All Things Alice: What has she got in her pockets?

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

of cabbages — and kings –“

I’ve always loved the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter. It was funny and sad and appealed to a sense of what I now know is called Schadenfreude – the gleeful delight in someone else’s misery (in this case, the oysters).  Now that I’ve started researching material culture in children’s literature the litany of objects “shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax” is fascinating all over again.

There are a lot of objects mentioned in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – from the jam jar she finds as she falls down the rabbit hole to the gloves the White Rabbit sends her to fetch.  But of all the things in the story, I find Alice’s thimble the most intriguing.

caucus

At the end of the Caucus Race, Alice is tasked with given out the prizes. She has a box of comfits and a thimble in her pocket (the only items she carries from the real world into Wonderland). She gives each of the creatures a comfit and she is awarded the thimble:

“At last the Dodo said, ‘Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

‘Why, she, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, ‘Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.

‘Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.

‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.

‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could.”

Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

But what is Alice doing with a thimble? Unless Alice has stolen it – and let’s assume she hasn’t because nothing in the text suggests it – we must conclude that this is indeed her thimble.

Perhaps it isn’t really surprising that Alice has a thimble. After all, in the 19th century girls were taught to sew at a very young age. Asa Briggs notes that 19th century manufactures made thimbles especially for children and that thimbles could even be considered toys for little girls.[1]

Needlework – both plain and fancy was a key element of a Victorian girl’s education. Children’s homes and orphanages focused on teaching needlework with the expectation that whether the children gained employment in private homes or in factories, needlework was an essential skill.

The V&A’s collection includes a number of samplers produced by working-class and middle-class children.

The sampler was the way to practice techniques and to show off the sewist’s repertoire, showing ‘samples’ of each stitch.

Samplers were also a way of inculcating ‘feminine’ virtues in the young girl – the patience and attention to detail needed to produce a sampler were cultivated through the production of samplers. Many samplers include images of houses and gardens – ensuring a clear focus on the virtues of domesticity and the centrality of domestic life. Many other samplers, like the ones shown below, include didactic or moral verses that celebrate hard work, self-sacrifice, loyalty, diligence, piety, grace and, often, silence.

But not all girls willingly parroted these verses. Some, like Elizabeth Parker, used their needles to record their true feelings.

Detail of sampler, Elizabeth Parker, after 1830. Museum no. T.6-1956

Detail of sampler, Elizabeth Parker, after 1830. Museum no. T.6-1956 “As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely…”

As Rozsika Parker argues, in The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine the sampler can become a site of subversion, of rebellion and self-determination.

There is no mention of sewing or samplers in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Alice does absolutely no needlework at all and when she picks up knitting-needles in Through the Looking-Glass they turn into oars in her hands.

However, Carroll does make reference to a moral verse: Isaac Watt’s insipid “How doth the little Busy bee” which is exactly the kind of thing that young girls were encouraged to stitch into their samplers.

Here’s the original:

How doth the little busy Bee 
     Improve each shining Hour, 
And gather Honey all the day 
     From every opening Flower!

How skilfully she builds her Cell! 
     How neat she spreads the Wax! 
And labours hard to store it well 
     With the sweet Food she makes.

In Works of Labour or of Skill 
     I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still 
     For idle Hands to do.

In Books, or Work, or healthful Play 
     Let my first Years be past, 
That I may give for every Day
     Some good Account at last.

And Carroll’s gleeful, subversive parody:

How doth the little crocodile

Improve his shining tail,

And pour the waters of the Nile

On every golden scale!

 

‘How cheerfully he seems to grin,

How neatly spread his claws,

And welcome little fishes in

With gently smiling jaws!’

I have never really thought about producing a sampler. I don’t think I have the patience necessary. If I ever do, I think I will stitch Carroll’s “How doth the little Crocodile”…

Nevertheless, I have been practicing my embroidery lately because I’m embroidering the collar and lapels of the Victorian Walking Jacket

Next week will bring updates on the jacket and other works in progress…

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You can find the first post in my series of All Things Alice here – the second, all about tea in Alice here – and the third, all about Alice’s Day right here.

If you want to find out more about Victorian needlework, Caulfield and Saward’s Dictionary of Needlework gives you an idea of the range of needlework produced by the home-crafter in the 19th century.  Flora Klickmann’s The Little Girl’s Sewing Book (though published in 1915) is a good indication of how little girls were taught to sew and what kind of things they were encouraged to make (aprons and boxes for ribbons and pukey cushion covers with lambs on them)

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Check out the V&A’s collection of samplers here

[1] Asa Briggs, Victorian Things (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1990), p.209.

All Things Alice: It’s Alice’s Day! Calloo Callay!

