“Lolita Liddell?”

I wanted to continue our discussion in class today regarding Charles Dodgson’s apparent fascination with young girls, particularly with Alice Liddell, and whether or not reading his work supports his potentially deviant sexuality. As I said in class, I think it’s important that the first time we read his work, and that of other artists, it is without the filter of biographical details that might cloud our perception of his art. However, I also think that another reading (with full knowledge of the shadiness of his relationship with Alice and other girls) can be valuable. Perhaps the knowledge will reveal things about the book that weren’t picked up the first time; they will certainly provide a richer understanding of the author himself.

I found an interesting parallel when reading the letters and hearing about Dodgson’s biographical details today. Dodgson seems to share some traits with Humbert Humbert, from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. This character, like Dodgson, is a writer, handsome and good with children, but also eccentric. In the novel, Humbert harbors a secret: a wretched lust and love for prepubescent girls. We know that Charles Dodgson was very close with the Liddell girls until 1863, when he stopped visiting them altogether. Ina Liddell said in a letter that she reported that Dodgson became too affectionate toward Alice. Scholars have speculated that he was courting her for marriage, or her older sister Lorina (Ina). Ina, being 14, was old enough to be courted by Victorian standards, but Alice, at age 11, was not. The theory is that the Liddell mother spoke to him about it, and he never returned. Whatever the case, he lost his connection to the girl he used to spend his days with and photograph extensively. Similarly, Humbert lost his childhood love, Annabel, to a sudden death. After this loss, he becomes obsessed with prepubescent girls, particularly with Lolita, the 12-year-old girl he comes to lust/love. Both figures were eccentric authors who spend considerable time with a prepubescent girl, who became their muse for writing a novel.

The similarities that arose between the two figures fascinated me, and seemed to provide evidence to support reading a text with biological details in mind. Any one agree or disagree with the parallel I drew here?

Fairy-tales for Pleasure

I just wanted to branch off from the discussion we ended class with yesterday where we were talking about Avery’s article, Fairy-tales for Pleasure. When I read Alice in Wonderland, I did not feel that the story was an attempt by Carroll to educate children on morals and life-lessons, rather I read the story from a psychoanalytic perspective. Alice’s experience in Wonderland took place in a dream and this made me perceive the story as Alice’s response to her schooling and education in real life. The characters she encounters, such as the Queen of Hearts or the Cheshire Cat, resembled authorial figures in her life, possibly a teacher or older classmate. I felt that Alice’s conversations with these characters were a way for her to unconsciously respond to how her teachers and classmates made her feel in reality. Therefore, I feel that Carroll only tells a story showing a child’s reactions to authority rather than trying to moralistically educate children.

Humpty’s Psychoanalysis

Sorry guys… I had to.  Humpty Dumpty was begging for it.

So in Carroll’s version of the Humpty story, we’ve got an egg who’s convinced that he’s just not an egg, a young girl prone to misspeaking and interrupting, and a battle for conversational dominance.  The whole dialogue starts off with Alice calling Humpty an egg, and Humpty vehemently arguing that comment.  Humpty Dumpty probably developed some serious self-perception issues when he was a young egg.  From a psychoanalytic perspective, Humpty spends much of his time patronizing Alice for misspeaking, even in very small instances (i.e., she “saw” him singing instead of “heard”), as a self-defense.  His inability to accept his own eggness, and subsequent sensitivity upon being called an egg, causes him to hone in on the small dialogical errors of others.  It is a way to avoid his own unacceptable characteristics by ascribing them to others–in this case, Alice.

I also noticed that Humpty wishes that Alice’s face was rearranged so he could recognize her better.  It is interesting that Humpty does indeed fall and shatter at the end of the chapter, implying that he is in many separate pieces.  When the king’s men come to piece him back together, they won’t be able to–does that mean that Humpty himself might have “two eyes on the same side,” just like he wishes Alice had?  Just an afterthought.

Ya Boi Ian’s Bridge to the Blog, 9-26-13

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Upon walking into class and hearing Dr. Scanlon mutter, “Shittles!” as she verbally wrestled with the dysfunctional projector of Combs 111, I knew that it was going to be a good day.

The cornerstone activity of the day was to develop a thesis statement, in small groups, for our chosen school of critical analysis.  The rough thesis statements and supporting evidences were then presented in front of the class.  The groups were:

  1. Reader-Response
  2. Psychoanalytic 1
  3. Psychoanalytic 2
  4. Post-Colonial
  5. Marxist

Since most of the talking was done during presentation today, I would like to make this post an opportunity to really engage in what was presented.  First, I will give a brief overview of the outlined theses.  Then, I will offer some further discussion questions to you guys and open the floodgates to intelligent discussion.

