July 16, 2004 8:02 AM   Subscribe

heartwarmingfilter: Alice's Adventures under Ground, Lewis Carroll's illustrated first edition. (via SomeRandomRomanian)
posted by Pretty_Generic (19 comments total)
Very nifty, if not necessarily heartwarming.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 8:09 AM on July 16, 2004

it's amazing how accustomed one gets to seeing john tenniel's alice drawings... lewis carroll's own drawing look strange, and not simply because they're more primitive.

thanks, this is cool
posted by ubersturm at 8:14 AM on July 16, 2004

Yeah, everything about the whole "Alice" thing is just a little skeevy these days. But cool. Heartcoolingfilter?

It's funny to see how many of Tenniel's are exact duplicates (in a surer hand) of what Carroll already did, and then again, how some aren't.
posted by soyjoy at 8:18 AM on July 16, 2004

Nice to see these antiques; they bring back memories of a long-forgotten childhood innocence. But is it possible for a contemporary adult to read this to his little ones without feeling distinctly dubious about some of the hidden subtext?
posted by cbrody at 8:39 AM on July 16, 2004

Kinda like Narnia?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2004

CS Lewis was far worse! I'm surprised my parents let us read those, committed atheists as they are.
posted by cbrody at 8:49 AM on July 16, 2004

Oh, come on, the "sub"text isn't exactly "hidden" in Narnia. It's out-and-out propaganda. This stuff, you get the idea that Carroll isn't aware of two-thirds of the stuff he's putting in there, which just makes it all the more skeevy.
posted by soyjoy at 8:59 AM on July 16, 2004

In an essay on Alice in her book Don't Tell the Grownups, Alison Lurie points out that for such a very widely referenced book, Alice in Wonderland is actually relatively little read.

Interesting how some children's books are far more important as works of the imagination than for their merits as actual literature - such as Alice, the Oz books, and to some extent, Harry Potter.

So, for this reason, I liked getting to see Carroll's conception of how Alice looked and so on. Thanks, Pretty.
posted by orange swan at 9:10 AM on July 16, 2004

What is it in the actual books themselves that skeevs (?) people out? I read both Wonderland and Lookingglass fairly thoroughly as a grad student prepping a stage adaptation of Jabberwocky and, despite the passage of (indeterminate)-teen years, I don't recall anything in the texts that should cause an adult any concern. Unless you feel oddly compelled to use this as a springboard to dicuss prebubescent sexuality and its attractions to the Victorian English clergy with your four-year-old at bedtime, seriously what's the concern? (I am prepared to be proven wrong on this, put please be specific - my memory of these books is pretty clear to me...)
posted by JollyWanker at 9:47 AM on July 16, 2004

The beauty of the Alice books is that Carroll was trying to make children's stories without clear moral messages & trite social uplift, as all Victorian stories needed to have, especially ones for children. He was very interested in nonsense as a philosophical entity and a tool for chaos-making. The clever thing is, every character in the books is also a satircal portrait of some political personage or some social concept, along the lines of Gulliver's Travels. And his interests in language & geometry (especially geometric distortions) inform the plot. So it's a fascinating blend of nonsense, humor and ideas.

This is sums up the standard take on the situation. You're reaching waaayy too far if you think something like "eat me / drink me" is subtext - do you really think that "eat me" was some sort of phrase an Oxford Don would know, if it even existed at the time, which it didn't?

It's so absurd. Pedophiles make me sick - but I don't think there's any serious debate possible about Carroll on this subject. Is there any famous surrealist work which doesn't have a sexual interpretation? Is that because they were all perverts?

I suppose there's some sort of argument to be made that one should hide these books away for the same reason one hides racist tchotchkes - you might argue that Carroll's books recall that era of some sort of strange objectification of children, including nude children, which went along with the strange sexual hypocrisies of that time. Or you could say that the books have become iconic for evil modern day pedophiles, such as this fellow, and therefore, unfortunately, the books are in the same position as, say, Kipling's works which display a rather backward outlook. But could anyone actually think that a child might be harmed, in reading Alice?
posted by mitchel at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2004

In an essay on Alice in her book Don't Tell the Grownups, Alison Lurie points out that for such a very widely referenced book, Alice in Wonderland is actually relatively little read.

