (L, 163). This extreme linguistic narcissism, this childish and unfounded sense of control over the world's signs and its meanings is so shocking to Alice that she wisely refrains from debating the question any longer. Humpty Dumpty, she seems to conclude, is so permanently sealed into his static self-absorption that to dispute his views would be like discussing with an infant the logic of its elemental desires.

Alice's last remarks about her encounter with Humpty Dumpty sum up her reactions to the stage of development he represents, and by extension her general reactions to the many other mirror figures of her looking-glass adventures: "'Of all the unsatisfactory'—(she repeated this aloud, as it was a great comfort to have such a long word to say) 'of all the unsatisfactory people I ever met'" (L, 168). Indeed, in terms of Alice's own development toward psychic integrity, Humpty Dumpty is an extremely unsatisfactory role model, trapped as he is in a self-mirroring stage that can offer Alice no useful behavioral model to guide her in her drive toward the freedom and power of autonomous queenhood. The best, the most "satisfactory" example he offers is a negative one—an image of permanent imprisonment. But, as Alice says a little while later, "I don't want to be anybody's prisoner. I want to be a Queen" (L, 181).

Multiple Interpretations

The fact that in her final remarks about Humpty Dumpty Alice plays with words childishly ("it was a great comfort to have such a long word to say") and that she still needs comfort in the face of Humpty Dumpty's egocentricity and rudeness serves to indicate that the interpretation of Through the Looking-Glass offered here is overly schematic. Alice's progress toward maturity is not so distinct, direct, progressive, and unambiguous as this interpretation suggests. In fact, this interpretation, like the one of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that precedes it, tends, in the service of a logical and progressive dissection, to shortchange Carroll's fascinating doubling and redoubling significations; his mockery and self-mockery; his fusion of infantile pleasure with mature pain, of sheer play with deep reflection; his delicious indeterminacy. For while the Alice books are much more than nonsense, they are often called nonsense with a certain justification, a certain sense of their tough and lovely resistance to sensible, comprehensive interpretation. And to murder to dissect that precious quality called, for want of a better term, "Carrollian nonsense," is finally inexcusable, whatever sensible arguments one can offer to justify such a critical practice.

Thus, although this interpretation of Through the Looking-Glass depends heavily on the premise that the creatures Alice meets behind the mirror represent varieties of infantile and childish behavior, it can be argued that they continue at the same time another pattern established in the underground adventures, serving as subversive caricatures of grown-ups and foolish, self-assured grown-up behavior. As in the complex dynamics of dream signification, Carroll's gallery of ridiculous characters in both books serves many symbolic purposes, some even contradicting others. Hence, a Humpty Dumpty can signify—for dreamer Alice or a daydreaming reader—both a foolish adult and a willful child with "no more sense than a baby." Indeed, the dream fusion of good sense and nonsense that characterizes many elements of the Alice s is one of the primary reasons for the books' widespread and enduring success among their immense readership, young and old.

Moreover, the interpretation offered here—unlike the Alice books themselves—fails to reflect the sacrifices inherent in the ego-centered developmental theory on which it rests. James R. Kincaid has demonstrated that Carroll's Alice often "upset[s] a beautiful comic game by introducing the alien concepts of linear progression to infinity, nothingness, and death"; that in rejecting the disorder of her dreams, "Alice is rejecting not only the terrifying underside of human consciousness but the liberating imagination as well"; and that the Alice books, among other things, depict "the child's rude and tragic haste to leave its innocence."13

Likewise, the rather simplistic view of who dreams Alice's dreams on which much of my interpretation of the Alice s rests also needs adjustment. Remember that Alice herself ends her Looking-Glass adventures with what she correctly calls a "serious question": "Let's consider," she says at last to her kitty, "who it was that dreamed it all" (L, 208). Carroll himself, in the climactic chapter of Through the Looking-Glass, offers his own rather compelling answer to this fundamental question. In chapter 9, "It's My Own Invention," we witness Alice meeting her maker, for this chapter gives us in the White Knight the best mirror image, perhaps, we can ever hope to attain of that dreamer and comic genius Dodgson, alias Lewis Carroll—himself in many ways a rather childish, narcissistic figure. And it is here that we can come to realize that, among other things, Carroll's final Alice book allows us to see, through the looking-glass of his own devising, the shy, sometimes rather infantile inventor of Alice and her dream adventures, to see him in and as his "own invention," his own dream, as he perhaps saw himself in those many mirror reversals that fascinated him throughout his life and art. And what we see and hear in this chapter is a bittersweet farewell to the nearly 20-year-old Alice Liddell, who, as the mirror-image Alice of the book, in the same climactic chapter declares, "I don't like belonging to another person's dream" (L, 179), even the dream of her dear friend Mr. Dodgson.

