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

~

[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…