Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Critical Overview
by Lewis Carroll

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

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In part because of its popularity with children and in part because of the fascination it has for adults, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has become one of the most widely-interpreted pieces of literature ever produced. Victorians praised Lewis Carroll's word-play and brilliant use of language. Critics after his death found psychological clues to Carroll's own subconscious in the book's curious dream-structure and the strange and often hostile creatures of Wonderland. During the 1960s, many young people read the book as a commentary on the contemporary drug culture. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There , still fascinate critics, who continue to find new readings and new meanings in Carroll's stories for children.

Early reviews of the novel on its original release in 1865 concentrated on Carroll's skills at invention and his ability as a molder of words. They mentioned his parodies, his use of language, and his literary style. According to Morton N. Cohen in his critical biography Lewis Carroll, the noted poets Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti both praised the book in private letters to the author. Novelist Henry Kingsley thanked Carroll for his copy, saying "I received it in bed in the morning, and in spite of threats and persuasions, in bed I stayed until I had read every word of it. I could pay you no higher compliment … than confessing that I could not stop reading … till I had finished it. The fancy of the whole thing is delicious… Your versification is a gift I envy you very much." "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was widely reviewed," notes Cohen, "and earned almost unconditional praise." Important newspapers and magazines, including the Reader and the Press commended the story's humor and its style. "The Publisher's Circular," asserts Cohen, "… selected it as 'the most original and the most charming' of the two hundred books for children sent them that year; the Bookseller … was 'delighted…. A more original fairy tale … it has not lately been our good fortune to read'; and the Guardian ….. judged the 'nonsense so graceful and so full of humour that one can hardly help reading it through.'" An anonymous review in the " Children's Books" section of The Athenaeum magazine (reprinted in Robert Phillips' s Aspects of Alice) was an exception to the general praise the work received. The reviewer declared that "Mr. Carroll has labored hard to heap together strange adventures and heterogeneous combinations, and we acknowledge the hard labor… We fancy that any real child might be more puzzled than enchanted by this stiff, overwrought story."

After Carroll's death in 1898, critics expanded the number and type of their readings of the Alice books. They analyzed the stories from many points of view—political, philosophical, metaphysical, and psychoanalytic—often evaluating the tales as products of Dodgson's neuroses and as reactions to Victorian culture. Because of the nightmarish qualities of Alice's adventures and their violent, even sadistic, elements, a few critics have suggested that the books are not really suitable for children. "We have also been bombarded by a horde of wild surmises," declares Cohen, "mostly from the psychological detectives determined to unlock deep motives in the man and to discover hidden meanings in the books. These analysts sometimes...

(The entire section is 834 words.)