December 14, 2014 1 Comment
One of the great mysteries of Lewis Carroll’s(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s life) is precisely what was his relationship with Alice Pleasance Liddell, Dean Liddell’s winsome daughter. Glancing through Charles’s photographs, we see a young girl with short-cropped dark hair and piercing eyes. There is a particularly striking picture of her as “The Beggar Maid” in torn costume with somewhat downcast eyes. Tenniel, of course, drew Alice as light-haired in both of the Alice books. Was this to draw attention away from the real Alice. Also, Alice in the two books never ages, while the real Alice Liddell aged from 13 to 19.
Alice was only 10 when Charles first told her and her sisters, Edith and Lorena, about Alice’s adventures underground. It was Alice, herself, who insisted on Charles writing down his entertaining story.
Dodgson was a welcome guest at the Liddell’s home along with their governess, Miss Prickett. He grew to know both her sisters and their friends. But at some point, he was no longer welcome. Unfortunately, there is no mention in his diaries as to the reason for the sudden change, and that has led to much speculation. Was Charles enamored of Alice?
In the concluding verse of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice is highlighted so that when the initial letters of each line are read downwards, her full name appears. This last verse deals with the passage of time, and Alice was 19 at the time, and no longer a young girl. The references to the special boat trip in July of 1862 are particularly poignant:
Long has paled that sunny sky;
Echoes fade and memories die;
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Now enters a Chinese Alice scholar: Howard Chang. He is the writer of Well in the Rabbit Hole: A New and Closer Look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not being satisfied with several points made in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, he asks us to look at a familiar Tenniel illustration of the awarding of a thimble to Alice by the Dodo. Gardner saw the thimble as having to do with taxes, taken and then returned as projects. But Howard did not agree. He did some research into Victorian customs, and found that the thimble was a common object for little girls(since they learned to do needle work when quite young), and was also the subject of a game: Find the Thimble. But, to Howard Chang, the thimble represents a wedding ring, and he asks us to look at the illustration again with the following in mind: Dodgson was a stutterer, and often called himself Dodo; the Duck was a pet name for the Rev. Robinson Duckworth; the Lory and the Eaglet represent Alice’s two sisters, Lorena and Edith. He argues that “the arrangement of the characters conforms perfectly to what we usually find in a wedding ring exchange ceremony.” So, what do you think? Is the illustration below a depiction of a wedding ceremony in disguise that shows Charles’s deep feelings for Alice?