Carroll, Lewis (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)
Lewis Carroll 1832-1898
(Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) English novelist, poet, satirist, and mathematician. See also Lewis Carroll Poetry Criticism and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There Criticism.
Dodgson produced several essays on mathematics and symbolic logic as an Oxford lecturer in mathematics, but it was under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll that he published his most famous works, the fantasy novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872). Originally intended for the amusement of children, the Alice stories, as well as Carroll's highly imaginative poetry, have been subjected to intense scrutiny and widely varying interpretations by scholars around the world since their publication.
The third child and the eldest son of eleven children, Carroll was born in the parsonage in Daresbury, Cheshire on January 27, 1832. In 1843, his father, a country clergyman, accepted a more lucrative position in Croft, Yorkshire, a post that also provided a larger parsonage for the family of thirteen. Carroll's childhood was apparently a happy one, and he spent hours entertaining and caring for his many siblings, particularly his sisters. He began writing at an early age, producing poems and stories for the amusement of his siblings as well as a series of illustrated magazines for his family. Carroll's formal education began at the Richmond Grammar School, where he spent a year and a half; this was followed by three years at Rugby, after which he attended Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a first in mathematics, earned a bachelor's and a master's degree, and remained for the rest of his life, first as a lecturer in mathematics and later as curator of the Senior Common Room. He produced a number of scholarly works on mathematics and symbolic logic and tutored countless students, including young women denied admission to the all-male university, in both subjects. In 1861, he became a deacon in the Church of England but decided not to take holy orders. After the death of his father in 1868, Carroll assumed responsibility for his unmarried sisters, establishing a home for them in Guildford in Surrey.
Carroll never married and had no children of his own, but he was devoted to a succession of little girls he had befriended. The most famous of these was Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, who provided the model for the fictional Alice and for whom Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures Under Ground, which he illustrated himself and never published, presenting it instead as a gift to Alice Liddell. It provided the basis for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Both works were published under the name Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym Carroll adopted in 1856. He published all of his poetry and fiction under that name, although he continued to produce scholarly texts under his own name. At the same time, he became fascinated with the emerging field of photography and earned a considerable reputation as one of the first art photographers and the nineteenth-century's most celebrated photographer of children. Carroll died at the age of sixty-five in Guildford.
Carroll's best-known works, all produced under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, were his fantasy novels, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Famously innovative for their unconventional use of language, the stories were also among the first non-didactic, non-moralizing texts aimed at children. Carroll's nonsense verse, most notably The Hunting of the Snark (1876) and “Jabberwocky” (from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) are usually considered related to his prose works by virtue of the similarity of language. His serious verse, published in several collections, is considered uninspired and is largely forgotten today. The later novels Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893) were his only fictional works aimed at an adult reading audience. Far more serious and didactic than the Alice stories, the two texts have often been treated by critics as a single, two-volume work, and occasionally as a fairly conventional Victorian novel. Far less famous than his fictional works are Carroll's writings on mathematics and symbolic logic. They include A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry, Part I (1860), An Elementary Treatise on Determinants (1867), Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879), and Symbolic Logic, Part I: Elementary (1896).
