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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alice in Wonderland VII -- chapter 4: FETCH!

Lewis Carroll was a proponent and practitioner of "automatic writing," which indicates writing without planning ahead.  I've also heard it called, and myself call it, organic writing.  The approach seems fitting for the man, so intent as he was on remaining within his childhood and avoiding the general responsibilities and associations of adulthood.  Now along those lines, critics generally assert that the puppy in the second portion of this chapter is out of place, and that it must have wandered into Alice's dream (more on the dream in a moment) by mistake.  Also, they claim it's the only animal that interacts with Alice but doesn't speak (however, I think those critics have forgotten or ascribe a different standard to the baby who turns into a pig two chapters from now).  It doesn't require a lot of imagination to understand how Carroll, lost in a session of automatic writing, came up with the puppy and didn't give a second thought, at least in the moment, as to whether it did or didn't fit in Wonderland.  However, Carroll didn't submit the book for publication after his first draft.  He made a number of changes, including some additions and subtractions of lengthy substance.  From my limited perspective and even more limited expertise, I expect he could have easily removed the game of fetch with the puppy here and the story wouldn't have suffered.  The question then is why did he keep it?  I think it could be for reason of simple narrative fluidity.  Alice undergoes a significant experience at W. Rabbits house and is soon to undergo another with the Caterpillar in chapter 5.  The moment with the puppy is a respite for Alice and therefore a respite for us--a relatively stress-free interlude between two traumatic events.

Now about the dream (and the narration claims directly that Wonderland is a dream, as Alice escapes it only by waking up), and I'm just going to put this out there and invite your thoughts: It's not Alice's dream; it's Carroll's dream.

  1. A couple of simple notes:  "Mary Ann" was a common, generic nickname for a servant girl (also, there's a lot more slang usage ascribed to the name and its other forms, "Mary Anne" and "Marianne," many of which are period appropriate); ferrets were used for hunting rabbits.
  2. Alice's perspective of her relationship with W. Rabbit is interesting as it changes depending on her size. When she's small, she's intimidated by him; when she's large, she's utterly unconcerned.  What might this say about Alice and/or Carroll, or the latter's impressions of the former?
  3. With the new growth elixir, is Alice projecting her assumptions of Wonderland by past experience onto her present and causing an ordinary draught to do what it does, or does Carroll simply understand that he doesn't need her to have it labeled in order for her to drink it?  (Okay, that question was a syntactical mess!)
  4. Alice can't move about the house as she'd like, and it makes her uncomfortable, and she claims "It was much pleasanter at home."  The discomfort and the house being too small for her is, I think, a pretty typical issue for kids, especially as they mature.  They want to break free.  How can we reconcile Alice's feelings in Wonderland with her feelings in life in this case?  They don't align (Alice uncomfortable in a house that doesn't fit her now that she's grown in Wonderland, and Alice comfortable in a house in life despite her growth and development), unless maybe, though not exclusively, you place at least a little of Carroll into the Alice who's currently in Wonderland.  Thoughts?
  5. "Digging for apples" -- two possibilities (and W. Rabbit seems to understand neither): 1, in French, potatoes are apples of the earth; and 2, Irish apples was slang for Irish potatoes, and Pat is an Irish name, not to mention his likely Irish accent, also emphasized here as the Rabbit calls Pat a goose for his pronunciation of "arm."
  6. The next couple pages don't offer a lot to analyze, but just a perfectly narrated comic sequence.  This has always been one of my favorite scenes.
  7. Notice the continued mention of Dinah and her use as a tool of threat.
  8. Alice has not forgotten her goal to find the garden, and her plan to get there is perfectly childish: "neatly and simply arranged" and impractical, which is just as well as she won't get there anyway.
  9. Finally, notice how Alice wishes she could stick around play with the bigger, though still obviously young, puppy (and maybe this is why Carroll keeps it), yet it's just too big and dangerous, and she has to run away, no matter how she regrets leaving it behind.


