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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alice in Wonderland IV -- chapter 2: JUST KEEP SWIMMING

  1. Unavoidable, but highly speculative: in extension of yesterday's brief discussion on Alice's growth as representation of real world growth through childhood and adolescence (the idea (and that as supposedly subconscious inclusion by Carroll) and its connection to Tenniel's illustrations are credited to Richard Ellmann and Selwyn Goodacre, respectively) and in tandem with the odd conjoining (meta-story: they are one and yet separate) of story-Alice and Carroll (who is not exclusively the same as Dodgson), this growth away from her feet could be looked at as further evidence of predicted separation anxiety on the part of Carroll.  Alice will grow up and away from Carroll, who will miss her--and misses her terribly--once it finally happens.
  2. The attribution of the male "Esquire" to this girl's foot may come Latinate languages' (French, of course, is most likely in this case) masculine gender pie or ped for foot--pied in French.
  3. What of the rabbit, symbolically speaking and as contrast/foil to Alice?  Carroll intended him to be "elderly, timid, feeble, [and] nervously shilly-shallying" (from Carroll's "Alice on the Stage").
  4. "...'Who in the world am I?'  Ah, that's the great puzzle!"
  5. Math puzzle!  (Hint: the secret is in the bases.)
  6. Many of the poems that show up in Alice are parodies of popular rhymes of the time.  Certainly they're better in contrast against the originals than alone.  Copied below is Isaac Watt's poem "Against Idleness and Mischief" (aren't you glad you didn't have to memorize these for "lessons"?).  What interests me here is not the fun (though tremendous fun it is) of Carroll's parody, but his placing it into the mouth of poor and now much frustrated Alice.  This is another change wrought upon her without her foreknowledge or consent.  I just can't let myself believe that it's simply some bizarre symptom of Wonderland on the brain, but an effect of its creator; but why then, if he's so fond of Alice, would Carroll do this to her, for she clearly is uncomfortable with it?  Thoughts?  (While reversals are a common and influential motif in Looking Glass such is not the case for Wonderland.)
  7. The notion of swimming in tears has always repulsed me.
  8. I wonder if Carroll was ever concerned that he might be smothering Alice, or that he maybe worried that others might have thought so.  Thankfully, in Wonderland, Alice survives the sea of tears.  Are they exclusively hers (okay, that beggars an obvious answer: Carroll, of course; but what of it?)?
  9. (Not an issue for this reading: an alternative approach to this book could easily be that of inter-lingual translation.  Supposedly the mouse came from a childish misreading of "muse" in the brother's Latin grammar book, and then the subsequent faux pas of cat and mouse, not to mention (what a stupid colloquialism: "not to mention," when it's always followed by the very this it claims will not go mentioned) the foot from earlier.)
  10. Interested in John Tenniel and political humor?  Well, lucky you, they go right together!  Tenniel illustrated a political cartoon in the magazine, "Punch."  Search for some of the cartoons online; they're hilarious.
  11. Carroll makes his first visible appearance here at the end of chapter 2 as the Dodo.  Dodgson (have I even mentioned that Lewis Carroll is the pen name for Charles Dodgson?) stuttered and was labeled by himself and others "Dodo-Dodgson").  The other members of the party at the shore are Reverand Robinson Duckworth as, duh, the duck; Alice's older sister, Lorina, as the Lory; and her little sister, Edith, as the Eaglet.

Against Idleness and Mischief
by Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

If you have questions about jargon or context through any of the passages, just post a comment and I'll find the answer for you.