Carroll's publications as Lewis Carroll, particularly the Alice stories, were enormously popular with juvenile readers at the time of their publication and have since attained an assured place in the canon of children's literature. They have been reprinted countless times in a wide variety of editions and have been translated into virtually every modern language. The two books were originally considered nonsense for the amusement of children and were considered unworthy of analysis by serious scholars. Beginning in the 1930s, however, the Alice stories and the nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark have attracted increasing attention from literary critics and philosophers. Psychoanalytic critics in particular have for many years been preoccupied with the details of Carroll's life, particularly his sex life. In addition to the much-documented phallic and womb imagery of his fiction, his extreme fondness for pre-adolescent girls—he often took them on overnight outings and photographed many of them nude—made Carroll a suspicious character in his own time and even more so today. Morton N. Cohen confronts speculation about Carroll's relationship with his young friends, claiming that the author was a “model Victorian” who never acted on whatever erotic impulses he may have harbored for the young. As Cohen puts it, “Carroll knew that, given his preference for the friendship of children, if he once succumbed to any temptation, he would never be able to befriend them again. His own uncompromising standards, his forthright, pious nature would not permit it. Besides he loved innocence so, how could he ever violate it?” Robert M. Polhemus seems to agree: “Freudians have had grand times analyzing the kinks in Charles Dodgson's personality, but the striking irony is that psychoanalysis and its theories … seem to flow right out of Carroll's wonderland.” Michael Irwin also acknowledges that “the Alice books, of course, are a gift to the Freudian, proliferating as they do in holes, tunnels, doors, locks, keys, fluids and size-changes.” Nonetheless, Irwin claims, “that game is all too easy.” Daniel Bivona reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the context of nineteenth-century imperialism, referring to Alice as ethnocentric because she assumes that the language and behavior of the creatures in Wonderland operate according to no rules simply because they fail to conform to English rules. “Alice's ‘imperialism,’ such as it is,” contends Bivona, “is a semiotic imperialism: she is incapable of constructing, on a model radically different from her own, the ‘system’ or ‘systems’ that give meaning to the behavior of the creatures.” Several critics maintain that Carroll's fictional work anticipates modernism and even postmodernism, and his name has been linked with many of the literary figures of those movements. Polhemus reports: “From out of his rabbit-hole and looking-glass world we can see coming not only such figures as Joyce, Freud, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Proust, Artaud, Nabokov, Beckett, Waugh, Lacan, Borges, Bakhtin, and García Márquez, but also much of the character and mood of twentieth-century popular culture.” Michael Holquist has examined The Hunting of the Snark as a modernist text and concluded that the poem “is the most perfect nonsense which Carroll created in that it best exemplifies what all his career and all his books sought to do: achieve pure order.” Carroll's work does not consist of meaningless gibberish, according to Holquist, but is rather “its own system of signs which gain their meaning by constantly dramatizing their differences from signs in other systems.” Peter Heath also rejects the idea that Carroll was a nonsense writer and claims that the author should be more properly categorized as an absurdist. Heath maintains that the Alice books are rational works “whose frolics are governed throughout, not by a formal theory of any kind, but by close attention to logical principles, and by a sometimes surprising insight into abstract questions of philosophy.” Carroll's two later novels, Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, have generally been considered far inferior to the author's earlier works. Edmund Miller, however, believes that the two books should be treated as a whole and suggests that the resulting two-volume work has much in common with the early Victorian novel, particularly Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. “Both works are infused with the sentiments of the age and yet combine traditional materials in completely original ways,” claims Miller.
A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry, Part I (nonfiction) 1860
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland [as Lewis Carroll] (novel) 1865
The Dynamics of a Particle (satire) 1865
An Elementary Treatise on Determinants (nonfiction) 1867
Phantasmagoria and Other Poems [as Lewis Carroll] (poetry) 1869
The New Belfry of Christ Church, Oxford [as D. C. L.] (satire) 1872
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There [as Lewis Carroll] (novel) 1872
The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits [as Lewis Carroll] (poetry) 1876
Euclid and His Modern Rivals (nonfiction) 1879
Rhyme? And Reason? [as Lewis Carroll] (poetry) 1883
Curiosa Mathematica. Part I: A New Theory of Parallels (nonfiction) 1888
Sylvie and Bruno [as Lewis Carroll] (novel) 1889
Curiosa Mathematica. Part II: Pillow Problems Thought Out during Wakeful Hours (nonfiction) 1893
Sylvie and Bruno Concluded [as Lewis Carroll] (novel) 1893
Symbolic Logic, Part I: Elementary (nonfiction) 1896
The Three Sunsets, and Other Poems (poetry) 1898
The Collected Verse of Lewis Carroll (poetry) 1929...
