The Afterlife of Alice In Wonderland Exhibit: Alternatives Alices

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Exhibit Overview: Alice Ever After

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Adaptations

Reincarnations

Alternative Alices

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Alice Digital Collection

    The Alice books, noted Alexander Wolcott in 1939, “have known no frontier.”  They have been translated into nearly fifty languages.  “If you poke about in the bookstalls in the Continent,” writes Wolcott, “you will stumble inevitably on Alice’s Abenteur in Wunderland.  Or Le Aventure d’Alice del Paese Meraviglie (with illustrations, of course, by Giovanni Tenniel).”  These are among the more faithful or literal translations of Alice; other “translations” also abound, in the form of imitations, “sequels,” parodies and satires, in which Carroll’s two-part masterpiece is reworked to various ends and effects.  “Alice is always being imitated,” complained Andrew Lang in 1895, and in 1932, in his foundational history of children’s literature, Harvey Darton described such imitations as “a permanent plague to all editors and publishers of literature for children.”

Carroll himself didn’t seem to mind these imitations and in fact collected some of them, including several displayed here.  Carolyn Sigler likewise takes a more charitable view in her edited collection Alternative Alices:  Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books.  Nearly two hundred such Alternative Alices were published between 1869 and 1930, she observes, after which point variants shifted away from the themes and emphases of Carroll.  Sigley divides these earlier texts into four categories: subversions, didactic spins, sentimental recreations, and political parodies.  Some of the texts on display here are among those reprinted in Sigler’s collection. Jean Ingelow’s Mopsa the Fairy (1869) and Christina Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses (1874) are among the earliest and most devious alternatives to Carroll, challenging as they do the “little lady” persona of Alice.  Tom Hood’s From Nowhere to the North Pole (1875) belongs to the didactic category, while Charles E. Carryl’s Davy and The Goblin, or What Followed Reading ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1885) is a sentimental recreation. Political parodies include Alice in Blunderland, An Iridescent Dream (1907), by John Kendrick Bangs, Alice and the Stork:  A Fairy Tale for Workingmen’s Children (1915), by Henry T. Schnittkind, and Alice in the Delighted States (1928), by Edward Hope.  The latter takes up such issues as Prohibition, immigration, and censorship. “’Oh,’ said Alice.  ‘And does the Censor live on the Censor Ship?’ ‘Sometimes,’ replied the Ferret, ‘and sometimes he lives on the Ship of State.’”

Sigley observes that after 1930, Alternative Alices began to subside, and references to Alice became more diffuse and general.  Sigley may overstate the case, as some early imitations left Carroll far behind while very recent British political caricature takes its cue from the Alice books.  In any event, this detextualization of Alicecame as part of the academic and literary elevation of Carroll, championed by the likes of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf as a forerunner of modernism and a decidedly highbrow talent.  His Alice books, writes Woolf in a 1939 appreciation, “are not books for children; they are the only books in which we become children . . . To become a child is to be very literal; to find everything so strange that nothing is surprising; to be heartless, to be ruthless, yet to be so passionate that a snub or a shadow drapes the world in gloom.  It is so to be Alice in Wonderland.”  The Alice industry hasn’t gone away – very obviously not – but the textual imitation and parody on display in this exhibit case has been eclipsed by other sorts of Alice productions. ~ © 2007 Kenneth Kidd