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Monday, February 21, 2011

Through the Looking Glass I -- AN INTRODUCTION TO THIS READING

"Lewis Carroll," by Hubert von Herkomer
If you followed along with the reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at all, you will have noticed a string of points and observations somewhat less typical than usual Alice inspections.  Of course, I can't resist the best of Carroll's jokes and observations, but my primary motive was (and so it will be for Looking-Glass) to look at Carroll's relationship with Alice as it appears in/through the text, which is often transparent in this regard, but periodically verging on opaque.  The frequency of such revelatory moments in Wonderland, however, is much less than it is in Looking-Glass, which, aside from being simply better written, is much deeper in it metaphors, pathos, and poetry.  And this makes sense.  While Wonderland was a write-up, at Alice Liddell's request (she was 10 at the time, despite her 7-year-old appearance in the book), of the stories Carroll frequently told the Liddell sisters on their outings, Looking-Glass was not motivated by request and rather gained its inspiration from a general downturn of Carroll's life.

Six years pass between the publication of the two books.  By this time, Carroll is no longer spending time at all with the Liddells (after a falling-out that began just the October after the summer outing which inspired Carroll's introductory poem, "All in the Golden Afternoon," as well as Alice's request to Carroll) and, more significantly in the moment, his father has recently died.  While I am not a Carrollian (not well-enough read), and my general scholarship abilities and opportunities often lacking (I'm stretched for time and often can't focus my literary energies for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time), I can say with some confidence that this latter turn for the worse (which subsequent emotions Carroll did not negotiate  at all well) is quite likely to have triggered a nostalgia for better times, which most certainly included a relapse of infatuation (asexual and of childish innocence) for Alice Liddell.  My primary evidence is, at best, weak, and would never be sufficient to merit the terms "conclusive proof," but stems from the beautiful and already-mentioned poetry of this second Alice book, as it holds up behind the actual events of the man's life.

As before, I'm not planning on spending inordinate amounts of time and space (though such is certainly possible, and has been done by tens of thousands of others) on all the typical footnotes available (see Martin Gardner's annotations, which are excellent, by the way, and upon which I frequently rely for assembling many of my questions and observations).  However, while my object is found (hopefully) on a deeper, more subjective/speculative level, there are a lot of footnotes that are simply indispensable, either because they're just so much fun, necessary for understanding the Victorian context, or otherwise fundamental in "getting" the questions I post.

TWO NOTES ON THE "READING QUESTIONS":  1 -- the questions I post are not always questions, but often quotations or descriptions from the text which I find interesting or leading and merit discussion; 2 -- I don't always know the answers or if even such answers are possible or exist, and hope the discussion will lead toward satisfactory conclusions.

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