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SOURCE: Holquist, Michael. “What is a Boojum? Nonsense and Modernism.” Yale French Studies, no. 43 (1969): 145-64.
[In the following essay, Holquist examines The Hunting of the Snark as an experimental work that resists critics' attempts to interpret it as an allegory.]
The other project was a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health as well as brevity. … An expedient was therefore offered, that since words are only names for things, it would be more convenient for all men to carry about them such things as were necessary to express the particular business they are to discourse on.
Swift, Gulliver's Travels
What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple? Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered?
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
Because the question “What is a Boojum?” may appear strange or whimsical, I would like to begin by giving some reasons for posing it. Like many other readers, I have been intrigued and perplexed by a body of literature often called modern or post-modern, but which is probably most efficiently expressed in a list of authors: Joyce, Kafka, Beckett, Nabokov, Borges,...
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SOURCE: Beaver, Harold. “Whale or Boojum: An Agony.” In Lewis Carroll Observed: A Collection of Unpublished Photographs, Drawings, Poetry, and New Essays, edited by Edward Guiliano, pp. 111-31. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1976.
[In the following essay, Beaver explores the alleged connections between The Hunting of the Snark and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.]
Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way?
herman melville, Moby-Dick, Ch. 42.
It was a Frenchman who first proposed that Lewis Carroll might owe a literary debt to Herman Melville. W. H. Auden had earlier juxtaposed The Hunting of the Snark with Moby-Dick.1 Robert Martin Adams, more recently, discussed both works within the context of a single study.2 Marcel Marnat not only confronted but directly compared the two masterpieces: Whale and Snark, White Whale and Boojum, the majestic prose saga and the inconsequential-sounding ballad. “A passionate parody was it,” he asked, “or merely a teasing echo, dimly caught—with no formal parallelism in mind, of course—just for the fun of it, as a game?”3
Thus what was...
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SOURCE: Miller, Edmund. “The Sylvie and Bruno Books as Victorian Novel.” In Lewis Carroll Observed: A Collection of Unpublished Photographs, Drawings, Poetry, and New Essays, edited by Edward Guiliano, pp. 132-44. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1976.
[In the following essay, Miller maintains that Carroll's two novels aimed at adult readers are constructed according to a highly organized plan and conform to many of the conventions associated with early Victorian novels.]
The Sylvie and Bruno books together form Lewis Carroll's most ambitious literary work. Yet the general public is hardly aware of its existence. This is a great shame, for the work is more interesting and rewarding than it is generally given credit for being. While perhaps not a great work or an ideally conceived one, it contains many delightful examples of Carroll's brand of nonsense and is unique in the Carroll canon in that that consistently attempts to address an adult audience. The antiutopia of Outland, the charming escapism of Elfland (Fairyland), and the witty and significant talk of Elveston (England) are separately interesting.1 However, full appreciation and understanding of the Sylvie and Bruno books depends on seeing that they are based on a carefully articulated plan.
The volume titled Sylvie and Bruno was published in 1889, and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded was...
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SOURCE: Kelly, Richard. “Poetry.” In Lewis Carroll, pp. 44-77. Boston: Twayne, 1977.
[In the following excerpt, Kelly discusses Carroll's poetry, maintaining that his serious verse is of poor quality, while his humorous verse is brilliant.]
I SERIOUS VERSE
Lewis Carroll's serious poetry is very dull. Most of his comic verse on the other hand, is generally amusing and sometimes exhibits a genius that remains unrivaled. Nonsense poems such as “Jabberwocky,” “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and The Hunting of the Snark, and parodies like “You are old, Father William,” “Speak roughly to your little boy,” and “Twinkle, twinkle, little Bat” are inspired works that have become an integral part of our literary and popular culture. The gulf between his serious and humorous poetry is as vast as that between Carroll the Oxford don and Carroll the creator of Alice. Although the focus of this chapter will be upon his humorous verse and its development into pure nonsense, it may be helpful in understanding Carroll's growth as a nonsense poet to look first at his conventional verse.
