Lewis Carroll’s Adventures In His Own Wonderland

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“Be what you would seem to be – or, if you’d like it put more simply – never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that  what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” – Lewis Carroll (“Lewis Carroll quotes”).
If one has read the works of Lewis Carroll or has heard about his unusual lifestyle patterns, he or she would know that Carroll is quite out of the ordinary. The quote above is just one example of his mindset throughout much of his life. Many people who knew him found that he was a secluded, dull man with childish ways and very little social skills. Others found him to be an eccentric, fascinating man with much to inform the world about. Either way, he was known for using his writing as an outlet of his feelings about the world around him. Carroll reflected many aspects of his own life in his most famous stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
Born on January 27, 1832 in Daresbury, Cheshire, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson  was a shy young boy who had developed a noticeable stammer and was deaf in his left ear (Bloom 105). He was educated at Rugby School and Christ Church in Oxford throughout his adolescence (“Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge” 229). Charles took on many different professions, such as: clergyman, novelist, mathematician, poet, photographer, and professor. In 1856, he began writing humorous pieces for journals with the now-famous pen name, Lewis Carroll (“Carroll, Lewis” 633). Although many people found him boring, Carroll was famous for his many inventions: various gadgets, puzzles, riddles, games, and mathematics. He suffered from insomnia, but claimed to invent things in order to keep his mind busy during the nights that he could not sleep (Bloom 105).
Carroll had, what most would now call, an extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder. For over 40 years, he kept a record of all of his dinner parties, including the seating arrangements and the menus. He often invited little girls and ladies to dinner, but instructed them to leave their brothers and husbands at home. He deeply disliked little boys and often felt the need to remain seated in church until the boy’s choir had passed, as not to make them “become conceited” (Bloom 107). Carroll developed an interest in photography, but his pictures of nude children, along with his intimate friendships with young girls, brought up much speculation (“Carroll, Lewis” 633-634). Carroll felt that his fondness of young girls and his photographing them in the nude was a completely innocent admiration of their charms (Gardner “Introduction” Vii).
Carroll was captivated by young girls, but he was infatuated romantically with one certain young girl. While in Oxford, Carroll became close to Alice Liddell, 10 year old daughter of the dean of Christ Church, Henry George Liddell. After spending much time together, Alice and her two sisters, Edith and Lorina, accompanied Carroll on a boat ride in July of  1862. It was here that he first told the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice asked him to write the story out for her and he did so, first calling it Alice’s Adventures Underground. He later expanded it and had a popular political cartoonist, John Tenniel, illustrate it for him. The success of this book inspired Carroll to write the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (“Carroll, Lewis” 633-634)
Carroll later approached Mrs. Liddell with a suggestion that he wished to marry Alice someday. Acknowledging the tremendous age difference between Carroll and young Alice, the marriage suggestion made Mrs. Liddell suspicious and she then decided that Carroll should stop seeing Alice. She later burned all of Carroll’s early letters to Alice (Gardner “Introduction” Vii). “He never fully recovered from the pain that accompanied the severance of their relationship, and… for years he went on dedicating the fruits of literary labors to her and her alone.” -Anne Clark (Bloom 173).
To write the two stories, Carroll brought together his eccentric personal characteristics and opinions with his love of young children and childhood altogether (“Carroll, Lewis” 633). Although an adult himself, Carroll despised the “adult world”. He often found that the boring world of an adult made it difficult to be an artist (635). Carroll’s character Alice is often portrayed as his “twin in mythology”. She embodies the innocence and fresh outlook of childhood. The characters she meets depict adults with their tyrannical, pretentious, and often wildly illogical actions and conversation (“Lewis Carroll” 90). At the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a passage reads:
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of     her voice.
Nobody moved.     
“Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her     full size by this time).     
“You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” (Carroll Alice’s      Adventures in Wonderland 116).
Through this, Alice sees the adult-like characters for what they truly are, a pack of cards that can easily be dealt with. This passage could be seen as Alice’s rejection of the chaos that dominates Wonderland (Carroll’s rejection of the “adult world”) or as a step in Alice’s growing up  and having to leave sweet childhood for boring and bland adulthood (Alice Liddell‘s growing up and marrying; Carroll having to cope with the loss of his love) (“Lewis Carroll” 90). One purpose of Alice as a “heroine” in each of the stories is that she is a symbol of the free and independent mind; a child who has not yet been put wrong by civilization, when all adults have been (“Carroll, Lewis” 636). Many of the themes critics have noticed in Carroll’s stories have much to do with going against the ways of the “adult world”. Such themes found include: the anxiety caused by growing up and impending sexuality; the eternal conflict between children and adults; the absurdities of Victorian morality (“Lewis Carroll” 90).
