Tag Archives: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Alice in Wonderland (2)

Last time I was looking at how ““The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Martin Gardner added to our understanding of the two books.

One of the most famous characters of Carroll’s book is the Cheshire Cat. Here’s Tenniel’s illustration:

Ao, what does “Annotated Alice” have to say about the Cheshire cat? Well, did you know that “He grins like a Cheshire cat” was already a well known saying before Alice ever met this particular cat? Or that Cheshire cheese was once sold in the shape of a grinning cat? (Difficult to believe that one!) Here’s Mabel Lucie Atwell’s Cheshire Cat:

“Annotated Alice” reveals that Lewis Carroll’s father was once the rector of St Peter’s church at Croft-on-Tees near Darlington in northern England. There, Joel Birenbaum recently found a stone carving of a cat’s head on the east wall of the church’s chancel, just a few feet above floor level. When Joel went down on his knees and looked upward, just the cat’s mouth could be seen as a broad grin.

Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat has even been compared to Jack Kerouac:

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

In “On the Beat” apparently, the conversation runs:

“Where we goin’, man?”

“I don’t know, but we betta go.”

I personally would even compare a subsequent piece of dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat with the novel “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller. Carroll wrote:

“In that direction lives a Hatter and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like. They’re both mad”.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people.”

“Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?”

“You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

The absolute “Star of the Show”, of course, is the Mad Hatter.

Apparently, in the 1850s and 60s, the phrase “Mad as a Hatter” was as equally common as “Mad as a March Hare”. The expression may originally have been “mad as an adder” but it is thought to be much more probable that it comes from the fact that hatters did frequently go mad through using mercury to cure felt, from which hats may be made. Mercury is highly poisonous.

“Hatter’s shakes” were exactly that, and eyes, limbs and speech were frequently affected. After that came hallucinations and psychotic episodes. Apart from that, “hatter” was quite a good career.

There are a good few different versions of the Mad Hatter. There are two styles of Tenniel and also Mabel Lucie Atwell, Blanche MacManus and Charles Robinson:

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My own favourite is WH Walker in his “I want a clean cup”. Notice how the ears of the Mad March Hare are used as cowls on the chimneys of the Mad Hatter’s house. Or is that all part of the hallucination?:

“Annotated Alice” has very little to say about the Mad March Hare. This is from Wikipedia:

“A long-held view is that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe peaks in the month of March. This odd behaviour includes boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behaviour.”

On the other hand, “Annotated Alice” reveals that Victorian children used to keep dormice as pets and housed them in large old teapots with dry grass as bedding. Here the Mad Hatter and the March Hare try to stuff the sleeping dormouse into the teapot:

“Annotated Alice” seems to know something about virtually every event in the two books, no matter how trivial they seem. I have only scratched the surface of what subtleties are hidden away in the story. Does anybody realise nowadays, for example, that the Victorians thought a lot about falling down a hole that went straight through the centre of the earth?

And did we notice very much about the Pool of Tears in Chapter Two? Who was in it? Well, there was “A Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet and several other curious creatures.”

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Did they represent anything?

Well, they represented that select group of people, who took that short trip by boat on the River Thames on Friday, July 4th 1862.

As they progressed slowly down the river, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll recounted the story of Alice. He was the Dodo. His stammer made him give his name as “Do—Do—Dodgson”. The duck was his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. The Lory is Lorina, the eldest of the Liddell sisters. Edith Liddell is the Eaglet.

“Annotated Alice” has these and a thousand other hidden details. What an excellent book!

Next time, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man.

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Alice in Wonderland (1)

I have always loved Lewis Carroll’s two Wonderland books and I recently bought myself a copy of “The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Martin Gardner:

Each page of the book has a very wide margin, so that, as you read the original text of the story from 1865, there are explanations and expansions of the most interesting points.

The text of the book begins, for example, with quite a famous poem:

“All in the golden afternoon,

Full leisurely we glide:

For both our oars, with little skill,

By little arms are plied.”

But “Annotated Alice” tells us that events took place on Friday, July 4th 1862, and that in the boat for the three mile trip were Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, Lorina Liddell, Alice Pleasance Liddell and Edith Liddell. The two other Liddell sisters, however, were not present. They were Rhoda Liddell and Violet Liddell, who are mentioned only once in all of Carroll’s works.

The stories told during that golden afternoon include a second poem, this time about the Jabberwocky:

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.”

But did you know that “brillig” means “the time of broiling dinner”, that “slithy” was an amalgam of “slimy” and “lithe”, that “toves” are a species of badger, that “gyre” means “to scratch like a dog” and that “gimble” is “to screw holes” in something (hence “gimblet”) ?

Are you aware that “mimsy” is “unhappy”, that “borogoves” are an extinct kind of parrot, that “mome” means “grave and serious”, that a “rath” is a species of land turtle and that “outgrabe” means “squeaked”? Or at least, that is what Lewis Carroll said about those four lines and 23 words. Thanks to “Annotated Alice”, it makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?

And what did Carroll write about the Red Queen?

Well, according to “Annotated Alice”, he said that:

“I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion — a blind and aimless fury.”

Only sixty or seventy years later in the Oz books would L. Frank Baum achieve such a frequency of decapitations. And the Queen of Hearts’ dress is exactly the same pattern as the Queen of Spades’ dress. Was the illustrator, Tenniel, trying to establish a link between her and Death?

Arthur Rackham produced an illustration called “The Queen Never Left off Quarrelling”:

The Queen is perhaps even fiercer in black and white:

But in colour, she is magnificent:

Another favourite poem of mine is:

“Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Agreed to have a battle;

For Tweedledum said Tweedledee

Had spoiled his nice new rattle”

Here they are:

But “Annotated Alice” tells us that there may be a connection between this conflict and a famous musical battle between George Frederick Handel and Giovanni Battista Bononcini which, at the time, had been described as:

“Strange all this difference should be

Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.”

And did you know that apparently at the time, during the 1860s, the drawings of the two boys were thought to  resemble strongly John Bull in Punch magazine?

And are the two boys identical or are they a mirror image of each other? Perhaps they have their names on their collars, and that’s the difference:

More extra details about your favourite Alice in Wonderland characters next time!

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