Most of Carroll's serious verse appeared as part of the first edition of Phantasmagoria (1869) and was reissued in 1898 in Three Sunsets. One of the recurring themes of these poems is the loss of innocence or love. The “Three Sunsets,” for example,...
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SOURCE: Morton, Lionel. “Memory in the Alice Books.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 33, no. 3 (December 1978): 285-308.
[In the following essay, Morton discusses the role of memory and nostalgia in the poetry contained in the Alice books.]
The afternoon of 4 July 1862, on which the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first told during a boat trip up the Thames, remained “golden” in Lewis Carroll's memory, although the weather is said to have been cool and wet.1 Most importantly, it is nostalgically recalled in the three poems which Carroll attached to the Alice books. These are not parts of the stories, but they express an essential part of the meaning which his creations had for Carroll—an undercurrent of a certain kind of nostalgia. And though nostalgia does not seem to be of much importance in Alice's adventures—the original audience wanted “news of fairyland,”2 not anything they had experienced already—the current of memory which comes to the surface in these poems is a vital part of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
The first version of the story, Alice's Adventures under Ground, was not meant to be published and is inscribed “A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer Day.”3 For publication Carroll wrote a poem describing the boat trip in its...
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SOURCE: Cohen, Morton N. “Lewis Carroll and the Education of Victorian Women.” In Nineteenth-Century Women Writers of the English-Speaking World, edited by Rhoda B. Nathan, pp. 27-35. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1984, Cohen discusses Dodgson's views on higher education for women and his personal contributions to the education of women and girls in mathematics and formal logic.]
We are all aware that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, nurtured all his mature life a special preference for the female of the species. The preference was special because it was a preference not for all females, but for young girls. Even in Victorian times—some would say particularly in Victorian times—the idea of an unmarried Oxford don, however respectable, pursuing friendships with pre-pubescent girls offended some sensibilities.
But now, more than three quarters of a century after Dodgson's death, when virtually all those young friends of his have also died, we should be able to look at the evidence coolly and clinically. The record of these friendships is formidable, not only because Dodgson himself kept diaries and wrote mountains of letters, but because those little girls collectively left behind yet another treasure trove of memorabilia—their own personal reminiscences. But nothing in these private documents reveals...
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SOURCE: Cohen, Morton N. “Lewis Carroll and Victorian Morality.” In Sexuality and Victorian Literature, edited by Don Richard Cox, pp. 3-19. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.
[In the following essay, Cohen addresses critical speculation about Carroll's sex life.]
A few years ago a well-known writer came to talk with me about Lewis Carroll. He was writing a biography of Carroll, and, as I was then editing Carroll's letters, he thought that I might be able to help him. Most of all, he wanted to know about Carroll's sex life. He asked me a long string of pointed questions, and he wanted specific, factual answers. I could not, in all honesty, supply them, and I fear he was disappointed. I did not know whether Carroll had sexual dreams; I could not speculate about Carroll's sexual fantasies or even say if he had any.
And yet, in spite of those negative and uninformative replies, I believe that I know Carroll as well as anyone else does and that, on the basis of twenty years' work with the man's published writings, his diaries, and his letters, I can be fairly sure about his likes and dislikes, his political and religious views, his social outlook, and the general pattern of his relationships. It follows, too, that I can venture some reasoned views about his attitude to sex as it emerges from a careful examination of his personal writings.
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SOURCE: Bivona, Daniel. “Alice the Child-Imperialist and the Games of Wonderland.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 41, no. 2 (September 1986): 143-71.
[In the following essay, Bivona considers Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as an allegory of nineteenth-century British imperialism.]
