The eNotated Alice in Wonderland
Says Sowers, “This book is for adults as well as children. Alice in Wonderland is not simply a sweet children’s story set in dreamland. It is much more complex.
Themes include death, racism, politics, anger, confusion, logic and women’s roles. Carroll wrote in a world controlled by Victorian sensibilities.” One hundred fifty years ago, Charles Dodgson, joined a party boating from Oxford to Godstow that included three little girls, Alice Liddell and her sisters. In charge of entertainment, Dodgson told the girls a story that with Alice’s encouragement became Alice in Wonderland, published three years later under the pen name Lewis Carroll.
Immediately popular and published in hundreds of variously illustrated editions reaching millions of readers over generations, “Alice” has over time become less accessible than it was to Carroll’s Victorian contemporaries. Sowers’s eNotations supply the tacit background Alice knew but we don’t, revealing the humor, insight, and fun of this many-layered complex book.
This eNotated Classics sesquicentennial edition of “Alice” contains more than 90 illustrations, most in color, from the most beloved editions of Alice as well as more than 360 eNotations, an introduction, two fascinating essays, an extensive bibliography, and a chronology showing where Carroll and “Alice” fit in their times.
The eNotated Through the Looking Glass
Sowers notes in her introduction, "Carroll achieved something remarkable with 'Looking Glass' It is more 'lyrical and contemplative; it contains pure poetry,' an extraordinarily rare achievement in a book intended for children. One of the unique qualities of Carroll's 'Alice' books is that they remain relevant to their readers, even as the readers mature and their world changes. 'Reading them first as a child then as a teenager, and finally as an adult, this continuing dynamism has seemed one of the strangest things about them. How could a book keep changing? Of course, I knew that really I was the one changing, as I grew up. Yet the shifting uncertainty, the sense that none of what I read had been quite what it seemed, was the element that kept drawing me back.' Clearly Carroll was writing on many different levels, and each time, we re-read them with new mental and emotional equipment." Comparing "Wonderland" and "Looking-Glass," Sowers points out "The autumnal tone of 'Looking-Glass' is very different from 'Wonderland' because by this time, Carroll's perspective on life had shifted. He could no longer consider himself young, and this admission to himself is reflected in his writing. 'The second Alice book has the same rich vein of nonsense but it is also sombre and wistful and it reflects an author who had come to terms with unhappiness.' Throughout the book, the characters are more thoughtful and a little sadder. Maturity, and mature concerns, temper Carroll's inspiration."
Published in hundreds of variously illustrated editions reaching millions of readers over generations, “Looking Glass” has over time become less accessible than it was to Carroll’s Victorian contemporaries. Sowers’s eNotations supply the tacit background Alice knew but we don’t, revealing the humor, insight, and fun of this many-layered complex book.
This eNotated Classics edition of “Looking Glass” contains more than 90 illustrations, most in color, from the most beloved editions of "Looking Glass as well as more than 280 eNotations, an introduction, three fascinating essays, an extensive bibliography, and a chronology showing where Carroll and “Looking Glass” fit in their times.
The eNotated Hunting of the Snark
Sowers notes in her introduction that Snark is "a poem that 'describes with infinite humour the impossible journey of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature,'" a kind of "'Odyssey of the Nonsensical'" that "unlike the 'Alice' books, is not intended only for children", adding that "through the decades, 'the poem has continued to attract a small cult following of adult readers.'" Comparing Snark to "Through the Looking Glass," Sowers say "Much of the poem shares words and ideas that first were used in the poem 'Jabberwocky' in 'Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.'" but with "'less exuberance and wordplay and more adult fear and anxiety throughout' Despite having the overall theme of a quest, as 'Jabberwocky,' did, in 'Snark' there is 'none of the triumphant joy of the earlier ballad, since the hunt ends this time in failure,' as eventually adults must acknowledge that all lives end in death. Carroll was reminded of this physical fact daily; despite his faith, he was facing the unknown of this final transition, and wrote it out metaphorically in this poem. The author tried to face this with his former exuberance, but knew he was dancing against the coming darkness."
Sowers has written her eNotations with several different audiences in mind: "A young reader might just read through the main text and look at the pictures, while a slightly older reader might read the definitions as well: so much of the Victorian life that was so familiar to Carroll, along with the language that described it, has changed or disappeared over the decades. A parent or grandparent could read this edition with a child, sharing some of the background information in the notes."