Hm. Amazon sales ranks:
Alice / Looking Glass - 2606
Wonderful World of Oz - 9794
Jungle Book - 4616
Wind in the Willows - 9745
Grimm's - 4802
Harry Potter - 412 [wonder where it'll be in 100 years]

seems like Alice stacks up real well against other classics from its time. If anything's underread, it's WITW.

If you like Alice and have never read Dicken's "Magic Fishbone", do so right away (in the link it begins at "PART II" so search for that). I read it in the Zipes collection "Victorian Fairy Tales", highly recommended.
posted by mitchel at 10:25 AM on July 16, 2004

mitchel - your amazon ranks only show that people are buying it, not reading it. Could be they're just buying it to "reference" it, for all we know. Just sayin'.

But to the other point, who's suggested "that a child might be harmed, in reading Alice?" I certainly didn't. I've read the books to my kids. But on such occasions I don't go into the real-life details of Dodgson's relationships with the Liddell girls (hey, didn't he write that song "I, I, I Love Liddell Girls"?) or his habit of photographing young girls naked, etc. What I'm saying and what I think others may be saying is that it's hard for us, from our 2004 perspective, knowing the larger story, to forget all that and read this stuff as innocent storytelling with no subtext.
posted by soyjoy at 10:40 AM on July 16, 2004

I find no subtext. It's a damned good story and a damned good link.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:46 AM on July 16, 2004

What mitchel said but more what soyjoy said afterwards. There's plenty of subtext in there if you've got a perverted enough mind, as I obviously do. Not the words themselves, but Alice getting big, then growing small enough again to fit into a dark tunnel - come on guys!
I'll admit that this only occurred to me after reading this thread again. Shame on me!
posted by cbrody at 11:34 AM on July 16, 2004

I like these illustrations MUCH better than Tenniel's stiff, overwrought engravings. These are bee-yoo-tee-ful! Dodgeson, you are a genius. A pervert, yes. But a genius.
posted by Faze at 1:09 PM on July 16, 2004

I don't know if during Victorian times it was unusual for men in their thirties to marry girls in their teens / pre-teens. In fact, I think Alice was married off to someone else while still eleven.
posted by xammerboy at 7:00 PM on July 16, 2004

What? The Alice books are now "skeevy"?

Oh well, the books will live on but peoples opinions of them will be but an indicator of whatever narrow time and place they happened to inhabit.
posted by vacapinta at 8:05 PM on July 16, 2004

Oh well, the books will live on but peoples opinions of them will be but an indicator of whatever narrow time and place they happened to inhabit.

I don't agree. Although it's true that some literary criticism doesn't age well, some will be quite enduring.

I searched through my 11 boxes of books to find my copy of Lurie's Don't Tell the Grown-Ups (only finding it when I was ready to give up and after also finding my copy of Alice, a bio on Lewis Carrol, and practically everything else Lurie ever published), and oops, it seems the opinion I attributed to Lurie is not actually hers - or at least isn't in this book. I know I read that bit about Alice not being that readable somewhere, I just can't remember where.

What Lurie does say about Alice is too long to quote here, so I'll just say she comments about how subversive it was. Alice wasn't your typical Victorian child heroine. She was impatient, brave, and confident. She's the only decent and sensible character in the book. She's not morally improved by her adventures. This was unknown in children's literature at the time.

Also, Lurie mentions that many of the characters in the book were parodies of real life figures. For example, Queen Victoria surrounded herself with extensive rose gardens and many bowing courtiers.

If you're interested in the analysis of children's literature, I highly recommend Lurie's book, which is a collection of very entertaining essays on the subversive qualities in children's literature.
posted by orange swan at 9:34 PM on July 16, 2004

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