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

Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 2.

And, as the man began to speak, a strange thing happened.  Shock waves were felt in libraries across the world.  Strong winds blew books off the shelves.  And the moralizing, degrading, pompous tomes were cast into a literary black hole.  The Mary Martha Sherwoods, Sandford and Mertons, Anna Laetitia Barbaulds, faded into oblivion.  New books of beauty took their places.  The garden of childhood was opened to reveal an abundance of green carefree space, filled with toys, games and a treasure trove of waiting memories.  The man took the oars, and continued his tale, inspired by the gazing eyes of three young girls.  He was truly in his element.  And through a series of gestures, the twinkle in his eye, the wry smile that crossed his lips, he drew his listeners ever closer into his tale.  As he spun his story, the adult world, which had tyrannized children for centuries, was mocked, and turned on its head.  The hypocrisy, the insipid moralizing of adults, was transformed into utter nonsense, much to his young audience’s delight, who clapped their small hands and laughed for joy.  He even included the girls in his story and gave them parts like a dramatist.  He also borrowed from the outings they had shared:  tea parties, new rules for croquet, a pack of cards, magic tricks, picnics on the lawn.  The sound of the river strokes blended with the speaker’s soft voice…  The rain that delayed their journey the previous day had disappeared completely, although it reappeared in the continuing tale.  The narrator was also included in the story, but yielded to the presence of one Victorian girl.  It was she with dark cropped hair that had captivated Charles the most.  The far reaching eyes, the pensive mind, the girlish laughter.  He courted her in the only way he knew; through whimsy, playfulness and ineffable charm.  Like a conjurer, he opened the garden of childhood to Alice.  She was just the right age to enjoy the assault on the adult world and her own place in it.   Charles was brimming with ideas that spilled into the wonderland of his story.  The ideas came from mathematics, philosophy, politics, discussions he had with colleagues at Christ Church.  He had told stories before, but entranced by his eager audience, and enamored of Alice, he wove such a compelling tale that it ignited a revolution in literature and changed the concept of childhood forever.  Its iridescent glow peaked through the catacombs, and lit up the literary canvases of George MacDonald, Kenneth Grahame, L. Frank Baum and countless others extending the realm of the child still further…  Charles was unsuccessful in his courtship of Alice, and was ultimately banished from her home.  But, he gave her a special gift; that of literary immortality…

Charles with his two Alices

Charles with his two Alices