Lewis Caroll Essay, Research Paper
After hundreds of publications, films, and stage plays, some scholars have
begun to fear that Alice has become “cold and monumental , like a classic tomb”
say Gilbert K. Chesterton, of the novel(Gardener,1960). The Adventures of Alice
In Wonderland is no longer a light, fun book of nonsense, but now, more than ever,
just a required reading for most high school students. The truth is that Lewis
Carroll’s humorous antics are not quite as senseless as they may seem to the
average, American teenager. Much of his complicated nonsense was meant only to
be understood by the residents of Oxford, and others only by the three daughters
of Henry George Liddle. Carroll’s physical appearance is described as handsome, but
somewhat lopsided. His smile was a little crooked, one shoulder was a little higher
than the other, and his eyes were different shades of blue. He was also plagued
with a slight speech impediment, and later on acquired deafness in one ear. The
company of three of his favorite child-friends, Lorina Charlotte, Alice Pleasance,
and Edith Liddell, was something Carroll held very dear to him. He enjoyed entertaining
little girls with such things as word puzzles, game, and, his most praise-worthy, tempting
their thirst for fantesy with fairy tale-like adventure stories. He was quite partial
to small girls, but young boys replused him. This could prehaps be the reason why it
was a little boy he turned into a pig in chapter six. Little Alice Pleasance is said
to be the basis for Carroll’s character “Alice” in the well known children’s series.
He created the story of Alice and Wonderland while on a boat ride with the three sisters.
The ride was to start at Folly’s Bridge and end at the village of Godstow(Comer,1998).
On the way Carroll tickled the girls imaginations with exciting tales of adventure and
wonder in a place he called “Wonderland,” as he did with many children that he befriended.
He makes many references to the three girls in the Alice books, using their last name as
a play on words by calling them “the three ‘little’ girls”. He would often disguised
their first names by calling them Elise, Tillie, Lacie. Elise for L.C. (Lorina Charlotte),
Tillie came from Edith’s nickname, Matilda, and the rearranging the letters in Alice
can result in Lacie. When he talked of himself he would use the name Dodo, because,
with his stammered he pronounced his given name(Charles LIdwig Dodgeson) Do-Do-Dogdeson.
He would often keep in touch with the children as they grew older, by way of mail.
He would write to them and they would write back. In fact, the only reason why Carroll
got The Adventures of Alice In Wonderland published was because of a suggestion from
Alice Liddell , in one of her letters.
Carroll suffered from a slight stutter, and he tended to be shy and with-
drawn in the company of adults, but given the opportunity to converse with a child,
he would open up. He was able to be himself, maybe, because the children didn’t
seem to notice that his physical features weren’t perfectly symmetrical, or
that he walked with a hobble, nor did they care. He never talked down to a child,
and he never doubted their intelligence, to him they were the greatest of equals.
Lewis Carroll changed the way the world views children’s literature. In the Victorian
time period it was common for a children’s author to pack their literature with page,
after page of devout morals. However, with the publication of Carroll’s The Adventures
of Alice In Wonderland in 1865, he single-handedly turned Victorian moralism upside-down.
Up until that time, all children’s books had tried to teach kids too much a little too soon.
The books tended to speak down to children, in an attempt to moralized them, so that as
they grew older they would know how to maintain, what they considered, proper public decorum.
Not many authors of that time knew what Carroll had learned early on, that what children
really wanted was something to get their imaginations working. Those poor children had
heard the same stories of little girls and boys suffering , because they didn’t follow the
rules they had been taught, time and time again. They needed someone to save them from an
agonizing death due to boredom, and Carroll was just the man to do it. He gave them books
that fed their imaginations, and played with their senses. His books were fun for both the
children who listened to them, and the adults who read them to their kids(Gardener,1960).
Throughout the years many people have analyzed Lewis Carroll’s work from numerous perspectives.
In “The Annotated Alice”, Martin Gardener has dissected the fantasy story, giving reasonable
explanations to Carroll’s silly antics. Much of Carroll’s literature that appears to have no
real meaning what so ever was actually derived from areas of common Victorian life, such as
the character of “The Mad Hatter” and “The March Hare”. In Carroll’s day it was common for
hatters to go mad because of the mercury, and other chemicals used in curing(in some areas of
Europe there were no laws against this), which caused a slight tremor called “hatter’s shake”.
As the twitch, which effected their eyes and limbs, progressed, the inflicted would developed
hallucinations and, sometimes, other psychotic dysfunctions. As for “The March Hare” this can be
attributed to the insane nature of the male hare in the month of March, it’s mating season(Gardener,1960).
Another character whose attributes have some rationale is the Cheshire Cat. The saying “grin like a Cheshire cat” was common during the Victorian time period. The exact origin of this phrase is unknown, but there are two dominant theories. One suggests that it derived from a sign painter in Cheshire County who painted inn signs with grinning lions on them. The other proposes that it came from Cheshire cheese which used to be molded into the form of grinning cats(Gardener,1960).
One Roger W. Holmes made the observation that Carroll often amused his audience with logical absurdity in an effort to put things simply. This is evident throughout the Alice books. It appears in one particular passage when the Cheshire Cat attempts to prove his madness:
[Alice] “And how do you know you’re mad?”
“To Begin with,” said the cat, “a dog’s not. You grant that?”
“I suppose so,” said Alice.
“Well then” the cat went on, “you see a dog growls when he is angry, and wags his tail when he is pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I‘m angry.”
This kind of philosophical nonsense is one of the many forms used in Carroll’s literature(Holmes, 1959).
It is my personal feeling that Lewis Carroll’s work has been branded a child’s book, which is a shame, because i think that title discourages many “young adults” from taking an interest in it. When I set out to read this book I was a little scared that it would be exactally like the movie, but it wasn’t. It was very different. The film was good, but without the words on paper, without being able to ponder some of his ingenious riddles and mind games, the story loses some of it’s luster, which can be experienced in full by reading the novel.
1. Dawn Comer. Lewis Carroll Comentary Article.
http://www.lewiscarroll.org/comentry/nile.html. 4/2/99. 4:48PM
3. Derek Hudson. Lewis Carroll. The British Council. 1982. pages 261-273.
4. Robert Phillips. Aspects of Alice. First Vintage Books Edition. March 1977.