Despite these complications and critical ambiguities, however, in her adventures behind the looking-glass, Alice has come to a mature, if not a fully satisfying, completely comforting answer to that "great puzzle" she asked early in her underground journey, "Who in the world am I?" (W, 15-16). Her answer, naturally, has to do with names and the naming of things—Adam's first task and since then the perplexing task of all humanity. As she tells herself emerging from the delightful and frightening infantile wood where things have no names, where, as in the pool of tears, she had for a moment experienced a return to timeless, preverbal, preconscious, free-flowing innocence, this time with "her dear little fellow-traveler" the Fawn, "I know my name now … that's some comfort. Alice—Alice—I won't forget it again" (L, 137).

  1. Many Carroll critics have interpreted the Alice books as myths of growing up. For a good recent example, see Terry Otten, "After Innocence: Alice in the Garden," in Lewis Carroll: A Celebration, ed. Edward Guiliano (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1982), 55ff. Horace Gregory, in his foreword to the Signet edition of the Alice books (New York: 1960), states the case succinctly: "No psychologist has presented a case history of a child's growing up with more firmness, wit, and subtlety than Dodgson" (vii).
  2. It should be noted, however, that Carroll's prefatory poem to Through the Looking-Glass seems to deny to Alice any passage from innocence to experience between the two sets of adventures: it begins by addressing her as "child of the pure unclouded brow" and later claims that he and she are "but older children." But just as he turned the cloudy July afternoon in 1862 when he told some of his first extemporaneous Alice stories into a "golden," sunny one (see Derek Hudson, Lewis Carroll: An Illustrated Biography [New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1977], 114), just as he slyly allowed Alice only a half year's Carrollian growth for some six or seven years of real growth, in this prefatory poem he seems to sentimentalize the child heroine of Looking-Glass whose face "he has not seen" for some time, admitting in the closing poem that the Alice he imagined in the opening poem is an "Alice moving under skies / Never seen by waking eyes."
  3. Dodgson's diary entry for 11 February 1856 explains the basic principles of the reversal, formed upon Latinate middle terms: "Lutwidge = Ludovic = Louis [Lewis], and Charles [Carolus]." The Diaries of Lewis Carroll, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), 1:77. But, as one might expect from this author who reveled in complex and arcane word play, the underlying dynamics are more complicated. For one thing, there is a decided shift here from an unambiguous masculinity to a surreptitious femininity—Lutwidge was Dodgson's mother's maiden name and Carroll is often a feminine name; while any reference to the decidedly masculine, patronymic surname Dodgson is eliminated altogether. Moreover, despite Roger Green's (convincing) speculation in the Diaries (1:83) that Dodgson probably did not meet Alice Liddell until 25 April 1856, it is very tempting to interpret "Lewis Carroll" (L. C.) as a play on Alice's nickname "Lacie," as well as a play on the double ds and double ls in Liddell. The notion that Alice is really the stand-in, the dream censor's substitution for the actual dreamer Dodgson, has many adherents among Carroll's psychoanalytic interpreters.
  4. Kathleen Blake, Play, Games, and Sport: The Literary Works of Lewis Carroll (Ithaca, N.Y., and London: Cornell University Press, 1974), 147.
  5. Ibid., 71. Compare Blake on pp. 60-61: "It has been often enough remarked that Carroll (or Dodgson) lived his life, so to speak, according to Hoyle. Florence Becker Lennon says in Victoria through the Looking-Glass: The Life of Lewis Carroll (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945): 'His life was a game, even his logic, his mathematics, and his singular ordering of his household and other affairs. His logic was a game and his games were logical.'…Rev. W. Tuckwell, who knew Carroll, states that his 'life [was] mapped out in squares like Alice's landscape.'"
  6. The word manage is used at several crucial junctures in Through the Looking-Glass. See, for example, chapter 9, "Queen Alice," which begins with Alice saying to herself, "If I reallyam a Queen … I shall be able to manage it quite well in time" (L, 192). Alice's locution "in time" is noteworthy here, for it is only in the construct of time that managers can manage, only in the construct of time that Alice can mature to queenhood.