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

It’s Alice’s Day!

On this day, many, many years ago Charles Dodgson told the first Alice story to Alice Liddell and her sisters.  The day is recorded in his diary and later immortalised in the poem “All in the Golden Afternoon” which prefaces Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Fittingly, it was one of those hot, blue-skied days when the buildings of Oxford are truly golden, throwing back the heat and the light of the sun all afternoon.  Today, the city was crammed with Wonderland-themed events and people wearing all kinds of fabulous costumes. As I wandered through the town I passed an elderly gentleman (walking very quickly and definitely not stopping for pictures) in a purple suit and a purple top hat, a young couple dressed as Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, a small child in a pram dressed as a a Cheshire Cat and about a thousand Alices of all kinds.  There are public performances and readings; a giant chess-set in a shopping centre; and, of course, the lobster quadrille danced in front of the Museum of Natural History (where you can visit the Dodo and all the other wonderland creatures including Bill the lizard)

I made a beeline for the Dali, Tenniel & Printing Alice exhibit at the Weston library

Photo by @RareBooksOfBod

Photo by @RareBooksOfBod

There’s a display case showing rare first editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – including the first printing of the book which was suppressed (much like the mouse in the courtroom scene) after Tenniel complained about the shoddy quality of the prints. Dodgson didn’t seem to have noticed the poor quality of the print and he’d already posted out 50 copies of the book to his friends.  He had to ask for them back and then, rather than waste them, sent the book out to children’s homes and charities. The copy displayed in the Weston now had been sent to St. Raphael’s in Torquay and was later donated to the Bodleian by the writer Roger Lancelyn Green.

The first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Later editions of Alice are shown alongside so you can see the difference in the quality of the print – Dodgson later recouped some of the money he lost on the first edition by selling the bad prints to an American publisher – the first American edition (shown below) has the shoddy prints:

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The first American edition of Alice – New York, D. Appleton & Co. 1866 (all but the title-page printed at Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1865)

There are some other examples of Tenniel’s work here – including illustrations from Punch magazine and an advertisement for Pear’s Soap which borrows both Alice and the “Beautiful Soup” song:

Tenniel, Pear's Soap advert

Tenniel, Pear’s Soap advert

I was especially delighted to see a full set of Salvador Dali’s illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from 1969 on display. I saw these pieces a few years ago on display in Christ Church, Oxford but it is a real treat to see them all together in one case like this. Dali’s colours are incredibly rich and while each piece is beautiful on its own, the repetition of motifs through the series links the images together and creates a narrative that reflects and builds upon Carroll’s words.

Afterwards, I got to have a go of a real printing-press.

The Bodleian’s printing press is a replica made from from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing. You can read a facsimile of the third edition of Moxon’s book here and you can try the press yourself on Saturdays all through the summer.

The printing press is a glorious thing! There’s something amazingly physical about it – the stickiness of the ink, the weight of the levers, the sheer bulk of the machine.  You really feel like you’ve achieved something enormous by printing a page – it gave me a sudden insight into how hard printers worked to make books:

For Alice’s Day, you could print a playing card – the type had been made out of wood and lino especially for the occasion and, by the afternoon, the edges of some of the letters had already begun to show signs of wear and tear – I made a King of Hearts card and you can see where the upper arm of the “K” has worn down and it hasn’t quite managed to touch the page.

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My first print

It has a charmingly home-made look, don’t you think? Not bad for a golden afternoon…

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The first post in the series of All Things Alice on my trip to the V&A Museum of Childhood is here.

You can find the second post in the series all about tea, teetotallers and Victorian children’s literature here.

All things Alice: it’s always tea-time

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

‘Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

‘I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, ‘so I can’t take more.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

teatime

As a Carroll who works on children’s literature, I’m often asked if I’m related to Lewis Carroll. I am not. Lewis Carroll is, of course, not a real Carroll at all.  All real Carrolls[1] have an addiction to tea and misbehaved hair.

Lewis Carroll had only one of these qualities.

LewisCarroll/Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

See? His hair stays exactly where he put it.

But he was very keen on tea and there are accounts of him walking up and down in his rooms in Oxford swinging the teapot from side to side to make sure the tea drew properly.[2]

I can appreciate this because I was raised to be picky about tea.

Since we’ve left the old country, we’ve been careful (carefulish) with our tea supply. Our preferred brand can’t be got in England and many of the commercial brands here are not suited to my palate[3] and so we have to smuggle the stuff over.  Because I’ve been on research leave this term I’ve basically been mainlining tea for eight or nine hours a day.

And, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about tea and about the tea party scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The mad tea-party is the centre of a lot of misconceptions about Alice.

