Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mr. Dodgson's intersection with Alice

I think Lewis Carroll can be read quite a bit into the story of Alice in Wonderland. Firstly the choice and subject of the book coincides with his preoccupation with young girls as friends and companions. This development is particularly striking because of his friendship and proposal to an eleven year old girl named Alice. Carroll had many other hobbies that work their way into his occupation as an author. His pastime as an early photographer became evident in his preoccupation with the illustrations in the original work. He gave his illustrator John Tenniel incredibly detailed instructions on how to complete the illustrations. He also picked one of his young female companions as the model for Alice and sent Tenniel pictures of that girl. Because of these developments I believe that we are able to assume that the drawings are very close to Carroll's  vision of Wonderland and its inhabitants. In the course of my research for my presentation I found a database of Carroll's photographs, found below:

I also have a webpage that give information about the history of illustration surrounding John Tenniel:

The illustration of Alice is of interest for two reasons in particular I believe. First, because of the closeness of vision that we can assume and second because of the popularity of the story. It has been a story told and retold and in it a significant morphing of Alice in particular has happened that has made her older and a more acceptable object of the thinly veiled sexual images that run throughout the book.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Film versions of the transformation scene

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1920); transformation scene at 24:00

Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

Boris Karloff in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Sylvester and Tweety

Australian cartoon
; transformation at 8:15

1931 transformation (not a video clip)

Transformations of Size

The most obvious physical change that occurs to separate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is their change in height. From the tall, noble doctor, Jekyll is transformed into the stooped, nefarious Hyde. This theme seems to run through a lot of the different books we've read this year - it's equally tied to morality (and also maturity) in Gulliver's Travels, it seems to transform Alice not only in body, but also in mind, until she doesn't even feel like she's herself - not even her memories/thoughts are the same.....this all reminds me of the Castle of Otranto, and their belief that noble blood translates into good, moral conduct.

All of this just kind of made me think about the argument of morality as a biological/evolutionary invention. There's the standard argument that love is really just a biological function that increases the likelihood of reproduction and thus the population, and all that other stuff - altruism, helping the community, etc, so we could survive. But I think it would be interesting to see how our morality is effected in even the tiniest of ways: for example, stature. I watched some show once and it talked about how for women, height in men is the most attractive feature, even more important than facial features. Perhaps that is why height became an association with "goodness" - because maybe we biologically reasoned that whatever is a positive evolutionary factor is good for survival, and that just kind of fell into our morality along the way. That's if you believe in any of that....I think Nietzsche argued a lot about the development of language in much the same way, and how good was associated with wealth and moral depravity with poverty and things like that....

On a side note, Michael Ondaatje wrote this hilarious poem called "The Strange Case" about his alter ego taking the form of his dog. It's really fun.

Transformation as Release?

One of the oddest things about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to me was not the fact that the dude shifted into a monster... rather, it was the repetition of the act. I really have no basis for this theory other than I think it would be a really interesting way of reading the story, but perhaps somewhere in the good doctor's subconscious, he was relieved by this release of not just a monster but the monster within him. Taking it a step further, what horrified the doctor the most in the end may well have been the fact that he recognized the cathartic effect the transformation gave, despite denying it previously, and he essentially could not live with himself knowing that was inside him.

Innocence and Truth

While much has been said about Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels, I would like to point out one further specific link I saw between the two. Alice is a child, and we discussed at length Carroll's obsession with children and the child-like state. Inherent in childhood is innocence and purity. While Carroll's relations with young girls may be questionable--especially to our modern sensibilities--as pedophilia, which is obvious impurity, if we simply look at his fascination with childhood as it appears in Alice, the focus on innocence is apparent. Alice states exactly what is on her mind honestly and eagerly interrupts conversations to just let that honesty burst forth. There is no filter on her mouth because there is no recognition that one should be there at all. In the same way, the Houyhnhnms are innocent through their language as well. They always speak honestly and cannot even grasp the concept of lying. This tie to innocence through language is especially important because while Carroll himself promotes innocence, he also confounds through his language--the complexities, the puns, the absurdity. What, then, is he trying to say? That is the question.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Transformations Linked to Sleep

I wanted to wait until today to post because of this line that I found in the Preface of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

"This account can reinforce our appreciation of the tale's hallucinatory vividness of scene and sensation, and can deepen our interest in its treatment of the interchanges of identity linked with sleep and dreaming." (xiii)

