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Friday, February 18, 2011

Alice in Wonderland XIV -- chapter 10: STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

I've said before that this isn't my favorite chapter, and I hope Alice found it tremendously entertaining, else for my money it's a relative failure (by comparison, and all old grudges left aside, I find far less of value here than in "The Caucus Race," which I finally recognize to have failed for years to adequately appreciate).  As entertainment--silliness for silly's sake--there's not much here for the modern reader, and little more than mockery of lessons for its once-readers; regarding substance, there may be something to parse from it, but, well ... I'll be honest with myself: there's little more than none, and only very slightly more than the offering of respite from the lunatic gravity of the Court.  Thoughts?
  1. "Alice began to say 'I once tasted--' but checked herself hastily, and said 'No, never':  Is this a hint of character arc after all, albeit rather weak (see the 3rd and 4th comments HERE)?
  2. Carroll's relationship with dancing was a little like his relationship with any given Institution--or at least the "World of Grownups"; he generally recoiled from the constraints of rules and did what he wanted, or otherwise mocked it later.
  3. Once again, what do you make of the relationship between the source poetry, "The Spider and the Fly," and the parody?
  4. Earlier in the book, Alice went with a "porpoise."  What is it now?  (Of course, this answer depends at least somewhat upon whether or not you believe she has found the Garden.)
  5. What do you make of Alice's line, "I could tell you my adventures--beginning from this morning, but it's no used going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then"?  
The Spider and the Fly
by Mary Howitt
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly.
"'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair;
And I've got many curious things to show you when you are there."
"On, no, no," said the little fly, "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

* Carroll's spin is not the same poem that appeared in the original manuscript.

The Sluggard
by Isaac Watts

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have wak'd me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,"
This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading.

Star of the Evening
by James M. Sayles
Beautiful star in heav'n so bright,
Softly falls they silv'ry light,
As thou movest from earth afar,
Star of the evening, Beautiful star.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

In Fancy's eye thou seem'st to say,
Follow me. come from earth away.
Upward thy spirit's pinions try,
To realms of love beyond the sky.

Shine on, oh star of love divine,
And may our soul's affection twine
Around thee as thou movest afar,
Star of the twilight, beautiful star.

* This song (yes, it was a song originally, and with music also by the same) was sung to Carroll by the Liddell sisters on August 1, 1862, as he records in his journal.  While I can't find much to be had by a cross-comparison between the original and the parody, I think there is significance somewhere between the nostalgic significance of the original and the manner in which its parody is sung by the Mock Turtle.  Additionally, consider the following:

On stars "Beautiful Star" is the second of two star songs mimicked by Carroll.  Recognizing simply that Carroll uses them at all (and his nostalgia connects more firmly to this second than the first) and what those originals may have meant for him, I can't conscionably employ "lampoon" to label his new renditions (I don't have any problem, however, labeling Carroll's rewrites of Watts' stuff as total derisive mockery).  I'll skip all the rhetoric: What if the central symbol of both, the star, is Alice?  Examine these two poems in their entirety and assume this metaphor.

The other star poem, whose original I failed to quote, shows up in "A Mad Tea-Party":

The Star
by Jane Taylor
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark:
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.


  1. I don't know. I kind of enjoyed it. Maybe there's not a whole lot of merit to it, but I think that if everything has to have a direction, or "porpoise," if you will, that's kind of against the point of the book. I also thought that there was a very revealing section here:

    "I should like to have it explained," said the Mock Turtle."
    "She can't explain it," said the Gryphon hastily. "Go on with the next verse."
    "But about his toes?" the Mock Turtle persisted. "How could he turn them out with his nose, you know?"

    This is the entire book in a nutshell. The "hasty" reader, like the ones that I ran into at AU the other day, are not going to realize that there's a much deeper layer behind the nonsense of the book. It takes someone who mulls things over for a long time like the Mock Turtle. Now, does that redeem an entire chapter? Probably not, but I think that it's a really interesting point in which Carroll anticipates that not everyone is going to "get" his book.

    1. Arg, I hate being wrong, but yes, it certainly is a bit of a change. Notice also in her poem, she drops off the ending of, "While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,/And concluded the banquet by----", which is almost surely, "eating the owl." Why does she not say this? Probably not to offend the Gryphon, which has the head of a similar bird, the eagle. Also, it's another example of violence beneath the surface in this book. Yikes.
    3. Doesn't make the dance sound so innocuous anymore, does it?
    4. Is there a purpose? I'm detecting a bit of nihilism in this story.
    5. I still don't think that ALICE has fundamentally changed. I think that her context has changed. But maybe if the context changes, that DOES change an individual within it?

    Stars: I'm willing to buy that. So he's feeling a sort of weeping nostalgia for Alice.

  2. Alright! Thrilled that you noticed what I didn't. I'm regularly surprised by the new stuff I'm finding on this pass through. And even the questions I asked, if they have answers at all, indicate there's more to the chapter than I ever gave it initial credit for. Regardless, it's not the DEEPEST chapter, but it is a perfect type, as you point out, for what the book is really all about.

    1. I don't think you're wrong. I'm just not sure you're right. I don't know if she changes, and it's still wide open. In the poem, by the way, there have been "games" for contestants to contribute possible endings: "wiping his jowl," "giving a howl," and "donning a cowl" are my favorites. Essentially though, and in context, is must only be "eating the owl," which fits with the other general darkness of the book. I think there's a hint of foreknowledge in Carroll: he knows the future of his relationship with Alice is doomed.
    3. I really love the play between the two poems here.
    4. Agreed, and it supports the doom I mention just above.
    5. If she does indeed change, I think it's fairly trivial--not the point.

    The poetic value of the Stars to Carroll will come through more strongly, at least inasmuch as Alice has meant so much to him, when we get to "Looking-Glass." And, yes, once she is no longer available to him, he indeed weeps--pines.


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