Few would dispute the claim that Lewis Carroll was fascinated by games and puzzles. His interest in logical and mathematical games has been well documented. Moreover, although he seems rarely to have turned his attention to politics, on at least one occasion when he did—at the time of the Parliamentary debate over the Second Irish Home Rule Bill—he took a characteristic delight in reducing this heated political debate to a puzzle. In fact, his “Home-Rule Mystery” was just one of many Home-Rule puzzles and games introduced to the English market in the months following Gladstone's introduction of the Bill in February of 1893.1
A man who could construct a parlor game out of an emotional political issue must, one imagines, have had an extraordinarily detached outlook on politics. Yet one need not be overly surprised that Carroll could find the imaginative material for a puzzle in the debate over Ireland's place in the Empire. Indeed, a close look at his earlier classic, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, reveals a fascination on his part with the imaginative possibilities latent...
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SOURCE: Marret, Sophie. “Metalanguage in Lewis Carroll.” SubStance 22, nos. 2-3 (1993): 217-27.
[In the following essay, Marret examines the Alice books and The Hunting of the Snark in conjunction with Dodgson's nonfiction work on symbolic logic.]
The modernity of Lewis Carroll's literary work lies in the reversal of his own theses in the field of logic. Indeed, his intuitions about the role of the subject, discernible in his literary writing, seem to condemn rationality, which nonetheless is one of the foundations of the Alice books. Symbolic Logic, the handbook to which he devoted the end of his life, would thus appear as an ultimate attempt to save ontology, imperilled by his literary work.
The mathematization and formalization of logic that developed in the second half of the nineteenth century tried to extricate this science from natural languages and to free it from their ambiguities. This resulted in a complete re-shaping of logic that broke with the tradition of the ontological import of language. Although he knew of Boole's and Venn's earlier works, Lewis Carroll seems to have tried to integrate some of the contributions of his contemporaries into traditional logic in order to save Aristotle's theses and to protect logic and language from this attack on ontology. His literary work, notably the Alice books and The Hunting of the...
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SOURCE: Polhemus, Robert M. “Lewis Carroll and the Child in Victorian Fiction.” In The Columbia History of the British Novel, edited by John Richetti, pp. 579-607. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Polhemus explores Carroll's representation of children, suggesting that the idea of using children as subjects in fiction was just emerging when the Alice books were published.]
What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning?
Lewis Carroll's two books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), regarded when they were first published as amusing pieces in the developing subgenre of “children's books,” turned out to be major works of nineteenth-century literature and part of the history of serious imaginative writing. Carroll's words and images created art so radical and variously appealing that it could, did, and does bring many kinds of readers to look with fresh wonder at the structure and meaning of experience. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), the shy, eccentric bachelor, mathematician, logician, Oxford don, and cleric, made up tales for little girls, turned them into books by Lewis Carroll—his pen name—and, in doing so, astonishingly expanded the possibilities...
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SOURCE: Schwab, Gabriele. “Nonsense and Metacommunication: Reflections on Lewis Carroll.” In The Play of the Self, edited by Ronald Bogue and Mihai I. Spariosu, pp. 157-79. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Schwab considers Carroll's experimental treatment of language, maintaining that his work anticipates the twentieth-century movements of surrealism, modernism, and postmodernism.]
The history of nonsense literature is intrinsically linked to the history of literary realism. With the latter's insistence on the validity of the quotidian as an aesthetic object, nineteenth-century realism led to a radical redefinition of the traditional notion of mimesis. The novel is supposed to portray the life of its hero within a realistic fiction of the social world. Even the so-called psychological novel, with its attempt to evoke the “inner lives” of its characters, is still concerned with realism and mimesis.
The new Victorian genre of nonsense literature, by contrast, emerges at the beginning of a far-reaching break with the mimetic tradition. Writers begin to free the materiality of language from meaning and reference. Caring more about sounds than sense, they play with words and create silly puns or discover the pleasures of children's sound-games in order to produce nonsense. Long before the surrealists use automatic writing in their attempt to...
