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Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland and children's literature

richard dury

on 7 September 2017

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Transcript of Alice in Wonderland

Moral tales
stories for children
with a clear moral message
1765: Anon., Goody Two-Shoes
- virtue rewarded
1762: Francesco Soave, Novelle Morali
– children civilized by teaching
Cautionary tales
moral tales in which naughty children come to a bad end
1873: Elizabeth Newberry, The History of Little King Pippin
– includes 'an account of the melancholy death of four naughty boys, who were devoured by wild beasts’
Pious verse
poems with moral and religious messages
1715: Isaac Watts,
Divine Songs for Children
1845: Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter
(Piero Porcospino)
– parodies cautionary tales
a girl plays with matches...
and burns to death
1846: Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense
– no didactic purpose
There was an Old Man of Coblenz
The length of whose legs was immense...
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gathers honey all the day
From every opening flower!
Parodies Victorian society and education
she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
= parents
= give you
Carroll makes fun of cautionary tales:
absurdly violent
Alice and cautionary tales
Alice and pious verse
Every chapter contains some moralistic verse
remembered badly by Alice
transformed by one of the characters
parodied by Lewis Carroll
The 'little busy bee' (model of hard work)
the 'little crocodile'
(symbol of deception
and aggression)

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!
1832 b.
to Oxford

1862 boat trip
1865 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
1898 d.
1871 Alice Through the Looking Glass
1876 The Hunting of the Snark
1863 break
with Liddell family

1864 manuscript
rabbit !
normal world
down the
rabbit hole
pool - Caucus race
in the
rabbit's house
mad tea party
stories and songs
the trial
Alice in danger
doors - garden
the garden
normal world
pig and pepper
The plot of Alice in Wonderland
Alice In Wonderland:
children's story without a moral
social conventions,
school learning,
‘moral tales’
pious poetry for children
basic comic situation
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Charles = Carolus = Carol
Lutwidge = Ludwig = Louis

Language, games and society are governed by rules
absurd — arbitrary — exploited by the powerful
the Caucus Race (Ch. 3),
the game-like Mad Tea Party (Ch. 7),
the Croquet game (Ch. 8)
the Lobster Quadrille (Ch. 10)
the Trial (Ch. 11).
politeness and reason with adult-monsters
in Wonderland
Alice's innocence exposes
the teaching as inadequate,
adults as hypocritical
Alice's identity not clear to others:
'Mary Ann' (a housemaid, Ch. 4)
a serpent (Ch. 5)
'Who are you?' (Ch. 5)

Alice is not sure of her own identity
"Who in the world am I?" (Ch. 2)
"if I’m not Ada and I’m not Mabel, then who am I?" (Ch. 2)
"I--I'm a little girl" (Ch. 5)

Social identity = a name
names = conventional labels

name always the same
person changes

Alice Liddell (1852-1934)
1856: meets LC
1862: boat trip (Alice 10 years old)
(1859 in 1874 MS)
social 'games':
Social roles:
arbitrary: cards are re-coloured
created by language — 'King' just a name
“Who cares for you?” said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
Who in the world am I?
I—I'm a little girls
Carroll and Alice in Wonderland
2. a literary genre which
continually overturns
conventions of language and logic
1. words without meaning
e.g. 'colourless ideas'
long tradition of the nonsense literature
e.g. in some nursery rhymes:
Hey, diddle, diddle!
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
no cause and effect
meaning is suggested
– and taken away
Two key texts in 'literary nonsense':

Edward Lear, The Book of Nonsense (1846)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1856)
literary nonsense is not
meaningless gibberish
satire, parody
have a clear meaning
no meaning at all
In nonsense, meaning and order is
(i) suggested, and (ii) taken away
Nonsense has no final meaning
like social conventions? like life?
, and the
[pl. noun]
in the
[sing. noun]
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
an English sentence
but no clear meaning
"Why is a raven like a writing-desk?"
"No, I give it up," Alice replied. "What's the answer?"
"I haven't the slightest idea," said the Hatter.
we start trying to find the answer
no answer
saying to herself ... 'Do cats eat bats?'
and sometimes, 'Do bats eat cats?'
possibly meaningful
question made by inverting rhyme-words
Alice in Wonderland parodies social rules
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gathers honey all the day
From every opening flower!
Language and society
In Ch. 6 of Alice through the Looking Glass, LC
links absurd language and society
   "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
   "The question is, " said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
   "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty. "which is to be master—that's all."
In Ch. 3 of Alice Through the Looking Glass
Alice enters the wood where things lose their names
Redemptive child
George Eliot, Silas Marner (1861)
Johanna Spyri, Heidi (1881)
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (1911)
Thomas Cooper Gotch, The Child Entroned (1894)
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