  1. Hey, sorry, I temporarily fell a day behind.

    The dog is sort of an interesting exception. Does it not talk to Alice because it views her as prey initially? Also, automatic writing: I've only heard this in light of sort of supernatural connotations? Am I right, partially right, or completely wrong?

    2. And when she's big, she almost views him as a nuisance. I think that any kid can relate to this, the authority figure that when you grow up you eventually find out is just full of hot air.
    3. Wow, this is a difficult question. I don't know. I'd lean slightly to the former. There are little hints throughout the reading that once she embraces the weirdness, she can slightly possibly control it a bit more, like the one you pointed out about believing nothing to be, "really impossible," and her idea that, if she drinks something, something "interesting" will happen. But really your guess is as good as mine.
    4. Well, if she were at her real home, she would be the old size. So maybe she (subconsciously) longs to return to her former childhood?
    7. This is part of what makes me think that the dog is supposed to be somewhat scary. Kind of a, "It's not so funny now, is it?" moment now that she herself has shrunk.

  2. From what I understand, and as is the case with so many things, automatic writing has a variety of levels and intensities. Basically, it's writing from the subconscious--somehow tapping into it and letting it flow out through the pen to the page. While it wasn't labeled as such by him, Coleridge talked about this basic idea of writing from the subconscious as being the source for Kubla Kahn, which he indicated was the epitome of Romantic writing (inasmuch as Romantic writing is a process and focus, as much as the result). Apparently, and I just looked this up, Carroll has a reputed interest in the occult. Some speculate that this interest is the frame for understanding his unanswered riddle, "How is a raven like a writing desk?" Well, raven's a messengers between the land of the living and the dead, and automatic writing is a means by which one who is capable may also communicate with the dead, and, of course, if that person is writing at a desk.... Other critics ("serious" ones) claim there is no answer to the riddle, which is a playfulness all of its own, they claim, but I'm not so sure now. Anyway, I guess the real question comes down to what's the difference between automatic writing and stream of consciousness and "organic" writing? I believe they're all levels of the same thing, basically just writing extemporaneously, improvisationally. Psychiatrists use it all the time, it's the essence of much of art and music therapies....


    2. This is an issue she has with nearly all the creatures in Wonderland. The creatures are pretty much the adults. Wonderland is the world of adults as seen by children -- and Carroll.

    3. I expected you would lean to the former. I lean to the latter, only because I don't feel that she has much power at all. Maybe if she had some control over how--or which direction--it would change her, and there are the things that just surprise her, like the fan and like the little rocks. At the same time, if there's an omnipotence over Wonderland and its characters at the top, and then there's Carroll's own level of influence, why can't Alice also have a modicum of power? Perhaps it's a balance of the two.

    4. I think that's exactly it.

    7. And yet she continually refers to it with such "cuteness," but it seems, and supporting exactly what you said, to be a grabbed opportunity by Carroll to teach a friendly lesson. I expect him to be a lover of animals and clearly he's a supporter of looking at things from varied perspectives. Connecting this up to number 9, though, offers a duality. Via letters written to various of his child friends, Carroll expresses regret and concern against the children growing up, as they inevitably leave him, which is also the dominant source of remorse throughout "Looking Glass." She would like to stay with Carroll, who is bigger, but the society around them and even she herself as she grows sees potential for danger if she remains too close too long.

  3. The raven-to-writing-desk answer actually makes quite a bit of sense. I think that it's kind of naive just to assume that there's not an answer to the riddle. So much of what appears to be absurd in the book actually turns out to be serious, albeit through a fun house mirror. I don't see how one can be certain that this is different.
    3. I think that it's really interesting how many interpretations this book leaves itself open to. And I don't think either one of us would say that we've clinched the "correct" one.

  4. 3. I agree. I'm really eager to -- forgive me -- bring you into "Looking Glass," which I think is much more beautiful and poetic.

    When I read that possibility about the writing desk and the raven, it had that feel of authenticity that comes with the "right" answer. I don't have any problem acknowledging this as the potential winner, and certainly the most likely. Forget naive, I think the old way was a lazy cop-out. I've always been dissatisfied with the lack of solution. All the rest of his puzzles HAVE ANSWERS.


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