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SOURCE: Sherer, Susan. “Secrecy and Autonomy in Lewis Carroll.” Philosophy and Literature 20, no. 1 (1996): 1-19.
[In the following essay, Sherer discusses Alice's adventures as representative of the Victorian child's desire to retreat to a secret place in order to establish autonomy.]
Victorian novels quiver with morbid secrets and threatening discoveries. Unseen rooms, concealed doors, hidden boxes, masked faces, buried letters, all appear (and disappear) with striking regularity in the fiction of Victorian England. So many of these secret spaces contain children, and especially little girls, little girls in hidden spaces. The young Jane Eyre sits behind a curtain in the hidden window seat, escaping the vindictive wrath of John Reed. Repulsed by her angry brother, Maggie Tulliver flees to the house attic, fantasizing that her family will fear that she has died. Little Dorrit withdraws from the common space of the Marshalsea into her private room above the prison, and Little Nell hides behind trees and walls, silently observing clandestine meetings. Finally the seven-year-old Alice falls down a rabbit-hole into a Wonderland, the dreamspace of her own psyche.
Of these images, none can be more embedded in our cultural imagination than the child Alice dropping into the subterranean well of Wonderland. Indeed, of the many celebrated scenes in the Alice narratives, the most...
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SOURCE: Sigler, Carolyn. Introduction to Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice Books: An Anthology, pp. xi-xxiii. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.
[In the following essay, Sigler provides an overview of the critical reception of the Alice stories over the last century and discusses Carroll's contributions to literary modernism.]
It may be thought that in introducing a certain little lady ALICEnce has been taken. But royal personages are public property.
—Jean Jambon, Our Trip to Blundertown (1876)
Alternative Alices brings together some of the most lively and original of the almost two hundred literary imitations, revisions, and parodies of Lewis Carroll's enduringly influential Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Produced between 1869 and 1930, the works represented here do not passively imitate Carroll, but trace the extraordinarily coherent, creative, and often critical responses to the Alice novels.
The Alice imitations of this period embody the golden age of Carroll's influence on popular literature. They are associated in the ways they all adapt the structures, motifs, and themes of the original Alice books and respond to the issues they raise. These works are distinct from...
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SOURCE: Sewell, Elizabeth. “‘In the Midst of His Laughter and Glee’: Nonsense and Nothingness in Lewis Carroll.” Soundings 82, nos. 3-4 (fall-winter 1999): 541-71.
[In the following excerpt, Sewell explores the themes of death and nothingness in The Hunting of the Snark and “Three Voices.”]
“Nonsense is how the English choose to take their Poésie pure.”
This sentence in one form or another keeps turning up in my pursuit of French poetry and of Nonsense over the last fifty years. I meant it originally as something of a squib, but it organized the contents of my first work of criticism, The Structure of Poetry, which dealt with that high priest of Pure Poetry, Stéphane Mallarmé, and of my second such book, The Field of Nonsense, dealing with Lewis Carroll. In the latter I cite Walter de la Mare as putting Nonsense and Pure Poetry side by side in his Lewis Carroll.
Perhaps our present date on the calendar is propitious for taking this further. We have reached and passed the centennial mark from the year, 1898, when both these men died, Dodgson-Carroll at the age of sixty-six, Mallarmé at fifty-six. Already creeps in a kind of symmetry between them, of which there is more to come. Since their deaths, each has been subject to a surge of attention and publicity. Indeed, each has become something of a cult figure,...
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SOURCE: Irwin, Michael. “Alice: Reflections and Relativities.” In Rereading Victorian Fiction, edited by Alice Jenkins and Juliet John, pp. 115-28. Houndmills, England: Palgrave, 2000.
[In the following essay, Irwin explores the theme of instability in the Alice stories.]