This eNotated Classics edition of “The Hunting of the Snark” contains 30 illustrations, many in color, from the most beloved editions of Snark as well as more than 90 eNotations, an introduction, three fascinating essays, an extensive bibliography, and a chronology showing where Carroll and Snark fit in their times.
About Lewis Carroll
From the eIntroduction to The eNotated Alice in Wonderland by Pam Sowers:
Alice in Wonderland is not a sweet children's story set in a dreamy fairyland, although that was the initial intent of Alice's author. Perhaps without truly intending to, Lewis Carroll peppered this children's classic with death, mutilation, racism, politics, and savagery, while also dealing with anger, confusion, memory, logic, reason, women's role, and insanity. One-hundred-fifty years ago, surrounded as he was by Victorian conventionality, Carroll cloaked these difficult subjects in logically developed nonsense, making them palatable to adults and delightful to children, even as he re-invented children's literature from the ground up.
Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, writing for children always had a moral or a lesson. Jack Zipes points out that fairy tales were considered dangerous because they didn't teach Christian morality. "By the beginning of the nineteenth century, fairy-tale writers had learned to . . . incorporate Christian . . . messages into the narratives to satisfy middle-class and aristocratic adults" (4-5). Children's wishes were ignored in order to encourage them to become dependable adults as quickly as possible. Children's books were like corsets for the Victorian child's mind, which had to be controlled by responsible adults. When Carroll wrote about Alice's adventures, he created the first successful fantasy story for children that was not intended to be educational in any way. Carroll wanted Alice Pleasance Liddell and her sisters, and later all the children of the world, to enjoy his story. In the 1860s, as Jackie Wulschlager points out, this was a literary revolution: "Before Carroll . . ., children's books were educational tracts preaching conformity and obedience" (5). Alice may have conformed to Victorian expectations occasionally, but she certainly wasn't always obedient! In creating this outwardly compliant but inwardly questioning heroine, Carroll forged new ground in children's literature. Instead of being morally educational, and therefore anxiety-provoking, the Alice books amuse, comfort, and console in their eccentricity and their understanding of the innocent side of childhood. This innocence, though, is underpinned by disruptive emotions that can be discerned by the careful reader.
At the roots of this massive change in the way children read was the man himself. Virginia Woolf said that for Carroll, childhood never faded away into wisps of memory. "It lodged in him whole and entire . . . Therefore as he grew older this impediment at the centre of his being, this hard block of pure childhood, starved the mature man of nourishment. He slipped through the grown-up world like a shadow. . . . But since childhood remained in him entire, he could do what no one else has ever been able to do--he could return to that world; he could recreate it, so that we too become children again" (254). Kimberly Reynolds more recently called this a rejection of adulthood in favor of an idealized concept of childhood (187 fn). For generations of adults, Carroll's Wonderland has become a refuge where we can relive those parts of childhood where logic upends itself, and where all the confusion of a day among strangers ends in a nice warm meal in a familiar, cozy place.
Dodgson himself had a wonderful childhood at first. As a pastor's child in a household full of intelligent, busy children, he early on started creating poems, stories, and entire family magazines for the amusement of his siblings. Life took a darker turn for him, though, when he was sent to Rugby School. As Bill Bryson explains, "Rarely can hardship have been embraced with greater enthusiasm than in the English private school in the nineteenth century. From the moment of arrival pupils were treated to harsh regimens involving cold baths, frequent canings, and the withholding from the diet of anything that could be remotely described as appetizing . . .Living conditions in the schools were always grim" (428). Additionally, supervision of the boys was frequently lax, so sadistic children would often tease, beat, or victimize smaller, weaker boys. J. Zornado adds that "Public school was, in short, a life in which students-as-siblings practiced a style of human relationship defined by the adults in 'moral' authority over them and who maintained their moral authority through violence, domination, subjugation, and humiliation" (106). This atmosphere was certainly different from what Dodgson had experienced in his loving home. As an adult, Dodgson once said that he would not repeat his days at Rugby for anything on earth. This experience could explain why he preferred the company of girls and wrote the Alice books primarily for their entertainment.
