Length: 2113 words (6 double-spaced pages)
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Of all of Lewis Carroll’s works, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has a unique standing in the category of whimsical, nonsense literature. Much has been written about how this novel contrasts with the vast amount of strict, extremely moralistic children’s literature of the Victorian time Lewis Carroll lived in. Yet, as odd as this novel appears in relation to the other Victorian children’s stories, this short novel is odder because it was written by an extremely upright, ultra conservative man; a Victorian gentleman. Even though the novel seems to contrast with the time of Lewis Carroll, many experiences of Lewis Carroll and his unique character have a great influence in the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury England. He was the oldest boy in a family of eleven children of Reverend Charles Dodgson and his wife, Francis Jane Lutwidge. The childhood of Lewis Carroll was relatively pleasant, full of ideas and hobbies that contributed to his future creative works. Carroll’s life at Daresbury was rather secluded, and his playmates were mostly his brothers and sisters (Green 18). Interacting with mostly his sisters, he was the "master of their ceremonies, inventor of games, magician, marionette theater manager, and editor of family journals" (DLB v. 163 45). A great deal of Carroll’s childhood was spent taking care of his little sisters, and his imagination was constantly being exercised in order to entertain them (Green 18). A childhood trouble that Carroll possessed and persisted throughout his life was stammering severely. It is suggested that his stammer may have arisen from his parent’s attempts to correct his left-handedness. This attempt early in his life may have caused Carroll to think he was not normal, therefore hurting his self-confidence (Kelly 13-14). When Carroll spoke to adults, his speech became extremely difficult to understand. Apparently, he panicked; his shyness and stammering always seemed worse when he was in a world of adults (Leach 2). Partly as a result of his stammering, he felt very comfortable around children and he was able to easily form close relationships among them. While speaking with younger children, Carroll’s stammering had magically disappeared. He "simply became one of them-whether or not they accepted him-and most did" (Pudney 20). As a child, Carroll had a fondness of inventing games and language puzzles (14).
Lewis Carroll "divided himself into two names, Lewis Carroll and Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson" (DLB v.
18 45). The pen name Lewis Carroll is very interesting as to how it was created. While teaching at Christ Church, Oxford, Carroll wrote comic literature and parodies for a humorous paper. The editor thought Dodgson needed a name that was not too journalistic. Dodgson wrote to his editor and suggested a number of variations and anagrams based on the letters of his actual name, "Charles Lutwidge Dodgson." "Lewis Carroll was the name finally decided upon (Pudney 53). Clearly, Carroll was fascinated with anagrams and various patterns and puzzles. The pen name that he created, he tried to keep totally separate from his born name, which creates the idea of Carroll having two selves: the pragmatic character of the regular, Oxford don and the mysterious character living in a shadowy world of fantasy. Carroll insisted on this division to a great extent and he would not accept fan mail addressed to Lewis Carroll at Christ Church (DLB v.18 45). Another odd obsession of Carroll’s was wearing gloves all the time when being in the outdoors. No matter what the temperature was, he would wear gloves (Pudney 13).
Reverend Charles Dodgson, Carroll’s father, had a big impact on his life. When Carroll was 36 years old, his father passed away and he called this the "saddest blow he has known". His father was an honorable minister of Christ Church and the Christ Church of England. His father mounted Carroll’s religious devotion and a "belief in earnest endeavor strong enough to make Carroll sometimes feel slack in his work and tardy in his progress." Those who knew Reverend Dodgson would probably think he was a pious and gloomy man, almost devoid of any sense of humor. Yet, in his letters to his son, there evidence of a remarkable sense of fun. For example, in one letter he writes: "I will have a file and a screwdriver, and a ring, and if they are not brought directly, in forty seconds, I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the whole town of Leeds…" (DLB v.18 46). However, Lewis Carroll’s mother was the essence of the Victorian gentlewoman. His mother was "sweet, loveable, and much loved". But the letters written by Carroll in The Life and Letters by Lewis Carroll, mention his father more so than his mother (45).
Lewis Carroll grew up with an extraordinary education and he was very successful with many publications. He began his education at Richmond Grammar School and then attended Rugby until 1849. In 1851 Carroll "matriculated" at Christ Church, Oxford. Carroll followed the path of his father by deciding to attend Christ Church, but differently, he did not "go on to marry or become a practicing minister." He spent at total of 47 years there, from being a student, to receiving bachelor and master’s of art degrees to mathematical professor. Even after he retired as a math professor, he became a "curator of the Senior Common Room" for 10 years (DLB v.18 46). Rather unlike Carroll’s literary works such as Alice, Carroll published mathematical and symbolical texts, which include The Game of Logic (1886) and Symbolic Logic, Parts 1 & 2 (1886, 1887). Along with mathematical and literary works, Carroll also published his photograph compilation in Lewis Carroll, Photographer (1849) that shows his superiority in another area (45). Before photography became one of his interests, Carroll drew many pictures that he tried to publish. But his drawings were not up to par in order to be accepted for publication. He excelled much more in photography and had been described as "the best photographer of children in the nineteenth century" (Pudney 54).