  7. It should be noted that the furious, mad Queen of Hearts of Wonderland is transformed into the much more manageable Red Queen of Looking-Glass. This transformation, this lessening of the "red" fury is another indirect marking of Alice's maturation from one book to the sequel. In 1887 Carroll himself noted the distinction: "I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion—a blind and aimless Fury. The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm; she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the tenth degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!" (from " Alice on the Stage," The Theatre, [April 1887]; reprinted in Donald Gray, ed., Alice in Wonderland: Authoritative Texts of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark [New York: Norton, 1971], 281). The emphasis on governance here—"ungovernable," "governesses," "formal and strict"—represents but another mirror reflection of Alice's efficient movement toward self-command by means of a "cold and calm" progression on a formal, arbitrary, and strictly arranged field of play.
  8. Nina Auerbach, in "Alice and Wonderland: A Curious Child," Victorian Studies, 17 (September 1973): 31-47, consistently makes the point that the creatures of Wonderland represent aspects of Alice's own personality. It might be instructive to compare Auerbach's view here with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's remarks about images of women in the Snow White legend: "To be caught and trapped in a mirror … is to be driven inward, obsessively studying self-images as if seeking a viable self." The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 37.
  9. Martin Gardner's extensive note (The Annotated Alice, 170, 172) on the Looking-Glass chess motif includes this remark: "By a happy accident chess also ties in beautifully with the mirror-reflection motif. Not only do rooks, bishops, and knights come in pairs, but the asymmetric arrangement of one player's pieces at the start of a game (asymmetric because of the positions of king and queen) is an exact mirror reflection of his opponent's pieces." It is curious that Gardner attributes the choice of chess to a "happy accident," for it is difficult to think of a more deliberate, less accidental choice by Dodgson, that most deliberate of writers and games players.
  10. Alice's power is revealed obliquely in her first moments behind the looking-glass. Tenniel's picture of the frightened and protesting White King in Alice's large and strong hand is matched by the narrator's remark soon after that gentle "Alice was too strong for him" (L, 115). In the next chapter, "The Garden of Live Flowers," Alice merely "whispers" to the shouting daisies, "If you don't hold your tongues, I'll pick you!" "There was silence in a moment, and several of the pink daisies turned white" (L, 122). Such quiet power, the power of social class in the Oxford world of the 1860s, was a force that Dodgson and the dean's daughter Alice Liddell knew well; here it prefigures Alice's easy accession to queenhood at the conclusion of her adventures.
  11. It is worth noting that the treatments of nursery rhymes in the two Alice books are almost diametrically opposed: in Wonderland, Alice never gets the words of the nursery rhymes right; in Looking-Glass the nursery rhymes and their enactments by the creatures are the same as their originals, thus underscoring the contrast between the license and disorder of Alice's infantile adventures and the regularity and order of her final adventures.
  12. In " Alice on the Stage" (see note 6), Carroll wrote, "The White Queen seemed, to my dreaming fancy, gentle, stupid, fat and pale; helpless as an infant " (Gray 283; my italics).
  13. In Sylvie and Bruno (1889-93), his final work of fantastic fiction, Carroll makes a macabre joke of the fact that "evil" is merely "live" backwards. Apparently, Dodgson was aware of the possibilities for evil in his overweening desires to live "backwards" in his relations with scores of little-girl friends, his many childish pursuits, his fascination with all things reversed or reversible. In an 1876 letter to Gertrude Chataway, one of his dearest child friends (then 10 years old), Dodgson writes; "When the real warm weather begins again … you must beg hard to be brought over to Oxford again. I want to do some better photographs of you: those were not really good ones I did—it was such a wretched day for it. And mind you don't grow a bit older, for I shall want to take you in the same dress again: if anything, you'd better grow a little younger—go back to your last birthday but one" (Letters, 1:238).
  14. "Alice's Invasion of Wonderland," PMLA 88, no. 1 (January 1973): 92-93.