This line seems fitting to describe both Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not only is the story hallucinatory to the readers, but also the reaction of the characters to the world they find themselves in. There is a sort of "elixir" that brings about the change in size in both Alice and Dr. Jekyll. For Dr. Jekyll, the elixir/potion became his vice much in the same way that alcohol can alter the personality of the drinker (sometimes for the worse) when consumed. However, no physical change occurs with alcohol unless you count a beer gut. But that's besides the point. Mr. Hyde is shorter in stature than Dr. Jekyll, and much like Alice, when he is smaller he has less power or control over what happens to him. While Alice's personality fundamentally remains the same, Dr. Jekyll turns into a different, much eviler person who does not carry the same sort of authority the "good" side of Jekyll does.
In the last chapter "Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case," in Jekyll's letter he writes: "And this again, that that insurgent horror was knit closer than a wife, closer than an eye; lay caged in his flesh, where he heard it mutter and felt it struggle to be born..." (61). The difference between Alice and Jekyll/Hyde is that Alice's soul is not in torment for she does not commit any heinous crimes while in Wonderland; her transformations are solely physical. Contrasting, Jekyll/Hyde's torment is of the soul.
Jekyll/Hyde's transformation represents the double side of man and the pull between good and evil--is Stevenson's message that evil will overrule good? The fact that Jekyll dies as Hyde appears to symbolize that evil is stronger than good, that the irrational is stronger than the rational. However, I also think that Stevenson wants the reader to see that there is good in evil, and evil in good. There is no black and white "evil vs. good." Dr. Jekyll was not all good in the same way that Hyde was not exactly all pure evil because he was under the influence of a drug/potion. The voice of reason appears to be Mr. Utterson, the "man of rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse," which seems like a very dim prospective "voice of reason" to squash the seemingly irrational transformations. But is having two sides to your personality really irrational? I think it is human to struggle between what is right and wrong, good or evil.

Metamorphosis and the failure of language

The status of speech or speechlessness in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is particularly interesting to me, given our conversation about the power of language to shape the rational and identity in Alice in Wonderland. I feel like one of the persistent themes of metamorphosis is the failure of voice and speech at the moment of transformation, an act that involves a loss of identity. This relationship is complicated in this story, however, as Dr. Jekyll's transformation into Mr. Hyde is presented not so much as a loss of identity as an embodiment of a separate form of identity, of a different facet of said identity. In the final chapter, Dr. Jekyll's Full Statement, Mr. Hyde is not allowed a voice - only Dr. Jekyll has the power to communicate. In spite of this, however, Dr. Jekyll describes the process of "in the beginning, the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late, gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side. All things therefore seemed to point to this: that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated into my second and worse." This strange back and forth of metamorphosis seems as though it should have some sort of implications for the status of language, and therefore authorship. Has there been some sort of failure on both sides of the divide? Can language and communication continue at all in this state of limbo? Which direction does the relationship flow? Is it the language, the ability to speak that creates the self and the "I" or the complete self and "I" that is only able to speak effectively?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, and Satire of "Alice..."

As I was reading this novel, I could not help but note its similarities with Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." Wonderland is a topsy-turvy recreation of England complete with monarchy, and the sheer fantasticality of the stories leads to disbelief. I was convinced, that as I researched Carroll, I would discover a man with a staunch political opinion. Instead, it turns out that the author, Dodgson, is actually obsessed with children, particularly little girls. In fact, his only friends were children...obviously this is weird in more ways than one. But regardless of Dodgson's probable pedophilia, the point is that he felt alienated by adult society and attempted to escape into the world of children. According to the biography in Literature Online, he was fascinated by "child nature" -- freedom from social convention. After reassessing my interpretation of "Alice in Wonderland," I am not quite unclear about the satire or simply dadaistic view of society. Does Carroll simply hope to provide an escape within the novel? I am still convinced there is a critique of the monarchy, particularly the judicial system, but Carroll's personal history has left me doubting.

Lack of Answers in Alice in Wonderland

As I was reading Alice in Wonderland, I noticed that Alice never really found any solutions to the problems she faced. For example, she did not understand the Queen of Hearts and her love of execution nor did she grasp the meaning of the croquet game. She was always fearful of the dreadful command "off with her head" because she was totally sure if the guards would actually obey. She doesn't understand the caucus race and when she tries to offer a solution, it makes everything worse. Like Virginia said in her post, I think it adds to the unsettling nature of Wonderland.

I also thought it was interesting at the beginning how Alice helps narrate the story through her own thoughts. When there are less characters around, she provides the background thoughts of the situation. She reveals herself to the reader and helps propel the story forward.

The Many Themes in Alice and Wonderland

Throughout Alice in Wonderland I kept thinking about Gulliver's Travels and how there are many themes all working together in one. While there were many similar themes between the two works, I thought the most prevalent themes in Alice and Wonderland were criticism of politics/law, identity, and the significance of language. However, I though the criticisms of politics and government were the most interesting. First, the Caucus race seemed to show the absurdity of British government and politicians, running around without a purpose and ending up right where they started without accomplishing anything. I also thought the fact that the Queen was merely a playing card and how she never actually executed anyone revealed how powerless a tyrant can actually be when people (like Alice) use reason to combat their absurd behaviors.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Literalism in Alice in Wonderland

As I read Alice, I can't help but notice that Carroll frequently confuses and distresses his heroine by making literal what is often an expression or else plays out the duality of a pun. When she reaches the bottom of the rabit hole and can't find an escape, for instance, she literally begins drowning in her own tears.The mouse's confusing "tale" is written in the twisting shape of a tail. The caterpillar constantly questions the commonplace expressions Alice uses like the habit of saying "you know" or "myself". It is by turning our habits of language and expression upside down that Wonderland becomes such a fantastically strange place. Carroll succeeds in creating a truly strange world not just by making outlandish things happen, but by basing a bizarre turn of events on a common experience: tea parties, games of chess and croquet , even familiar songs like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". This is what makes Wonderland so unsettling and strange.