His most influential focus of child photography was Alice Liddell. Carroll was taking photographs of the Christ Church Cathedral from the deanery of the college when he encountered Alice Liddell and her two sisters, the daughters of the Dean, Henry George Liddell (DLB v.18 47-48). From that day on Carroll had a close relationship with the three daughters. The relationship Carroll was beginning to establish with the Liddell daughters did not please Mrs. Liddell very much. She was "rather suspicious of his motives for associating with her children" (DLB v.163 61). Despite her feelings, Carroll was still permitted to escort the girls on day trips, which they enjoyed (62). During the afternoon of July 4, 1862, the story, which would become known as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was told for the first time (63). Carroll created this fascinating story to entertain the Liddell girls, Lorina, Alice, and Edith throughout a boat ride on the river Isis. From all three girls came the plead, "Tell us a story" and from there is history. After the boat ride, he met with Liddell’s daughters for "walks and croquet and heard them sign ‘Beautiful Star’, which entered the book as the Mock Turtle’s song on ‘Beautiful Soup’." Alice enjoyed the story Carroll created so much that she coerced him to record the tale on paper. And so Carroll began to write. By February 10, 1963, the manuscript had been finished with the title of Alice’s Adventures Underground, and he sent it to his friend and fellow write of children’s fantasies, George MacDonald. MacDonald and his children had read the story and all of them loved the tale so they persuaded Carroll to publish his work. While the illustrations for the novel were being sketched, Carroll changed the title to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (DLB v.18 48).
The basic plot of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland involves Alice’s desire to enter a wonderful garden that she sees after having wandered down a rabbit’s hole. Alice eventually obtains her goal and enters the garden. During the course of her travels through Wonderland she meets a strange combination of people and human like animals. The first character she meets is the White Rabbit. The Rabbit is the through line of the novel. That is, he is the character that Alice follows, and he reappears to get things moving again. In a way, he is a sort of guide, though he is too worried about himself to really be guiding anyone. The White Rabbit may be a parallel to Carroll himself because Carroll may think of himself as a guide to Alice Liddell as he takes her on special outings and bonds with her. Also, the Rabbit loses his gloves in the first chapter and it has been noted that Carroll was obsessed with carrying gloves with him while outdoors.
The most obvious parallel between Carroll’s life and his writing of Alice is the cherished relationship between him and Alice Liddell. She was the inspiration for his writing and for the sequel to the novel, Through the Looking Glass. A closer analysis of the character of Alice in the novel is her fluctuating sense of self. This is introduced in the first chapter when she is decided whether to drink the bottle which makes her small or eat the cake, which makes her big. Alice, meant to be a girl of about eleven or so, is on the cusp of adolescence. But what does she want to be? If she shrinks to a child-like size to get through the doorway into what seems to be the garden of childhood, then she is too small to reach the key to open that door. She is trapped in a kind of paradox. Throughout the chapter Alice is "trying on" her adult self. She speaks in a learned manner, even when she isn't quite sure what she is speaking about, and she often creates in her own mind an adult personality to check her childish impulses. This split personality may be a parallel to Lewis Carroll again. In his life he had two selves: Charles Dodgson; being a proper and serious Victorian gentleman and then Lewis Carroll; a character of more humor and mystifying nature where he related best with children.
Alice's identity crisis in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reoccurs many times throughout the novel and is one of the main themes that are portrayed. Certain aspects of religion come into play throughout this young girl's journey, a journey symbolic of universal growth and self-discovery. As Alice learns a great deal about herself with each new encounter in Wonderland, she begins to realize that these experiences weaken and even distort her previously stable self-image. The caterpillar is one character who cannot accept Alice's lack of self-awareness, or at least what he considers self-awareness to indicate. When he asks Alice "Who are you?", she is unable to respond with a clear answer. Alice is struggling to find herself, which is an import part of religious life, connecting with your inner self. Carroll was influenced heavily by his father’s teachings of religious faith and Carroll incorporates the importance of it into the novel.
One last parallel between Carroll’s life and the novel is the use of many puzzles, mathematics, games, and riddles throughout Alice’s experiences in Wonderland. Like Carroll, trying to work out mathematical puzzles when he was falling asleep, Alice attempts to calculate how many miles she has fallen down the rabbit’s hole into Wonderland. At the Mad Hatter’s tea party, there are many riddles, to which there are no answers, but his unique humor is exposed. While in the Queen’s garden, Alice plays a game of croquet with her. Carroll and Alice Liddell would often play croquet together during the time they spent with each other. The novel is filled with play on words and different anagrams such as the way Carroll came up with his pen name.
In conclusion, the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written by Lewis Carroll was greatly influenced by Carroll’s life experiences and unique character. His biggest stimulus in his life was Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the novel and reason it was recorded, which is accompanied by many other smaller influences such as his family, personal qualities, and education. In the words of the critic Derek Hudson: "The most remarkable think about Alice is that, though it springs from the very heart of the Victorian period, it is timeless in its appeal. This is a characteristic that it shares with other classics-a small band- that have similarly conquered the world" (Leach 5).