Ronald Reichertz (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Reichertz, Ronald. "The Looking-Glass Book." In The Making of the Alice Books: Lewis Carroll's Uses of Earlier Children's Literature, pp. 52-60. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Reichertz examines Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There within the context of the historical legacy of the "looking-glass book" genre.]

Why, it's a Looking-glass book, of course.


The tradition of the looking-glass book plays an important structural and thematic role in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. 1 Yet, while a survey of the critical responses to this fantasy reveals that Alice's passage through the physical looking-glass and its attendant reversals have received a great deal of critical attention, her simultaneous passage through the tradition of the looking-glass book has been virtually ignored. This chapter locates the tradition, particularly as it developed in the looking-glass book for children and in Carroll's fantasy, and demonstrates how the fantasy functions to introduce children's literature as a ground for literary reversals that work together with the more obvious physical reversals. Further, this chapter describes how these literary reversals help to create Alice's oxymoronic delight and confusion in Looking-Glass Land, and contrasts these reversals with the literary materials used to produce similar effects in Wonderland. Finally, it suggests the possibility that the fantasy structures of the two Alice books mirror each other.

In "Looking-Glass House," the first chapter of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Alice plays a game of "let's pretend" with her uncooperative kitten:

'Let's pretend that you're the Red Queen, Kitty! Do you know, I think if you sat up and folded your arms, you'd look exactly like her. Now do try, there's a dear!' And Alice got the Red Queen off the table, and set it up before the kitten as a model for it to imitate; however, the thing didn't succeed, principally, Alice said, because the kitten wouldn't fold its arms properly. So, to punish it, she held it up to the Looking-glass, that it might see how sulky it was, '—and if you're not good directly,' she added, 'I'll put you through into Looking-Glass House. How would you like that ?' (127, all but the last, my italics)2

Indoors on a snowy November day, Alice plays a didactic game in which she becomes the authoritative and correcting adult in relation to her awkward and mischievous kitten. Imitation is the centre of this game. Imitating adult treatment of her own behaviour, Alice uses a positive model to try to get her kitten to "become" the Red Queen, and when her kitten refuses, Alice attempts to correct its "sulky" behaviour by holding it up to a mirror, in which the kitten's own image is a negative model. In a general way this fantasy-frame play works to establish the logic of the fantasy that follows. For example, it works to set up the important structural chessboard topography and to cast some of the characters that people the fantasy. But, more specifically, Alice's didactic "let's pretend" also introduces the logic of the looking-glass book for children; her words suggest an expansion of the theme of reversal beyond the more obvious physical mirror that has drawn concentrated attention from Carroll's critics.

The looking-glass book for children, born out of the long history of looking-glass books (specifically near the end of the seventeenth century), uses narrative as an exemplary mirror that teaches through either positive models or admonishment. The early history of the looking-glass book in England is thoroughly worked out by Herbert Grabes in The Mutable Glass: Mirror-Imagery in Titles and Texts of the Middle Ages and English Renaissance. Grabes lists hundreds of works that employ mirror imagery as "title-metaphor" and develops a typology that includes informational, exemplary, prognostic, and fantasy mirrors (42-66). The looking-glass book for children grew out of the exemplary mirror book at the beginning of the period of sustained and self-conscious production of religious books for children in the middle of the seventeenth century. The first such titled book especially written for children was Abraham Chear's A Looking Glass for Children (1673), a book with a clearly religious didactic intention realized through verse narratives and stories that work as positive examples or admonishments. The use of the title formula continued even as specific didactic intentions and attitudes towards the creation of the "good" child altered through the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries: that is, the title formula remained a constant through the changes that took place in the "official" or adult-sanctioned literature and its attendant sense of what children ought to be. At the close of the eighteenth century, for example, the work of the French rational/moralist Arnauld Berquin was translated and published in England as The Looking-Glass for the Mind; or, Intellectual Mirror (1792). Although Berquin's original title, L'Ami des Enfans, does not suggest the looking-glass metaphor, his English translator sees the collection of stories as "a useful and instructive pocket looking-glass" that "displays the follies and improper pursuits of the youthful breast"(2). So rational/moral children's literature had replaced religious literature, but the looking-glass metaphor remained appropriate.3 Closer to the dates of publication of the Alice books, the tradition was still alive in The Laughable Looking Glass for Little Folks (1857 and 1859), a book with a cover illustration showing a mother holding a baby up to a mirror; this book uses comedy as a moral corrective without surrendering its obvious didactic intention. Regardless of shifts in specific intention through time, the use of narrative as a mirror to alter or reinforce behaviour, then, remained a constant. The connection between Carroll's work and this tradition is supported by Alice's use of the mirror as a modelling and corrective agency in the material quoted above and by the redundancy of "looking-glass" in the titles of both the complete book and its opening chapter. This connection reinforces and widens the reversals that result from the use of the material mirror.

The major critical approach to Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There concentrates on the physical reversals that result from Alice's passage through the material mirror. In The White Knight, Alexander Taylor develops a number of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophical analogues for Carroll's use of reversals in order to support his sense of the adult intellectual seriousness of Carroll's fantasy (87-97). Wiping his "glosses with what [he] knows," Martin Gardner catalogues and comments on numerous physical reversals in his The Annotated Alice; in Victorian Fantasy, Stephen Prickett argues that reversal provides the structural and thematic logic of Through the Looking-Glass (137 ff.); and Eric Rabkin uses Carroll's structure of reversal as the very model for the genre of fantasy in his The Fantastic in Literature (41, 110-11). Consideration here of Carroll's use of the looking-glass book tradition supplements this critical attention to physical reversal by focusing on a second ground of reversal, reversals of a literary order.