The Reader-Response group interpreted Adventures as a coming of age tale, for both Alice and the reader, and highlighted the importance of age to how the novel is understood (i.e., younger = innocent, older = dark/symbolic).  The Psychoanalytic groups focused on Alice’s internalized battle between the superego and the id; however, the first group used the idea of finding identity as a unifying thesis (including oral fixation as identity-finding), and the second group focused on Alice’s dissonance as a reaction to the strict social guidelines of her life.  The Marxist group saw Alice’s journey as an interaction of ideologies and hierarchies, with an emphasis on the power structure (i.e, royalty in Adventures as aristocrats) and Alice’s frequently changing power (by size).  Finally, the Post-Colonial group saw the story as an allegory for the rise and fall of the British Empire.  The “exotic” animal representations of characters was symbolic of colonization, and Alice was seen as a white authority who wanted her rules to be followed but struggled with that due to the language barrier (pervasive madness of characters as language barrier).

Now that we have a little foundation….

Here’s another chance to examine the topics.  Now that you can respond, what is interesting to you all?  Are you noticing things you didn’t notice in class?  At second glance, I found the Post-Colonial group’s interpretation very compelling; it went in great depth and made connections I did not expect to be made.  In what ways can we, as a group, take this one farther–for example, this interpretation casts Alice as the “oppressor,” since she can be seen as the “white authority” that attempts to demand control.  How is Alice oppressive to her animal counterparts?  In many ways, Alice’s character is very wandering and uncertain until the end, when she grows in size and takes control.  Could that be a comparison to how the colonizing empires had a shallow understanding of territories they took control of, and in the end they used their brute force to retain power?  If all of this is true, then what do we make of the ending–what’s the significance of “waking up,” and Alice’s sister’s reflections?

I chose to look further at the Post-Colonial thesis, but there’s plenty of potential in each of the theories presented today.  I’ll leave you all with this: are there any ways in which we could connect some of the ideas we talked about in class?  Something that I love to do is make connections across borders, and whether or not it’s academically relevant, I think it’s mentally engaging and interesting to take a combined look at how, for example, Marxist ideologies of social hierarchies and power politics play into the repressed desires to go against the social grain discussed in the Psychoanalytic readings.

Let’s go down this rabbit hole that is the “Bridge to the Blog” together, and leave behind the sensible world of the classroom–we now enter the strange Wonderland that is UMW Blogs, where madness pervades and anything is possible.

Rachel’s Bridge to the Blog

In class, we briefly addressed the idea of authority and authority figures. I noticed that in Alice in Wonderland, authority over situations and over Alice, herself, switches very often between characters. When looking closer, I realized that there is a rather consistent pattern.

Whenever Alice is in the presence of other characters (no matter who they are or how intelligent they seem to be), she immediately looks to them for guidance, and gives them authority over the situation, as well as authority over her. In certain situations, it does not even take another character for Alice to transfer authority away from herself. For example, when she encounters the bottle with the label that says “‘DRINK ME,’” Alice is very eager to give the authority to the bottle, so to speak, and follow its instructions (she does so without much thought) (Carrol 10). Similarly, when the Rabbit mistakes her for Mary Ann and orders her to go back to the house to fetch gloves for him, “Alice was so much frightened that she ran off at once in the direction it pointed to, without trying to explain the mistake that it had made,” which reveals Alice’s strict habit of listening to authority figures, even though she is the one who allows these figures to have authority over her in the first place; why else would she feel obliged follow orders given to her by a rabbit? (26). Such situations arise with most of the other characters with which Alice interacts (so far, these characters include the mouse, the caterpillar, the pigeon, the Footman, the Duchess, and the Cheshire Cat).

On the other hand, Alice seems to be quite uncomfortable when she is on her own and forced to make her own decisions. This is made especially clear when she says, “‘I do wish they would put their heads down! I am so very tired of being alone here!” (16) Notably, this feeling of uncertainty would seem to be a natural instinct for a little girl who is very lost, so in most cases, such fear would not seem be worthy of discussion. However, the way she copes with this fear makes it appear that, when she is alone and finally forced to make her own decisions, she does not simply make the decisions and act upon them, as a normal person would. Rather, she seems to actively transfer the authority over her and the situation in which she is (usually authority that is controlled by somebody else) from the absent authority figures to herself in such a way that it seems as though there is a part of Alice that is in charge, and a part of Alice that is following Alice-in-charge’s orders. This is clear when she talks to herself: “She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it)” (12). She seems to adopt so much authority over herself that she even disciplines herself when she believes that she has misbehaved, such as the times when “she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game” (12). The situations in which she looks to herself for guidance occur very frequently within the text.

This vein of thought could get pretty interesting when psychoanalytically reading Alice’s double personality (is she transferring her parents’ roles onto herself and other characters in the story for some unexplored reason?), but do you think that it could also just be her subconscious’s final resort at attempting to find an authority figure in herself (or a portion of herself) when a reliable external one isn’t present?

Take Two: Alice in Wonderland viewing poll

It is still possible to give your input to decide dates and times for an Alice movie night, featuring Disney and Depp.  At this point, you should probably focus on dates AFTER fall break (that is, after October 15).  Please fill in the poll if you’d like an evening in the rabbit hole!