As he moved into college, and became a fellow at Christ Church, Dodgson began to follow strict habits, keeping detailed diaries, filing and indexing every letter he either sent or received, and maintaining a guest diary as well, in which he noted the name of everyone he entertained in his campus apartment and every menu served there. He became "fussy, prim, and hard on himself. In his diary he lists his faults as 'failing to clear arrears of lecture work every evening' and 'indulging in sleep in the evening'" (Wullschlager 33). From this repressed, overly tidy life, Dodgson rebelled through creativity, first by writing humourous articles, and eventually by telling the story of Alice's adventures. In examining a fantasized underground society, the fictive persona of Carroll allowed Dodgson to criticize Victorian society above ground. Dodgson the reliable mathematics instructor throws off the restraints of his time and country, but in a way that his contemporaries could claim was all in fun, even as it made them uneasy. As Robertson Davies says, "unexceptionable logic gives rise to a totally inexplicable but logical chaos, and a freedom from the domination of dull reason" in the Alice books (94).
About eNotator Pam Sowers
Pam Sowers is a free-lance writer and researcher living in Western Washington. The eNotated Alice in Wonderland is her first book, although she has written many magazine and newsletter articles, as well as continuing radio and newspaper series on behalf of health sciences and healthcare organizations. Sowers has also worked as a radio, television, and print reporter, in the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of China – Taiwan. Her favorite job so far has been teaching English as a second language to American and international students. She is a graduate of Saint Martin’s University and enjoys discussing philosophy and international cuisine, especially if someone else is cooking. Her favorite authors are Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Emily Post, Jacob Needleman, and, of course, Lewis Carroll.Reviews
Source: From the publisher for review
First Published: 2012
Score: 4 out of 5
I'm very familiar with the story of Alice in Wonderland. I read it several times as a child and for the last two years, I've also taught it to my classes as part as a cross-curricular unit on the Victorians. But here's the thing - whilst I know the story very well, I'm not familiar with critical interpretations of it. My focus on teaching it to young children has always been to inspire creativity, to imagine wonderlands of our own, not to analyse it for meaning. So I was pleased to be approached by eNotated Classics and offered a copy of The eNotated Alice in Wonderland to review. It's an electronic version of the story with parts highlighted. These direct you to notes that explain the text, offer context or give a theoretical viewpoint. As well as this, there are two short essays after the story that give more interpretation.
This review isn't going to be about the story of Alice in Wonderland, but rather my experience with the notes themselves and how this added to my reading. Believe it or not, this is the first time I've read an annotated version of a classic and on the whole I enjoyed it. The notes that I appreciated the most where the ones that gave background context about Carroll himself and the inspiration for the story. I knew Alice was a real girl, but I didn't know she kept rabbits as pets, actually had a cat called Dinah or that the Queen of Hearts was based on her rather overbearing mother (I hope the mother herself didn't find this out!).
I knew a fair bit about the Victorians before reading this, but added bits of context are always welcome. For example, I wasn't aware that families often renamed their servants, even going so far as to give a string of servants the same name so that they would only have to learn one name. Apparently, 'Mary Ann' was a popular name for a servant. Alongside these context notes, I liked the ones about Carroll's construction of the story and how this changed over time; the tea party wasn't in the original draft, meaning the Mad Hatter and March Hare were initially absent.
My feelings about the notes offering critical interpretation were more mixed. I was interested to see the theories but had I been reading the story for the first time, they would have stopped me coming up with my own ideas about what the story means. For that reason, I think versions like this are best suited to those already familiar with the story. Sometimes there were a lot of notes on each page and I didn't know which ones to select. I read this on an old kindle so I don't know if this would work on colour devices, but it might be nice to somehow differentiate the context notes from the theory ones, so the reader can select just the notes they are interested in. I also think the notes best suited to an American audience as there were a few explanations of British phrases that I personally didn't need the notes for; 'leave off' and 'box her own ears' were a few examples.
I do feel that I got more out of the text reading the notes alongside it. The two essays at the end were very interesting (I wish there had been more) and I feel I have more of an understanding of Carroll and why he wrote the story he did. The inclusion of many illustrations from early editions was a nice touch that made reading more pleasurable. On the whole, I'd recommend this to others, especially those already familiar with the story.
5.0 out of 5 stars
August 24, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I was given a copy of this as a gift. I decided to read it with my seven year old daughter. Taking turns, we read this aloud from my iPad. My daughter loves all the illustrations, and we find the eNotation very helpful. We click on unusual terms or phrases for a link to additional meaning, then it is easy to go back to the text. This is a great way to read classics that may have words that we no longer use, and that young readers may stumble over. Alice is one of those excellent books that can be read on so many levels and is a delight for children and adults.