Books Every Woman Should Read: Alice in Wonderland
“IT’S no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”
You might just remember it from the Disney film, or maybe you read it as a child. Maybe you too are an Alice devotee and have read the books again and again. Much more than a mere children’s tale, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass (And What Alice Found There), are well worth dusting off in adulthood.
In the first book, Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole and meets a strange cast of characters and eventually realises their royal family is nothing more than a pack of cards; in the second, she moves around a chess board after slipping through the mirror in her living room.
Most adaptations merge the stories of both books into one, but they are quite separate and indeed run as mirror opposites. Wonderland is set in summer, Through the Looking-Glass in winter; Alice changes size in Wonderland whereas the landscape changes around her in Through the Looking-Glass. The second book is quite a bit darker than the first. Take this throwaway exchange with the arrogant (and hilarious) Humpty Dumpty.
“I mean,” she said, “that one can’t help growing older.”
“One can’t, perhaps,” said Humpty Dumpty, “but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.”
When I was a child reading Alice (which I did quite a bit) I must say I was always struck by how much smarter Alice seemed than any seven-year-old I knew. While the Victorians fetishized childhood (and Carroll was far from immune) they also didn’t allow their children to stay kids for very long. Carroll ruthlessly satirises the education system of the time which emphasised rote learning and morality. Throughout Wonderland Carroll creates spoof versions of the saccharine poems children studied at the time and the test the Queens make Alice undergo at the end of Through the Looking-Glass is a prime example of educational absurdity. Funnily enough, Carroll’s spoof poems are now much better-known than the poems they mocked.
Despite being almost 150 years old, Alice still has plenty to say to the modern reader. Who hasn’t felt like the heroine; pushed and pummelled out of shape by a world that seems to run on a bizarre logic all of its own?
Alice manages to hold onto herself (just about) no matter what madness she meets. While Lewis Carroll wanted to write the first Victorian children’s novel without a moral, the Alice stories show us the importance of holding onto our innocent selves in a completely illogical world.
Finally, I will leave you with a message from the Duchess who always believed in a good moral, “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 had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”
Photos c/o alice-in-wonderland.net, dailymail.co.uk