Today in class, we broke down four essential pieces to thinking critically about a literary text: Text, Author, Context, and Reader. After looking at the Alice in Wonderland text as well as reading background information about the author, we began to dissect these four points pertaining to Alice in Wonderland.
For Text, we understand that it intended to be nonsense, there was a struggling with the title, the story was originally an oral story, the Alice illustration in the book is different than the real Alice, and lastly, the production was in the afternoon.
Next, we moved on to the Reader(s) which were the Liddell family (and Carroll’s separation from them), religious schools, hospitals, and children.
We then examined the Context of Alice and with the help of our assigned readings of letters sent to and from Dodgson, we develop a deeper meaning of the text. To name a few, we discussed that Dodgson studied at Oxford where he was a professor/tutor. Two big things we noted was the Cult of the Child, Dodgson’s sexuality, and his interest in photography.
Lastly, we looked at the Author (and this did tie quite a bit in with the context). To name a few, we looked at the fact he was humorous, religiously trained, eccentric, proper/stiff, perfect memory, OCD, and has difficulty with faces. Most importantly, we noted his relations with women/girls/children as friends.
Once we separated the facts into these four categories, I felt that I was able to then look at Alice in Wonderland in a slightly different way. On page 253, Dodgson states, “the tutor should be dignified, and at the distance from the pupil, and the pupil should be as much as possible degraded- otherwise, you know, they are not humble enough.” Carroll doesn’t believe in rote institutions and degradation and so we see in Alice in Wonderland that the central character stands up against these ‘institutions.’ Alice defiantly goes against the Queen in the courtroom when she says “Stuff and nonsense!” when the Queen declares a sentence before the verdict. And when the Queen tells Alice to “Hold her tongue,” Alice shouts, “who cares for you? You’re nothing but a pack of cards (95).” I enjoyed the insights through Dodgson’s letters and saw how they weaved themselves into the text at hand. However, I personally don’t feel insights such as questionable pedophile behavior by Dodgson provides a connection, or insight, with the Alice in Wonderland text. I enjoyed this child-like, nonsense book just the way it was and didn’t feel the need to look at the text through the lens of what people said about the author. Having said that, I did think that the information provided in one of the letters by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood did provide useful information when looking at the text. For example, his eccentric (101), OCD like behavior,
In considering all that was discussed in today’s lecture and all the new information about the author’s background, what I felt was most interesting was the hypothetical question that Dr. Scanlon provided today: “if an author was a murderer or shot at school children, would we be able to look at their text with unbiased eyes. In other words, can we ‘separate the art?’”
Some may say that they could not look at the text the same way, but others argue that for some reason, they will always enjoy the text.
I would like to venture out to examples even outside Charles Dodgson and literature and look to celebrities such as Miley Cyrus. Can we look at her the same after her ‘twerking’ fiasco with the foam finger, or will we always remember her in that way and associate her with the memory?
All in all, does the information we are provided about an author, or a celebrity, taint the lens from which we view either literature or them as a performer? Where do we draw the line of what we accept and not accept?