The Alice books are centrally concerned with instability. In Wonderland the heroine suffers alarming shifts of size. In Through the Looking-Glass (1871) there is much straightforward physical disequilibrium. When the White Knight is sliding down the poker Alice notes that ‘he balances very badly’.1 He and the Red Knight repeatedly fall off their horses. Humpty-Dumpty is doomed to tumble from his wall and defy re-assemblage. In both stories there are strange translations and dissolutions. The Cheshire Cat vanishes and reappears. A baby becomes a pig. The White Queen turns into a sheep, the Red Queen into a kitten. Everyday assumptions about the workings of time, direction, language and personal identity are called into question.
The work itself—the two Alice books considered as a single entity—partakes of this precariousness and advertises the fact that it does so. It casts doubt on its own origins and status through a variety of self-descriptive paradoxes, ambiguities, dualities and circularities. Much of Carroll's subject matter has been assembled rather than...
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SOURCE: Ashbourne, M. S. “The Cheshire-Cat: Sign of Signs.” Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics and Semiotic Analysis 6, no. 1 (spring 2001): 79-106.
[In the following essay, Ashbourne examines the semiotic implications of the Cheshire Cat in the Alice stories.]
On January 14, 1898, Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, died at the age of 65 years, leaving the world to grieve the loss of one of its most gifted writers of books for children. Both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (hereinafter: Wonderland) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (hereinafter: Looking Glass) are considered to be childhood classics, although some believe that “the time is past when a child under fifteen, even in England, can read Alice with the same delight as gained from, say, The Wind in the Willows or The Wizard of Oz. It is only because adults—scientists and mathematicians in particular—continue to relish the Alice books that they are assured of immortality” (Gardner 1998:7, 8). Whether one agrees with this view or not, one might hasten to add that the Alice books also could be appreciated by other non-mathematical and non-scientific audiences consisting of semioticians of virtually every persuasion, for the Alice stories are about unique signs signifying, and for this reason, children—born semioticians—of all ages and...
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SOURCE: Silverstone, Ben. “Children, Monsters, and Words in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.” Cambridge Quarterly 30, no. 4 (2001): 319-56.
[In the following essay, Silverstone discusses the similarities between the unconventional language employed by Carroll in his fiction and the “speculative morphologies” practiced by children as they master the rules of language.]
In the preface to the fourth edition of his Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Walter Skeat acknowledges a debt to an earlier lexicographer: ‘I have also made some use of the curious book on Folk-Etymology by the Rev. A. S. Palmer, which is full of erudition and contains a large number of most useful and exact references.’1 It was Skeat's work, not Palmer's, that proved to be the more valuable resource for the editors of the nascent OED, but this minor dictionary is significant in its own way. As Palmer himself points out, it is the first extended study in English of ‘folk-etymology’, after Andressen's Deutsche Volketymologie. ‘By folk-etymology’, Palmer explains,
is meant the influence exercised upon words … by the popular use and misuse of them. In a special sense, it is intended to denote the corruption which words undergo, owing either to false ideas about their derivation, or a mistaken...
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Demurova, Nina M. “Alice Speaks Russian: The Russian Translations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.” Harvard Library Bulletin 5, no. 4 (winter 1994-95): 11-29.
Compares the various Russian translations of Carroll's most famous books.
Pennington, John. “Alice at the Back of the North Wind, Or the Metafictions of Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald.” Extrapolation 33, no. 1 (spring 1992): 59-72.
Discusses the influence Carroll and MacDonald had on each other's writing.
Robson, Catherine. Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, 250 p.
Discusses the male Victorian author's depiction of girlhood, which often bordered on idolization, and the possible motives for the promotion of this ideal. The book also examines the decline of this trend due to public outcry regarding child labor and related social ills.
Additional coverage of Carroll's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: British Writers, Vol. 5; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 2, 18; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 18, 163, 178; DISCovering Authors; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource...
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