Both of the grounds of reversal in Through the Looking-Glass, the physical and the literary, depend on Alice's retention of her point of view after she passes through the looking-glass. The physical curiosities of Looking-Glass Land are the direct result of Alice's entering a world of mirror images with her perspective unaltered. Carroll's anecdotal memory of the genesis of his strategy, expressed in a letter some years later, stresses the contribution of Alice Raikes. Carroll had been entertaining several children by posing each of them before a mirror with an organce in one hand and pointing out to them that the mirrored image held the orange in the other hand. Alice Raikes capped his fun by pointing out that the orange would stay put if the child holding it passed through the mirror (A Selection of the Letters of Lewis Carroll, 8). This is equally true concerning the metaphorical or literary mirror. The didactic predisposition that leads Alice to tell her kitten all of its faults (125) and to attempt to correct its sulkiness by threatening to pass it through the looking-glass does not change when she actually pursues her own suggestion (127). Her didactic predisposition is underscored in two scenes. Even after the Red Queen gives Alice a preview of the exciting events she will encounter in each chessboard square of Looking-Glass Land, Alice persists in making what she calls a "grand survey" of the topography and associates her experience with "learning geography" (148). And when Alice meets the imprisoned messenger who has yet to commit the crime for which he is being punished, she argues for a fault/punishment logic based on her sense of exemplary didacticism (175). Conversely, Alice carries her didactic perspective and expectations into a Looking-Glass Land that contains characters, events, and themes born out of an imaginative literature that is the 180-degree reversal of the didactic literature parodied in Alice in Wonderland.

In Wonderland Alice frequently elects or is called upon to recite bits and pieces of informational literature and didactic poems that were standard children's literature in the middle of the nineteenth century.4 She attempts to use this familiar material to restore her everyday sense of self and comfortable order when confronted with the curiosities born out of the logic of inversion, but when she does so, she discovers that the utility of geography and the multiplication tables is undercut by error and that the moral lessons of didactic poems by Isaac Watts, Ann Taylor, Mary Howitt, and others whose work she has dutifully memorized have been turned upside down and transformed to nonsense through parody. Watts's exemplarily industrious and thrifty bee from "How Doth the Little Busy Bee" is changed to a stationary crocodile who effortlessly and smilingly welcomes fish to be its dinner. Ann Taylor's beautiful and useful star "like a diamond" becomes a bat "like a tea tray." And Mary Howitt's cautionary tale about a spider's sinister invitation to a fly to enter its parlour is changed to one about a whiting's invitation to a snail to join a dance. Carroll's consistent parody of the sense-over-sound didacticism advocated by the Duchess in Wonderland overturns the very type of exemplary material traditionally associated with the looking-glass book.

When Alice passes through the tradition of the looking-glass book, she experiences a Looking-Glass Land created to a large degree by imaginative children's literature, a land whose make-up includes nonsense song, nursery rhyme, lullaby, counting rhyme, riddle, and romance. Humpty Dumpty is the major spokesman for this literature at its purest when he recites his own poem "entirely for [Alice's] amusement" (194). At the end of the poem, he substitutes the perfect poetic closure of metre and rhyme patterns for semantic significance:

" And when I found the door was shut,
I tried to turn the handle, but—
There was a long pause.
"Is that all?" Alice timidly asked.
"That's all," said Humpty Dumpty. "Good-bye." (196)

Alice, however "timidly," expects a resolution of the semantic pattern that sense demands based on the coordinating conjunction "but," even after Humpty Dumpty's reading of "Jabberwocky" has displayed a use of language generally at odds with everyday meaning (191-3). Humpty Dumpty speaks the language of his birthplace, the language of nursery rhyme.

Nursery rhymes provide Carroll with at least half of the most prominent Looking-Glass characters. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty, and the Lion and the Unicorn all step directly out of the rhymes in which they were born. Their literary heredity totally accounts for their actions and attitudes in Looking-Glass Land from the moment of the announcement of the appearance of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The links with highly formal sound-over-sense verse are highlighted in Carroll's metrical and rhymed introduction of the twins when the prose conclusion to chapter 3 takes metrical shape and becomes the first line of an absolutely regular seven-syllable, four-beat trochaic couplet completed in the title of chapter 4:

… feeling sure that they must be—
"Tweedledum and Tweedledee" (158-9)

Although the nursery rhyme characters step outside of their verses in their relationships with Alice, their attitudes and actions are consistently allied with the spirit of their literary origins.

Unlike the parody-transformed didactic children's literature of Wonderland, then, nursery rhymes and the other forms of imaginative children's literature used to create Looking-Glass Land are unaltered. It is Alice's didactic predisposition, carried over from her looking-glass book preoccupations in the fantasy frame, that is the basis for her inability to accept the fates and attitudes of nursery rhyme characters, fates rooted in their literary origins. This accounts for the duality of Alice's responses to them. She finds these characters and their attitudes and actions fascinating, but at the same time her confusion of literary types leads to her consistently misguided (however admirable) concern for their safety and her perpetually awkward and painful relationships with them. Alice's physical and social awkwardness stems not so much from the curiosities of Looking-Glass Land as from her own unchanged perspective, literary as well as physical.

