34 Readers
17 Sages

shell pebble

Escaping the underfed imagination

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass - Lewis Carroll, John Tenniel, Hugh Haughton

To speak in broad unresearched sweeps, in many ways I think the Victorian era marks a nadir in British history. The miserable Queen and pitiless Empress instituted misery at home and imposed it abroad along with death and dehumanisation. Architecture was shoddy and parochial. Theatre was shoddy and parochial. Science and technology surged ahead, which is generally good, but not so much when pressed into the service of unrestrained libertarian capitalism in a country with no welfare system.

So if I was trying to write literature at the time, I'd probably write some sort of fantasy to escape from the whole prim, grim & buttoned down mess. I've got a whole book of Victorian fairytales and it's interesting to see how they mirror Victorian life and thought - if anyone has read a book on this do recommend. A.S.Byatt's The Children's Book really made the most of the era as far as I'm concerned... Anyway, Carroll's fantasy couldn't be more of its time (perhaps Alice has constructed our view of the Victorians) with its crisp wordy style that is so unchildlike, and a very adult little girl, and many strange creatures and people acting out stereotyped roles, and Alice's morals & manners are as Victorian as can be.

I have a residual affection for Carroll's exuberant nonsense, but I struggle to be interested in the whole work. I think that it is of its time - Woolf felt it connected her to the open-mindedness and curiosity of childhood, but nothing in it resembles my own experience of growing up, and I wonder if people still feel as Woolf did, or if Alice's enduring appeal stems from another source... I wonder if it will wither out of popular culture in a post-Freudian age, because the anarchy of talking, singing beasts and hallucinogenic potions feeds a hunger for psychological exploration that is no longer so keen - we are not so underfed these days!