How does the novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland represent the era? How does the author Lewis Carroll represent the era in this novel?

Expert Answers
droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answers above detail some of the ways in which the Victorian era is reflected—and diffracted—through the lens that is Wonderland. The idea of Wonderland as a surreal reflection of real life is made still more explicit in the sequel, Through the Looking-glass, but we see this idea clearly in the first novel too. 

There are two significant figures in Wonderland, not yet mentioned by other educators, which speak to key Victorian archetypes: these are the Caterpillar and the White Rabbit. The Caterpillar, with his louche philosophy, his hookah, and his lazily cryptic utterances, is a parody of the so-called "aesthete": in around the 1860s, this effete figure—borrowing philosophies from the East, visiting Turkish bathhouse,s and smoking opium—began to emerge in Victorian society, and also to be parodied in the newspapers. The ultimate end of this aesthetic trend lay in the philosophies of Oscar Wilde, via Walter Pater: the Caterpillar would have been recognized as an illustration of this archetype. 

The White Rabbit, secondly, in his waistcoat, tie and pocket watch, continually late for something and yet unsure of what the thing may be, can be read as a depiction of the harried Victorian businessman—the business class being now emergent in a way society had never seen before—as viewed through the eyes of a child such as Alice. Where is everyone's father in such a hurry to get to? And why is he so harried at all times—unless because he feels trapped in a topsy-turvy world and is afraid of erratic authority? The novel plays with, but of course does not ultimately answer, these questions. 

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The early Victorian era marked the emergence of a large middle-class society for the first time in the history of the Western world. With this middle-class population came a spread of - "family values": polite society avoided mentioning sex, sexual passions, bodily functions, and in extreme cases, body parts.  By the 1860s, the result, for most people, was a kind of stiff and gloomy prudery marked by a feeling that freedom and enjoyment of life were sinful and only to be indulged in at the risk of immorality. 

The tone for the late Victorian age was set by Queen Victoria herself. She had always been a very serious and self-important person from the time she took the throne at the age of eighteen. This emphasis on manners and good breeding is reflected in Alice's adventures. She is always apologetic when she discovers she has offended someone, and she scolds the March Hare for his rude behavior. Nevertheless, Carroll seems to share the view that childhood was a golden period in a person's life.  On the other hand, Alice's own experiences suggest that Carroll felt that children's feelings and emotions were fully as complex as any adult emotions. By the end of the novel, she is directly contradicting adults; when she tells the Queen "Stuff and nonsense!" she is acting contrary to Victorian dictates of proper children's behavior.

merehughes eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel when Alice falls down the rabbit hole, the entire Victorian world is set upside down.  The ordered Victorian world which young Alice inhabits is made systematically disordered by her journey down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. The Victorian world was for example particularity interested in assigning scientific laws to the world.  So in the novel, Carroll plays with these ideas.  We see that the laws of nature as defined have no relevance here.  Time is irrelevant and the physical world around her no longer obeys the laws of physics.

Politically, Carroll plays around with the notion of an irrational ruler in a time in which Queen Victoria represented a strong adn stable government. Socially people or animals also do not inhabit traditional Victorian roles.  The rabbit has a young girl as a servant, a caterpillar is cryptically wise.  All of this inversion represents values and ideas that were dear to the average Victorian.

Lewis Carroll himself is a typical Victorian in his career choice, he was a mathematician however, he is also a contradiction as he was an avid photographer and a writer, thereby embodying two somewhat opposites at once just like his fictional world. 

Read the study guide:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question