Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6

Alice as subject in the logic of Wonderland

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, written in 1864, is one of the seminal texts of fantasy literature for children, falling into the genre of nonsense writing. The mid-nineteenth-century period was one of exploration and rationalisation. It was also the period of classic realism in writing for adults, with George Eliot's Middlemarch (1871) representing the height of the form. Against this background Alice in Wonderland can be displaced as an irrational and illogical work of surreal fantasy. However, in this essay I contend that Carroll employs a particular logical strategy to explore the nature of human experience by setting Alice on a journey of self-discovery. By logically disrupting certain givens, such as time, place and the meaning of language, Carroll challenges and explores the rational hypotheses upon which the construction of the self was based. Against one context of rationalisation and the systematisation of life, for example, in the spreading influence of railway travel, it was those seeming certainties which were also being disrupted as communication and travel were speeding up; the knowledge base was expanding rapidly, and scientific exploration was challenging the known world. Carroll's surreal fantasy logically endeavours to explore this illogical tension.

In this fantasy world language is a site of contest and not even the physical body is a stable entity. Not surprisingly, Alice becomes a dislocated and confused subject when she enters Carroll's domain.

Carroll frames Alice's fantastic adventures with the idyllic image of a known reality. Alice sits on the bank next to her sister who is reading. Alice is bored by the book in which there are 'no pictures or conversations' (Carroll 1992:7). The combination of boredom and the heat of the day make her 'feel very sleepy and stupid'. As a result Alice is unprepared for the challenges to come in the world


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Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism


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