  1. 1. Carrying this speculation further: But in reality, what she doesn't realize is that she still CAN touch her feet because the rest of her body will also grow in proportion. Does that mean that she still would be able to reach Carroll despite the initial doubt?
    2. Indeed it is also masculine in Spanish and German (although the second isn't Latin). What about Italian?
    3. He's busy. She's bored. He's grown up. She's still a child. I think that he may be a hint that Alice needs to stop trying so hard to grow up because then she'll end up a wreck like he is.
    4. LOVED THIS LINE. It fits perfectly with my Contemporary Political Thought readings for today on existentialism. LOL
    5. I cheated and looked it up. Do you think there's any significance to the fact that he starts at 18 and goes up by 3s, or is it just a bit of arbitrariness?
    6. Just a guess: All of these "symptoms", especially the last poem, which is the most pedagogical, are designed to make a child, well, less childlike and more grown-up. Maybe he resents this.
    7. Just like saltwater, I'd imagine.
    8. That's really interesting, especially given the fact that, if she were 2 feet tall, there is no way that a 9 foot person possibly could have cried enough tears for her to swim in.
    9. Yeah, I agree, and I think that Carroll is somewhat ahead of the times in that he goes to extraordinary lengths to show just how arbitrary words are in general.
    10. I'll be looking at this later.
    11. Brilliant. Thanks!

    I was wondering if you had any idea or had read something about what she is doing with the capitals. The other 2 don't come out of nowhere and are quite logical at some level, so I think that there must be a trick here. I've come up with this: perhaps London was the "capital of Paris" during the Hundred Years' War, and maybe Paris being the capital of Rome refers to the Papacy's inclination to French interests during the Avignon Papacy? I'm really grasping at straws here.

  2. 1 – There’s actually room for doubt (and it’s an unsurprisingly hot topic) because the description says she stretches out like a telescope, and all of Tenniel’s illustrations were approved be Carroll before publication. However, later illustrations indicate a more natural, proportional increase. Alice is by no means a reliable narrator, but between her own observation of the distance head-to-toe and Tenniel’s approved picture, I tend to lean toward Alice’s description of her size—feet out of reach.

    2 – Masculine in Italian.

    4 – I love cross-textual connections!

    5 – Carroll’s thing, aside from photography (for which he was quite literally (literally literal) a pioneer) and writing, was math. There are other mathematics puzzles. I agree fully with the increases bases by threes.

    6 – I think you’re right on. He has a very Peter Pan attitude.

    7 – Weird, I know. I’m usually totally ambivalent toward things like this. I think it’s something seeded deep. Tears in small amounts, no problem; I deal with them all the time. A lake of them…. Go figure. I’m irrational!

    8 – The only problem I have with this is that at the writing of Alice, Carroll had no particular reason to cry, so they shouldn’t be his tears. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I think it just hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake. (It’s in Looking Glass that he mourns her loss, as she’s been removed from him by her parents.)

    9 – Just wait until we get to Humpty Dumpty! There is some serious word play!

    As far as the capitals are concerned, I can’t find anything that appears legitimate for interpretation. I’ve dug and dug myself, but Carroll’s “thing” was never geography, and there are no other particularly geographic or historic issues at hand. Tenniel plays with politics through some of his illustrations. The monkey that shows up in the pictures of the caucus race is some political figure he lampoons in his “Punch” cartoons. However, there’s a particularly “out-there” socio-political reading (it would actually fall under, I believe, the classical Marxist category of literary interpretation) where, for example, the empty marmalade jar represents Calvinist theory or something…. I’ve got that info somewhere, I’ll put it up if you’re interested. The reason why it’s generally considered absurd is that Carroll, again, wasn’t all that into this stuff. He was necessarily any less interested (or more disinterested) than anyone else, it just didn’t preoccupy him like his other hobbies.

  3. (Have you noticed that Blogger doesn't seem to be calling us out any longer on comments that are "too long"?)

  4. Yeah, I just thought about the length issue earlier today when I made my first post.

    The Marxist thing is really interesting. What I have noticed is that people often insert their own political feelings into interpretations of literature. Whenever one of my libertarian friends read a book, they think that it's an endorsement of their politics, no matter how tangential the connection is, or what the known politics of the author are.

    1. Yeah, I noticed that in the illustration, too, and hesitated to make the comment.

  5. 1 -- Like I said, it's not an uncommon way to look at it, and I actually favored it until this time through.


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