Lewis Carroll

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Lewis Carroll Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Lewis Carroll’s first great contribution to children’s literature is that he freed it from the heavy didacticism of previous children’s books. The second is his legitimating of nonsense in children’s literature, though in this claim he is preceded by fellow Victorian Edward Lear, whose A Book of Nonsense (1846) preceded the Alice books by two decades. It is perhaps in his nonsense that one can see the connection between Reverend Dodgson, the mathematician, and Lewis Carroll, the writer. Nonsense is self-referential; that is, it lacks “sense,” if sense means a relationship to the world outside the work of nonsense. It is thus like certain mathematical systems or logic games. Carroll’s works are in fact games, which is one of the reasons for their appeal to children.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s first novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, successfully creates and maintains a dream consciousness. Its dreamlike quality is revealed not merely in its conventional ending, with Alice waking up to discover her adventures in Wonderland were “all a dream”; its episodic movements are dreamlike in that one episode melts into the other and has no necessarily logical connection to the previous. Identities constantly shift: A baby turns into a pig; the Cheshire Cat fades away into a grin. Because the logic of dreams, like the logic of Wonderland, is closed, internal, and self-referential, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland resists interpretations that attempt to “explain” the novel by connecting its elements to structures outside it, such as biographical, historical, psychoanalytic, or political interpretations.

The story begins with Alice drowsing while her sister reads a boring book. Alice’s attention is arrested by a white rabbit, which she follows, only to fall down a rabbit hole, where she finds a world where nothing is like the world she left. When she eats and drinks the Wonderland foods, she changes drastically in size, becoming small as a mouse, then large as a house. When small, she finds her way into a garden, where she meets a caterpillar, rescues a baby from a mean duchess, attends a mad tea party, plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts, listens to a mock turtle’s life story, and attends the trial of the Knave of Hearts. When the angry subjects of the Queen rush at Alice, she awakens to find them to be only, in the real world, falling leaves.

The novel is narrated in the third person, but with limited omniscience, allowing the reader to view Wonderland from Alice’s perspective. The creation of the Alice character (though it must be remembered that she is modeled on a real girl of the author’s acquaintance) is one of Carroll’s most stunning achievements. It is seen immediately in the opening paragraph, which presents her thoughts as she peers into a book her sister is reading; the book bores her because it has no pictures or conversations. This is clearly a child’s perspective. Even Alice’s precipitous changes in size reflect the point of view of children who are given contradictory messages: that they are too big for some things and too little for others. Alice is the most fully realized of the characters in the book, all others being functionally flat. The flatness of the characters is essential to the humor of the book, particularly the slapstick elements, for the whimsy of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare dunking the Dormouse in a teapot is lost if we sympathize with the Dormouse as a real character with feelings.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Carroll’s second novel is a sequel to the first, with the same main character. This time the “wonderland” is the looking-glass world, the world one sees when one looks in a mirror, a reverse image of the real world. As a photographer who needed to visualize finished photographs from their negative images, Carroll had an intuitive understanding of the implications of a “reverse” world. The consciousness...

(The entire section is 1,327 words.)