A Chinese Alice Scholar Invites You To Judge: Is This An Illustration Of A Wedding?

One of the great mysteries of Lewis Carroll’s(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s life) is precisely what was his relationship with Alice Pleasance Liddell, Dean Liddell’s winsome daughter.  Glancing through Charles’s photographs, we see a young girl with short-cropped dark hair and piercing eyes.  There is a particularly striking picture of her as “The Beggar Maid” in torn costume with somewhat downcast eyes.  Tenniel, of course, drew Alice as light-haired in both of the Alice books.  Was this to draw attention away from the real Alice.  Also, Alice in the two books never ages, while the real Alice Liddell aged from 13 to 19.

Alice was only 10 when Charles first told her and her sisters, Edith and Lorena, about Alice’s adventures underground.  It was Alice, herself, who insisted on Charles writing down his entertaining story.

Dodgson was a welcome guest at the Liddell’s home along with their governess, Miss Prickett.  He grew to know both her sisters and their friends.  But at some point, he was no longer welcome.  Unfortunately, there is no mention in his diaries as to the reason for the sudden change and that has led to much speculation.  Was Charles enamored of Alice?

In the concluding verse of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice is highlighted so that when the initial letters of each line are read downwards, her full name appears.  This last verse deals with the passage of time, and Alice was 19 at the time and no longer a young girl.  The references to the special boat trip in July of 1862 are particularly poignant:

Long has paled that sunny sky;

Echoes fade and memories die;

Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

Now enters a Chinese Alice scholar:  Howard Chang.  He is the writer of Well in the Rabbit Hole:  A New and Closer Look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Not being satisfied with several points made in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice:  The Definitive Edition, he asks us to look at a familiar Tenniel illustration of the awarding of a thimble to Alice by the Dodo.  Gardner saw the thimble as having to do with taxes that were taken and then returned as projects.  But Howard did not agree.  He did some research into Victorian customs, and found that the thimble was a common object for little girls(since they learned to do needle work when quite young) and was also the subject of a game:  Find the Thimble.  But, to Howard Chang, the thimble represents a wedding ring and he asks us to look at the illustration again with the following in mind:  Dodgson was a stutterer and often called himself Dodo;  the Duck was a pet name for the Rev. Robinson Duckworth;  the Lory and the Eaglet represent Alice’s two sisters, Lorena and Edith.  He argues that “the arrangement of the characters conforms perfectly to what we usually find in a wedding ring exchange ceremony.”  So, what do you think?  Is the illustration below a depiction of a wedding ceremony in disguise that shows Charles’s deep feelings for Alice?Alice 1

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

3 Responses to A Chinese Alice Scholar Invites You To Judge: Is This An Illustration Of A Wedding?

  1. teutah says:

    WOW I really enjoyed this article! I need to do some researching too!!

  2. rommel says:

    Very nice discoveries. I especially like the Alice name that you can read downwards. Cool post!

  3. Thank you, Rommel! I enjoyed posting it!

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