For a start, it’s not the Mad Hatter’s tea party – it takes place at the March Hare’s house (as Alice reasons, it is better to visit the March Hare because, since it isn’t March, he might not be quite as mad as the Hatter).

Secondly, it’s often treated as a key scene and in illustrations and adaptations (not to mention fan-culture) it is given far more precedence than, say, the scene with the pig-baby or the snarky flowers. But Carroll hadn’t even included it in the original Alice’s Adventures Underground (there Alice finishes her conversation with the Cheshire Cat by opening a door in a tree and passing directly through to the Queen’s Croquet grounds).

But the mad tea-party is a very visually attractive scene – in a way that the pig-baby definitely isn’t – and it has captured readers’ and illustrators’ imaginations like nothing else in the text. Even though Carroll’s description of the scene doesn’t make the meal sound very lovely –  the Mad Hatter’s explains that he had a falling out with time and that time refuses to move on past six o’clock and now he is stuck in an endless teatimewarp.  He and the Hare have no time to wash things so the table should be covered with dirty delf and crumbs and things  – the illustrations often lend a festive air to the scene.  Most illustrators show the tea as something sumptuous – the table is enormous and there are plates and plates of things to eat, not just a biscuit perched on the side of the saucer, melting gently against the cup…There’s something gloriously, outrageously decadent about the scene and the massive spread of tea things laid out on the table.

I’ve recently come across an illustration by Serena Curmi who, I think, most perfectly captures the true sadness of it always being teatime. Rather than a festive air, there’s something charmingly schadenfreudish about this image – the almost bare table, the sadly dripping watch, Alice’s downcast expression…

Serena Curmi

It couldn’t be further from the riotous tea-party in the 1951 Disney film and it doesn’t overwork the scene in an attempt to make it seem uncanny as the 2010 Burton film does.

But recently I’ve been wondering – and I really don’t have a definite answer here –  are the March Hare and the Mad Hatter teetotallers? And is this why they are mad?

In the 1860s, the Victorian temperance movement was at its height and contemporary children’s texts often contained stern warnings to young readers about the perils of the demon drink. For instance, Brenda’s Froggy’s Little Brother (possibly the most unashamedly heart-rending book ever written before the invention of Nicholas Sparks) tales the tale of two children left orphaned and alone in London after a drunk driver kills their father. Like warning children about the dangers of playing with matches or that failing eating your soup can be fatal, showing alcohol as an evil influence is a standard part of Victorian children’s literature.

Carroll’s work runs against the grain in this respect.

In his brilliantly bizarre but less-well-known Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1889), Carroll has a dig at teetotallers:

“”Yes, it is a ghastly innovation,” Lady Muriel replied,” letting the waiters carry round the wine at dessert. For one thing, they always take it the wrong way round which of course brings bad luck to everybody present! ”

“Better go the wrong way than not go at all!” said our host. “Would you kindly help yourself?” (This was to the fat red-faced man.) “You are not a teetotaler, I think?”

“Indeed but I am!” he replied, as he pushed on the bottles. “Nearly twice as much money is spent in England on Drink, as on any other article of food. Read this card.” (What faddist ever goes about without a pocketful of the appropriate literature?) “The stripes of different colours represent the amounts spent on various articles of food. Look at the highest three. Money spent on butter and on cheese, thirty-five millions: on bread, seventy millions: on intoxicating liquors, one hundred and thirty-six millions! If I had my way, I would close every public-house in the land! Look at that card, and read the motto. That’s where all the money goes to!”

“Have you seen the Anti-Teetotal Card? Arthur innocently enquired.

“No, Sir, I have not!” the orator savagely replied. “What is it like?”

“Almost exactly like this one. The coloured stripes are the same. Only, instead of the words ‘ Money spent on,’ it has ‘ Incomes derived from sale of; and, instead of ‘That’s where all the money goes to,’ its motto is ‘Thats where all the money comes from!’”

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1889)

And, if you’re feeling a bit like the Duchess and you want to find morals and meanings in every aspect of Wonderland, you might argue that the Mad Hatter is a reference to Roger Crab (1621-80) who was known as the mad hatter and was a teetotaller as well as a vegetarian.

And, while readers and illustrators delight in the scene, the Hare and the Hatter seem rather dejected about the prospect of endless tea.

I’m not totally sure about the teetotal Hatter and Hare – I’d be interested to hear your views on it though.  But for me, now it’s definitely time for tea…

If you’re keen to read more about tea in Alice, Jan Susina has a chapter on coffee and tea in The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children’s Literature (2010) which I highly recommend. And if you’re interested in screen versions of Alice, Tom Krepico’s blog has a great round-up of links.