Lullaby, counting song, and riddle differ from "pure" nonsense in that they suggest purposes. The lullaby is an imaginative song that helps to prepare a child for sleep, while the latter two forms suggest educative and intellectual ends. In all three of Carroll's uses of these forms, imaginative qualities override utility and didacticism as they generally do in the tradition of imaginative children's poetry. Donald Gray suggests that the Red Queen's "Lullabye" is the only parody of a nursery rhyme used in Through the Looking-Glass (note 9, 197), but even it is a parody only in the strict sense that it is based on "Hush-abye Baby." It does not, as the parodies in Alice in Wonderland do, reverse the significance of its model. Rather, in keeping with the sense of reversal suggested by passing through the looking-glass book tradition, it reverses effect. Sung by the adult Red Queen after she and the White Queen complete their testing of Alice, the lullaby puts both her and the White Queen to sleep, each resting comfortably on her particular side of the still awake "Queen Alice" (230). This reversed effect emphasizes Alice's new freedom of movement and other expectations that accompany her "queening."

The shrill song celebrating Alice's formal queening makes reference to both number and the process of multiplication. Having gained some experience of Looking-Glass Land by this time, Alice is alert to the probable irrelevance of both: "Thirty times three makes ninety. I wonder if any one's counting?" (233). Although Carroll's song is a parody of Walter Scott's "Bonny Dundee," his addition of number in the refrain lines adds a strong sense of counting rhymes, such as "Telling Out" from Gammer Gurton's Garland, in which number and arithmetical process function as poetic cement rather than as an invitation to calculate. Only Alice, who has brought the informational looking-glass book perspective with her, bothers to complete calculations here.

The "fish" riddle (236) posed by the generally confused and disorderly White Queen at the banquet for Queen Alice also functions more as an occasion for a poem than the putting of an intellectual question. That Alice does not spend the minute offered by the Red Queen to solve the riddle suggests that the playful verse context of the riddle and the apparent lack of utility of the answer ("an oyster") make this game silly from any didactic point of view. The point is not that the riddle is without answer, as is the case with the raven/writing-desk riddle in Wonderland, but that the answer is absolutely subordinate to the playful language used to pose the question.

The remaining type of imaginative children's literature Carroll uses is romance. The plot of "Jabberwocky" and the mediaeval associations of the chess-board characters introduce elements of this form. Romance, however, unlike the totally unaltered nursery rhyme and nonsense song used, is changed by Carroll's language and tone. The typical romance narrative of the young man who meets the test of confronting and destroying a monster is first conveyed by mirror writing and then expressed in the neologisms used to establish a sense of mock antiquity and strangeness. Alice's retention of both her physical and literary perspective works to obscure the romance narrative. Alice responds to "Jabberwocky" by extracting its paraphraseable significance—"Somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate" (197)—rather than appreciating its narrative tone and linguistic peculiarities.

The romance possibilities of the chess kings and queens are consistently undercut by irony and satire, but the White Knight plays both with and against literary type. He most certainly performs as a romance figure when he does battle with the Red Knight to save Alice and, afterwards, when he promises to be her champion and guide (209-11), but the description of the comic clumsiness of both combatants burlesques chivalric romance and anticipates the zany awkwardness that accompanies the White Knight's merging of features of romance and technology. (This burlesque of romance may have its origins in Samuel Butler's Huddibras or in the delightful and didactic Sir Hornbook; or, Childe Launcelot's Expedition.) 5 It is, however, precisely the White Knight's awkwardness that most endears him to Alice and creates the telling reversal that sees Alice watch over him at their parting (222). In addition, any potential utility in the White Knight's technological speculations and experiments is totally cancelled out by burlesque and parody.

Carroll's use of the tradition of the exemplary and informational looking-glass books for children combines with his use of the physical looking-glass to create a double ground for reversal in Through the Looking-Glass. The imaginative children's literature Alice discovers when she passes through the looking-glass is the logical opposite or reverse of didactic literature. But Alice brings the didactic looking-glass book perspective with her, a fact that shapes her experiences in Looking-Glass Land by complicating her responses to its "indigenous" literature. This combination of looking-glass perspective and imaginative literature functions to make Through the Looking-Glass what Grabes calls a fantasy looking-glass book: that is, the process of combining, realized in a series of experiences that unify opposites, reflects Carroll's imagination rather than the facts associated with informational mirrors or the shared sense of acceptable child behaviour reflected in exemplary looking-glasses (63). The fact remains, however, that Carroll uses reversed literary causes (didactic and imaginative children's literature) to produce similar effects in the Alice books, and on this ground the Alice books are united through what amounts to structural mirror imaging. The literary reversals that Carroll uses interplay with a number of instances of other reversals, all working together to suggest that the unity of the Alice books is at least partially the result of mirroring. In Martin Gardner's notes to "Looking-Glass House," he comments on Carroll's characteristic use of "sharp contrast" in the fantasy frames of the Alice books (note 1, 177) and provides a catalogue of "reversals" that result from Carroll's "late addition" of "the looking glass theme" (note 4, 180). The sharp contrasts he cites include the specific date, the season, and the location of the fantasy frames. For instance, Alice is outside in late spring (May 4th) in Alice in Wonderland and inside in late fall (November 4th) at the beginning of Through the Looking-Glass. These sharp contrasts are, in effect, structural opposites or reversals of each other, and combined with the physical and literary looking-glass, they announce that other reversals will follow.

