Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

Close to the name of Oscar Wilde stands the name of Lewis Carroll, whose book “Alice in Wonderland” became no less popular in England than Oscar Wilde’s “Tales”.

Like Oscar Wilde’s “Tales”, “Alice in Wonderland” is read mostly by grown-ups, though it was written for a young girl Alice.

Unlike Oscar Wilde’s “Tales”, the book about Alice and her adventures in Wonderland is Nonsense, but so delightful and strangely reasonable.

Lewis Carroll is a pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who was born in 1832 in the family of a clergyman in Cheshire. Charles was well-educated at Rugby School and then at Oxford where he stayed to work as a teacher of Mathematics. It was then, when he wrote his first humorous poems for a popular magazine. He signed his poems as Lewis Carroll.

In 1865 his “Alice in Wonderland” was published. The book brought him fame. The story was written for Alice, the second daughter of the dean of the University. The plot centres around a pretty girl Alice who has become the heroine of the adventures. Alice falls down a rabbit hole and arrives in a wonderland where she meets many unusual and strange animals and people, and has many wonderful adventures, based on the mixture of reason and imagination. It’s a combination of amusing plays, nursery-rhymes, allegory, colourful metaphors, parodies and play on words (pun).

In the “Pig and Pepper” Lewis Carroll makes a parody on a well-known lullaby “Speak gently” by David Bates. The sentimental lullaby sounds like that:

Speak gently! — It is better far

To rule by love, than fear —

Speak gently — let not harsh words mar

The good we might do here!

Speak gently! — Love doth whisper low

The vows that true hearts bind;

And gently Friendship’s accents flow;

Affection’s voice is kind.

Speak gently to the little child!

Its love be sure to gain;

Teach it in accents soft and mild: —

It may not long remain.

Speak gently to the young, for they

Will have enough to bear —

Pass through this life as best they may,

T is full of anxious care!

Speak gently to the aged one,

Grieve not the care-worn heart;

The sands of life are nearly run,

Let such in peace depart!

Speak gently, kindly, to the poor;

Let no harsh tone be heard;

They have enough they must endure,

Without an unkind word!

Speak gently to the erring — know,

They may have toiled in vain;

Perchance unkindness made them so;

Oh, win them back again!

Speak gently! — He who gave his life

To bend man’s stubborn will,

When elements were in fierce strife,

Said to them, «Peace, be still.»

Speak gently! — ‘t is a little thing

Dropped in the heart’s deep well;

The good, the joy, which it may bring,

Eternity shall tell.

But Carroll’s Duchess sings a severe lullaby:

Speak roughly to your little boy,

And beat him when he sneezes;

He only does it to annoy,

Because he knows it teases.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

I speak severely to my boy,

I beat him when he sneezes;

For he can thoroughly enjoy

The pepper when he pleases!

Wow! Wow! Wow!

Duchess sings such a lullaby and gives the child a violent shake at the end of every line. The poor little thing howls so that Alice can’t distinguish the words (“Pig and Pepper”).

Lewis Carroll wants to amuse the reader; he copies the style of well-known songs and poems. In those time “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” (by Jane Taylor) was popular:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are!

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky!

When the blazing sun is gone,

When he nothing shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveller in the dark,

Thanks you for your tiny spark,

He could not see which way to go,

If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,

And often through my curtains peep,

For you never shut your eye,

Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,

Lights the traveller in the dark,—

Though I know not what you are,

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Carroll alters this verse into:

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!

How I wonder what you’re at?

Up above the world you fly,

Like a tea-tray in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle —

(“A Mad Tea-Party”).

Nonsense rules over the Wonderland.

Nonsense has become a special literary device. It produces a comic effect. But it hides the serious things, such as the existing social wrongs of the bourgeois society: the cruelty of the high-classes, the stupidity and narrow-mindness of the Court, the boredom of everyday routine.

The Mad Tea-Party” is called by Alice the stupidest tea-party she was ever at in all her life. The key-words, describing the party, are the following:

fast asleep, asleep again, rubbing sleepy eyes, without opening eyes, closed eyes, doze, mournful tone, yawning sleep…”

Everyday routine is dull and boring!

The author reveals the spirit of his time. More than that, he depicts all aspects of life: fashion, thoughts, behaviour. Nonsense, stupidity form the basis of comic effects, produced by many episodes. “The judge, by the way, was king, because of his great wig”, the jurors “were putting down their names for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial”. “Stupid things! Staff and nonsense!” («Who Stole the Tarts?’’). By the way, in this chapter, Lewis Carroll gives a famous nursery rhyme “The Queen of Hearts” which is not altered. The first couplet of this song is given as an accusation against the knave:

The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,

All on a summer day:

The knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,

And took them quite away!

A pack of cards resembles the Royal Court. The author uses topsy-turvy rhymes:

«Sentence first – verdict afterwards»,

«You should say what you mean…

I mean what I say»

I see what I eat… I eat what I see»,

«I like what I get… I get what I like»,

«I breathe when I sleep… I sleep when I breathe».

(“A Mad Tea-Party”).

The book is full of unexpected and silly remarks and questions: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” (“A Mad Tea-Party”). The writer often makes puns, using a word that has two meanings: “He was an old crab”, “We called him Tortoise because he taught us”, “they were in the well… of course, they were well in”, “you never had fits, then the words don’t fit you”. Nevertheless, there are many clever sayings in the book: “Birds of the feather, flock together”, “Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves”.

All the personages have their prototypes; even Dodo is Lewis Carroll himself. Some of them are of the mythological origin (Gryphon). Others are of a great metaphorical value (Mock Turtle ). But all of them have become popular.

Everything in the story is strange and unusual. The characters are often illogical. Only two of the personages, the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar, remain sensible and reasonable. The Cheshire Cat has the power to appear and disappear very quickly until its big smile is left. “The Cheshire cat had … many teeth, so Alice felt it ought to be treated with respect.” The Caterpillar takes “not the smallest notice of Alice or of anything else.”

Nonsense and parody help Lewis Carroll to express his own attitude to the existing social order, the moral standards, the methods of education in England in the second half of the 19th century. That’s why his “Alice in Wonderland” is read mostly by grown-ups.

Speaking about adventures either in Wonderland or Fairyland, the name of Kenneth Grahame is worth mentioning. His name is not as popular as the names of Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll. But the readers who are interested in the genre of tale must get acquainted with the book “The Wind in the Willows”, written by Kenneth Grahame in Victorian Age.

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