It’s Alice’s Day tomorrow so I’m going to run around looking at Alice things and maybe even have a go at learning the Lobster Quadrille (my attempts to learn from the helpful video have been less than successful). I’ll post pictures and thoughts later in the day.  Now to do some research on crocodiles and why Alice carries a thimble in her pocket…

Sylvie&Bruno2

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[1] At least the ones I’ve met

[2] Why tea draws but never paints is a mystery. For more on Dodgson’s tea-brewing practices see Stuart Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1899) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11483/11483-h/11483-h.htm

[3] They are too weak. “Spinster’s piss” is the description that comes to mind.

[4] Which is rather late for a fancy afternoon tea…

All Things Alice: Adventures first!

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

V&A1crop

I’ll take the Gryphon’s advice and do the adventures first….

I’ve been on research leave for a term. It’s been great. And terrible.  There have been days of mighty exploration in archives (including The Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition, The Pollard Collection at TCD, and the newly-opened and gorgeous Weston Library at the Bodleian).  There have been days of frenzied writing.  And days of frenzied reading. And days of gnawing my knuckles and staring at a pile of notes like a demented Jonathan Strange.

It’s been a process of discovery.[1] And tea. Crates of the stuff. [2]

But all work and no play makes for a Jane a dull girl and so I arranged a day-trip went with fellow children’s literature scholar and wild Irish girl Beth Rodgers to the V&A Museum of childhood.  We are nerds – even on our days off we can think of nothing nicer than visiting a museum.

Adventures!  Vitamin D! The swealterish air of the London Underground system! And the glory of the V&A Museum of Childhood!  Look how happy we are to be outside!

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Jane and Beth take a busman’s holiday…

There were two exhibition on – Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House about *shudder* doll’s houses and The Alice Look all about the ways Alice has been costumed over the years.  While I was very sad to see that nobody had linked up the two exhibitions by making a giant doll’s house that I could sit inside while pretending to BE Alice, I was quite impressed.

Although I am creeped out by doll’s and doll’s houses (miniature things make me feel dizzy) I have to admit that Small Stories is an excellent exhibition. The V&A have and enormous collection of doll’s houses and a collection of enormous doll’s houses…the image below gives you a sense of a scale of some of the pieces:

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The exhibit is arranged in roughly chronological order, showing the development of fashions in doll’s houses and fashions in interior decoration from the 18th century to the 21st century.

Each case is accompanied by audio pieces (which you can hear here) telling stories about the dolls and the houses.  Some of the dolls were a bit scary though and we didn’t much want to imagine that they were real people with voices…

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Phineas has murder in his little heart

We were especially thrilled to discover that by positioning ourselves just so we could see our giddy faces reflected in the mirrors of the doll’s houses.

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It’s me! And some creepy dolls…

This lead to falling around laughing like idiots. Thankfully, the staff at the V&A were patient, no doubt being used to seeing escaped academics on a semi-regular basis.

After refreshing ourselves with tea, it was on to The Alice Look.

This exhibit, curated by Kiera Vaclavik of Queen Mary University of London explores the different ways Alice has been costumed in print and media versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland since it was first published 150 years ago.

Perhaps the version of Alice we’e most familiar with is the one popularised by the 1951 Walt Disney film.  Alice’s blue dress and hairband (growing up in Ireland we always called these kinds of hairbands ‘Alice bands’) seem absolutely iconic.

alicedisney1951

But, as The Alice Look shows, Alice has had many ‘iconic’ looks and she continually adapts to new styles and trends. Even between her first public appearance in 1865 and 1871 her costume has changed to reflect changing fashions:

If you look closely, you can see that Alice’s stockings and apron have changed. Alice doesn’t have a hairband in the 1865 image but has acquired one by 1871. There are small changes to the sleeves of her dress, the width of the skirt and the way the apron is tied too.

It’s a real delight to see the changes in her costume through the years and in different translations of the text – the blond, blue-eyed Alice might be the most common in English-language versions of the text but she is by no means the only Alice available to readers today.

For me, the best part of the exhibit was looking at the dresses on display:

More than anything, these show how the “Alice look”, like Carroll’s book, is malleable and adaptable and open to our own interpretation.

You could even design your own Alice look and add it to the display.  Though some visitors had an incredibly avant-garde approach to fashion:

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If you’re keen to have your only little adventure to London, I can’t recommend the V&A Museum of Childhood enough. It’s free, there’s tons to see, and it’s very easy to get to.

The Small Stories exhibition is on until September 6th 2015 and The Alice Look runs until November 1st 2015.

More from me about Alice tomorrow…

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[1] Discovering how stupid Past-Jane can be is a major part of the process. I once wasted about two hours frantically searching for the source of a particularly brilliant quote only to realise that it was, in fact, my own writing.

[2] More about tea in tomorrow’s post