Other textual evidence supports this suggestion. For example, Alice's entrances into Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land are certainly opposites. In Alice in Wonderland, the sleepy Alice fails to discover any pictures or conversations in her sister's book or anything else exciting enough to hold her attention. Finally, she fixes on the passing White Rabbit and is passively plummeted down into Wonderland. In Through the Looking-Glass, this passivity is replaced by a very active Alice who works her way into Looking-Glass Land through an elaborate game of didactic "let's pretend." Further, although the reasons for breaking out of the fantasy world are virtually the same in each book, the closing frames can also be seen as reversals. The Wonderland Alice returns to reality, tells her older sister her adventure, and runs off to her tea. It is her sister who relives the adventures in daydream (locating all the Wonderland creatures and events as simple allegorical extensions of everyday reality) and who envisions Alice, grown into a woman, telling her story to a new generation of children. When Alice leaves Looking-Glass Land, however, she remains the focus of attention and she is hardly carefree. Rather, she is beset by perplexing questions about the fundamental nature of the "reality" she has experienced and invites the reader to share her problem.

Another example of reversal, this time drawn from the fantasy itself, is seen in the turning around of the function of the playing cards in Wonderland and the chess game in Looking-Glass Land. The King, Queen, and Knave of Hearts and the number cards from each of the four suits all originate in a pack of playing cards (and came to Wonderland by way of a mock nursery rhyme that became the real nursery rhyme on which Charles Lamb's fantasy The King and Queen of Hearts [1805] was based), but since they do not bring the rules of any specific card game with them, they are only minimally and idiosyncratically associated with rules or order. The heart-suit family gains its prominence from the general monarchical hierarchy of playing cards, and Carroll links the four suits to specific activities suggested by their symbols (the spades are gardeners and the clubs are soldiers, for example). The King and Queen of Hearts exercise their idiosyncratic authority in Wonderland in general and in the trial scene in particular by reducing all order to threat ("Off with her head") and through an arbitrary trial logic that assigns the number 42 to the "oldest rule in the book" (105). The presence of the pack of cards, then, plays no structural role unless it rests in the anti-structure of a game such as "Fifty-two Pickup." (See the scattering of the cards when Alice refuses to be arrested and breaks out of the fantasy.)

The function of the game of chess in Through the Looking-Glass, on the other hand, establishes order. The rules controlling the movement of pieces in the game of chess as played on this side of the looking-glass are carried over into Looking-Glass Land and the chess board literally lends the fantasy land its geometrical geography. The chess characters' movements correspond to the game rules: the queens move without directional restriction (which explains the White Queen's sense of living backwards), the knights "wriggle," and Alice as pawn is initially restricted to plodding forward one square at a time. Chess, therefore, not only provides a number of major characters but also lends the fantasy world its structural logic of advance and change. The retention of the rules of the game of chess is the major break with physical reversal in Through the Looking-Glass and allies chess with the unaltered imaginative literature found on the other side of the looking-glass, although this literature is indeed the reversal of the didactic literature that preoccupies Alice in the opening frame.

In summary, the tradition of the looking-glass book for children announced in the opening frame of Through the Looking-Glass provides an additional ground for reversal that interplays with the physical reversals associated with the material mirror. Carroll's complex manipulation of the tradition that Alice retains even as she passes through it plays an important part both in establishing the nature of the fantasy Alice encounters and in unifying her dual response to it. Further, the opposition evident in the prominence of didactic children's literature in Wonderland and of imaginative children's literature in Looking-Glass Land interacts with a number of other reversals that permeate the Alice books and suggests a basis for their unity, a unity that allows Carroll to complete a circular critique of the child's world and to suggest a wider and richer sense of reality than any achieved in earlier literature for children.

