“Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible”
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was initially published in 1865 with the title, Alice’s Adventures Underground. The story was first told to the daughters of H.G. Liddell on a leisurely rowing trip up the Isis River. One of those daughters loved it so much that she begged him to put it into writing. Alice Liddell received a hand-lettered copy from Carroll. The work eventually became the book we read today. The poem prior to Chapter 1 describes that golden afternoon and how the story came to be. Surprisingly, people didn’t like it when it first came out. It was described as “stiff” and “nothing extraordinary” with “no moral” and “didn’t teach a lesson.” However, by the end of the nineteenth century it had become quite popular. And aren’t you glad it did?
As I was reading this week, I found that the kid in me loved the idea of chasing a smartly dressed white rabbit, falling down his rabbit hole without getting hurt, and discovering a hidden doorway to a lovely garden. Such an adventure! I think Alice chases that rabbit because she hopes he’ll have some kind of new knowledge or fulfillment to give her. The life she was leading certainly did not live up to her expectations. Maybe this is why Alice spends a great deal of time in chapters one and two just trying to figure out who she is.
Following the drink from the bottle, Alice scolds herself and we learn that she likes to pretend to be two people. She’s also physically shrinking and growing so that is a puzzle for her. Later, she gets frustrated with herself because she can’t remember her lessons and begins to think she must be another girl from school. She even says, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Don’t we all go through bouts of identity crisis? Wondering how we fit in to the world we live in? Alice’s problem with trying to figure out her identity is compounded by being in a world that makes no sense. Defining who we are in traditional society is hard enough, but Wonderland is a far cry from traditional. I believe Alice will continue to struggle with this as the story unfolds.
I loved Carroll’s use of language. In chapter three, he plays around with words so much that sometimes you have to reread a passage just to make sure you’ve understood what he’s written. And then you have to catch yourself again because it turns out to be some sort of double talk. Homophones (words that sound alike but have different meanings) are running rampant hear. I mean here. When the Mouse started spouting his William the Conqueror story because it’s the driest thing he knows, I had to laugh. Such wit is what keeps this story interesting for both adults and children. I especially loved how Carroll not only included word play with Mouse’s tale/tail but also allowed the actual text to look like a long mouse tail. Alice’s misunderstanding of Mouse’s not/knot helped me see that she is still quite naïve about the world she is in. Language is used to convey a certain meaning. In Wonderland, words have no pattern or system of logic to help a person understand their meaning. This chapter was important in showing me that Alice is unable to make sense of Wonderland and its residents. Any expectation she may have for a certain behavior goes out the window with every new situation she encounters.
I’m looking forward to finding out what Alice is up to in the next few chapters. If you haven’t started reading yet, we’d love to have you jump on down the rabbit hole. See last week’s post, “Curling Up With a Good Book” for information about where you can find the book. For those of you reading along, I’d love to hear what you think about the first few chapters of Alice. You can leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me with the hashtag #DDLBookClub.
Reading for week two: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Chapters 4-6
Things to ponder:
- Alice’s Victorian upbringing, manners, propriety, and understanding of her class
- Carroll’s underlying meaning of the caucus race
- Alice’s reaction to situations with emotion rather than reason
Contributed by: Lynnette Johnson (NDM#271) Lynnette is the DDL Book of the Month Blogger.