There is much more symbolism to be found between Carroll’s real life and his Wonderland setting in the two Alice stories. A poem entitled “Golden Afternoon” is a reference to the day in July 1862 when Carroll took Alice and her sisters on the boat ride and entertained them with the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Gardner Annotated Alice 21). Carroll’s character Alice has a cat named Dinah, which was the name of the Liddell’s family cat (Gardner Annotated Alice 28). Critic Shane Leslie finds a secret history of the religious controversies of Victorian England in Carroll’s stories. Leslie finds the following parallels:
“A jar of orange marmalade equals a symbol of Protestantism (William of Orange); the battle of the White and Red Knights is the famous clash of Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce; the blue caterpillar is Benjamin Jowett; the White Queen is Cardinal John Henry Newman; the Red Queen is Cardinal Henry Manning; the Cheshire Cat is Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman (as well as a reference to Carroll’s birthplace); the Jabberwocky ‘can only be a fearsome representation of the British view of the Papacy’” (Gardner Annotated Alice 2).
Even more symbolism can be found in the fact that Carroll liked animals, especially cats, and most of his characters in the Alice stories are animals. These include the Cheshire Cat, Dinah the kitten, the Dormouse, the black kitten, the White Rabbit, the Mock Turtle, the March Hare, and so forth (Bloom 112). Carroll is said to have had some special attitudes toward eating and drinking. He drew sketches of people either extremely thin or extremely large. He expressed his interests on the matter of eating and drinking in his stories through Alice growing or shrinking in size with a nibble of crackers that read “Eat me“ and a sip from bottles that read “Drink me.” These helped her get through tight spots or ward off pests in Wonderland. When she first enters Wonderland down the rabbit hole, she says goodbye to Dinah and hopes someone will remember to feed her. Hoping Dinah may find food on her own, Alice wonders, “Do cats eat bats? Do bats eat cats?” (Carroll Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland 21) (Bloom 109). Like these weird interests, Carroll was often preoccupied with cords and knots. He would send diagrams to his friends telling them how packages to him should be wrapped, how the cords should be tied, and where the knots should be placed. In the stories, Alice tied a baby boy into a knot (also a symbol of Carroll’s aforementioned dislike of boys) and a mouse’s tail was tied in a knot (107).
Some critics see the blue caterpillar’s hookah smoking and magic mushrooms (which were also used to alter Alice’s size) as a reference to possible drug use by Carroll (“Lewis Carroll” 91). In his stories, Carroll portrays Alice as often having feelings of alienation both from her body and her mind; she believes she may have become someone else; she tests her identity with problems in arithmetic; she puts her memory and school lessons to the test to see if she still knows what she learned; she is repeatedly found speaking nonsense (Bloom 115). Each of these things critics have found to be signs of drug use by Carroll.
Critics often figure that the stories are products of Carroll’s possibly later-developing insanity. They are also seen as depictions of his reactions to the happenings of 1860s Victorian society. In his stories, Alice is often the underdog, speaking up for itself, much like Carroll is in his own world, perhaps. He portrays her as being right about life and independent from all of the other characters who are “wrong and full of nonsense”. Critics see these characters as Carroll’s views on the British Parliament at the time. Each book concludes with Alice ending her dream after becoming disgusted by the insanity, selfishness, and cruelty she has encountered (“Carroll, Lewis” 634-636).
When reading Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, one is dealing with a very curious, complicated kind of nonsense, written for British readers of another century (Gardner Annotated Alice 1). Many people suggest that Alice’s adventures and their violent, even sadistic elements are mostly inappropriate, as well as complicated, for young readers (“Carroll, Lewis” 634). Not to mention most of the jokes told in these two stories could be understood only by the daughters of Henry Liddell (Gardner Annotated Alice 1).
Carroll is considered one of the world’s foremost writers of nonsense. He is seen as an author who “successfully combined logical with the illogical in two stories that have gained the attention of both adults and children alike.” Much like Carroll, the worlds in which Alice finds herself are revealed through her reactions to them. Also like Carroll, Alice meets many fascinating and unusual characters, both humans and animals. As she meets them, she is drawn into unfamiliar societies that challenge her knowledge and beliefs (“Carroll, Lewis” 634). Carroll depicts these characters and situations as he sees them in his own magical Wonderland.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice     remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat.
“We’re all mad here” (Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 65).

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