  1. Carroll originally titled his second Alice fantasy Behind the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (my underlining) and did so from the completion of the manuscript in 1869 through his diary entry for 25 June 1870. Green claims that Carroll's new title was suggested by his acquaintance Harry Parry Liddon (yes, "Harry Parry," oh, rare!) (288). That the Liddon suggestion was made is undeniable, but the quoted text this note accompanies most certainly suggests the title—"I'll put you through [my italics] into Looking-Glass House. How would you like that ?" (127).
  2. A comic aside on the beginning of the shift towards imagination in the contest between didactic and imaginative literature is presented in the alteration of Berquin's book by a thirteen-year-old girl in 1848: The Looking-glass for the Mind; or unintellectual mirror, being an inelegant collection of the most disagreeable silly stories … With twenty-four ugly cuts, cited in The Osborne Collection of Children's Books, vol. 1 (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1958), 233.
  3. The looking-glass title formula reappeared in children's literature in the late eighteenth century and was used frequently in the nineteenth century. The Looking Glass: Containing select fables of La Fontaine, imitated in English (London 1784) and A Looking-Glass for Youth and Age; or, A Sure Guide to Life and Glory (1800) demonstrate the co-presence of rational and evangelical looking-glass books at the beginning of the nineteenth century. William Godwin used the formula in his biography of William Mulready, the illustrator of many children's books; he titled the biography The Looking Glass: A True History of the Early Years of an Artist (1805). Further, "E. B. Elliott" (Mary Belson), a popular writer of children's books, was known as the "looking glass maker." The Children's Mirror; or, Which Is My Likeness? (1859) is another close contemporary of Carroll's book.
  4. Informational books, perhaps the most frequently published form of children's literature in the first four decades of the nineteenth century, play an important role in the Alice books that has gone unmentioned in all of the three critical editions available. "Peter Parley" (Samuel Griswold Goodrich) and William Pinnock produced a great number of such books, which remained popular throughout the century. Pinnock's informational "Catechisms" of geography and arithmetic, which were meant to be memorized by child readers, may well be specifically at work in both books.
  5. Sir Hornbook (1822), an "anonymous" work attributed to Thomas Love Peacock, was republished (1846) in the celebrated series of children's books collectively titled The Home Treasury put together by "Felix Summerly" (Henry Cole) in the 1840s. It is noteworthy that Carroll never used the increasingly popular material borrowed from mediaeval romance in a consistently serious way.


Helen B. Crawshaw (review date June 1966)

SOURCE: Crawshaw, Helen B. Review of The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Kelly Oechsli. Horn Book Magazine 42, no. 3 (June 1966): 301.

Subtitled "An Agony in Eight Fits," the nonsense epic [The Hunting of the Snark ] recounts the search for a snark by several odd fellows. "They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care; / They pursued it with forks and hope; / They threatened its life with a railway-share; / They charmed it with smiles and soap." Clever, comic illustrations capture the eccentric qualities of the characters and their actions. The jacket gives a bow and a stern view of the shipful of adventurers.



Cohen, Morton N. "Another Wonderland: Lewis Carroll's The Nursery 'Alice.' " Lion and the Unicorn 7-8 (1983-1984): 120-26.

Examines the alterations made to the Alice in Wonderland series for the creation of Carroll's The Nursery "Alice."

Cripps, Elizabeth A. " Alice and the Reviewers." Children's Literature 11 (1983): 32-47.

Presents several critical assessments of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland issued at the time of its initial release.

Goldfarb, Nancy. "Carroll's 'Jabberwocky.'" Explicator 57, no. 2 (winter 1999): 86.

Examines the use of 'portmanteaus' in Carroll's "Jabberwocky" poem.

Holquist, Michael. "What Is a Boojum?: Nonsense and Modernism." Yale French Studies 43 (1969): 145-64.

Suggests that Carroll's nonsense fiction, particularly The Hunting of the Snark, was experimental fiction intended to resist allegorical analysis.

Lowe, Virginia. "Which Dreamed It? Two Children, Philosophy, and Alice." Children's Literature in Education 25, no. 1 (March 1994): 55-62.

Argues that contrary to current critical sentiments, Carroll's Alice books remain both interesting and engaging to young children.

McLinton, David. "Insights on the Snark." Jabberwocky—The Journal of the Lewis Carroll Society 14, no. 2 (spring 1985): 23-7.

Surveys possible symbolic and thematic meanings in Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.

Peterson, Robert C. "To Begin at the Beginning: 'Tis the Voice of Alice, I Heard Him Declare." Jabberwocky—The Journal of Lewis Carroll Society 21, no. 2 (spring 1992): 39-51.

Attempts to decode the surrealist aspects and dreamlike imagery of the Alice in Wonderland books.

Spink, John. "'A welly serious thing': Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno. " Signal: Approaches to Children's Books, no. 63 (September 1990): 221-28.

Contrasts the success of Carroll's Alice books with his disappointing later effort, Sylvie and Bruno, suggesting that the missing element of Carroll's "tradition of nonsense" contributed to Sylvie and Bruno 's lack of spirit.

Additional coverage of Carroll's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 39; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 5, 13; British Writers, Vol. 5; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 2, 18; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1832-1890; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 18, 163, 178; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Yearbook, 1998; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors; Novelists; Poets; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Novels; Exploring Poetry; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 2, 53, 139; Novels for Students, Vol. 7; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 18; Poetry for Students, Vol. 11; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers; Something about the Author, Vol. 100; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1; Twayne's English Authors; World Literature Criticism; Writers for Children; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 2.

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