There is much controversy about Lewis Carroll’s relationship with little girls. However, it is clear that his books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “Through The Looking-Glass” and “What Alice Found There” are widely admired for their imaginative and funny natures. While his photography (which is often called Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), has been criticized for its technical and aesthetic excellence, it is certainly not as well-received as his writing. On first inspection, Carroll’s multiple mediums can make it seem like he has two personalities. Even if he only has one muse, Alice’s stories and photographs portray two different characters. Alice’s stories depict a child in a playful, whimsical world, while Carroll’s photos show him in eroticized images that depict a vulnerable child in compromising situations, often with the intent of appealing to a male gaze. You can see that Alice Liddell is as romanticized in her written work as she is in her photographs. Alice’s stretchy body and encounter with the pigeon in the scene that Alice meets is an interesting example of this. (Schanoes) You can argue that Carroll considered innocence to be temptation.
Lewis Carroll sexualizes Alice in some photos, although it is unclear if he intended to do so. Alice is shown centered among shrubbery. White drapery falling off of her shoulder reveals her left nuble in one photo (Carroll 228). She is holding her hand on her hip, staring at the viewer in a mocking manner (Kincaid 275). Alice is completely covered in a similar photo. She is again wearing white and it makes the photograph seem more provocative. This may be because of Alice’s knowing and impish smirk (Carroll 279). The knowing smile may be evidence of an “enticing knowledge about her own reserve”, which allows her to “elude even herself own photographs” (Kincaid 276). Alice’s photos show a lot of coyness, reserve and sexuality. However, some others seem to display a more sexy attitude. Alice is wearing a large white, buttoned-up blouse in another photo. Lorina, Lorina and Alice are sharing identical dresses. Alice is standing tall, with her head up and her mouth open. (Carroll 282). The camera seems content to focus on her head and her profile. This is especially interesting considering that her sister is holding cherries in her hands. This image is a reflection of Alice’s innocence and purity. Alice was only a small girl at the time and wasn’t an erotic deviant, like photographs would make you believe. These photographs are provocative because Carroll used his keen eye to pose Alice and direct her movements and expressions. He also captured her sexually through the camera. His fantasies became real thanks to his skillful eye. Alice Liddell, an adult, recounts her experiences with Carroll as a child. She said that Carroll’s dark room was mysterious and she felt that there might be adventures. (Carroll 278) It would be ridiculous to attempt to read Carroll’s implications from this incident. However, Alice does acknowledge that there is an ominous quality to the stories she tells about Carroll as an adult. The fact that she acknowledged this acknowledgment at all demonstrates her lack of “enticing know-how” on her behalf and perhaps demonstrates her naievete. This counters the erotic nature in her photographs. Carroll has captured it with great skill.
The other visual differences between the two Alice representations lend credence to the idea that they are not sexualized in the same way. Photographs of Alice Liddell show that she had dark brown hair and had straight, long bangs. While it may not seem like a major factor at first glance, hairstyles and colors are an important part of Tenniel’s drawings of Alice. The Alices have a markedly different approach to this task. The Alice in Wonderland is shown with long, flowing blonde hair. Her forehead is revealed by her pushed back. These hairstyles could not be more different. One other important physical distinction is in their eyes. While a drawing is less accurate than an actual photograph, Tenniel depicts Alice’s eyes as larger, wider and more curious than the photographs. Carroll must have done the work and created the images he wanted. This makes one wonder why the fictional Alice can have these physical distinctions, while the nonfictional Alice does. Carroll’s fictional Alice could be manipulated to look like Alice, which is clearly a complicated construct that he has made. This was after much consideration. Carroll has stated that he wants his books read in the same way as they were written (Kincaid 218). You can see why Carroll made his Alice vision in this way. The child is artificial so it is possible to make it to your liking. Kincaid also states that gentleness is possible to be added to the order. Carroll loved gentleness and modesty so he made an Alice from this image. He took the Alice he loved and adjusted any aspects that might have diminished her “gentleness” and purity to make it a beloved figure. His Alice, a “aesthetically indistinct” model, can also be considered a blank canvas. She is young, impressionable and fair-skinned. These “gentle” or indistinct qualities help to eroticize Alice.
This Alice is more Carroll’s psychological construct or Carroll anticipating the reader’s desires. Carroll can make Alice erotic in many ways, including her shaved skin and hair. These lighter features don’t make Alice seem more attractive. As important, the epitome erotic child is often sporadically foolish and bourgeois. Carroll took Alice’s photographs in all white, which is why he was so proud of her. Carroll was unable to change Alice’s physical appearance. He loved her as is, so he didn’t want to. Carroll took almost all of her photos in white, keeping her modesty while ensuring her stunning appearance. Carroll did his best to keep Alice’s outfit neutral so that he could appeal to as many eyes as possible.
Carroll created a picture of a child who is so vulnerable to projection and malleable. He also made it very exploitable. Carroll makes fun of this idea in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He shows Alice the bottle labeled “DRINKME” (Carroll56). Carroll refers to her as “wise little Alice”, when she searches for poison signs. Although the scene is funny, it has something quite disturbing. Despite the fact that the liquid does nothing to alter Alice’s body size, the possibility of danger from drinking from an unidentified bottle is a stark reminder of the ease with which Alice can be endangered and even exploited sexually. Although Alice is in danger and Carroll does not have control, this humor is very dark. It is Carroll’s own mix of feelings of latent adoration and sexual frustration as well as a desire for Alice and a slight resentment about her not being available in the way he wants.
Carroll also writes Alice as passive to convey her emotions. Carroll expected children to behave modestly, be polite, not show too much, especially in times of hunger. Carroll’s most well-known flaw is his aversion to hunger. This explains why the Red Queen and the Duchess were so disapprovalible (Garland). Carroll liked little girls and disliked women. Carroll wrote that Alice Liddell was a much-loved child and that Carroll had “changed a lot” (Carroll 246). Garland: Grown women are unlikable characters because they are associated with greed and excessive appetites. This makes it obvious that Alice would be judged against many of the women. Carroll indirectly displays his belief that girls are more desirable than women and is sexually superior to them. Alice displays poise and manners. Both Alice texts depict women who are sexy. Carroll seems to suppress any unwanted feelings, excessness, or ugliness in Alice. He also manages to stifle Alice’s voice and take away her agency.
Alice may also become completely out-of-control when she speaks to the caterpillar in very small sizes. Alice is very small and feeling vulnerable. Sir, I’m afraid because I’m unable to hear you and I don’t know which side. Alice is still confused and needs to do something. This is an especially fascinating part, as the caterpillar appears to be deliberately acting in this way. Because he is both concerned by Alice’s insecurity and naivete, he appears to be trying to avoid her. It is possible to read the caterpillar’s responses as being ambivalent. He is less stupid and perhaps wiser than other mad creatures of Wonderland. However, he is undoubtedly argumentative and would like to make Alice powerless. He may be the only person who can give Alice power, and it is his faith in her maturation. The important thing to keep in mind is that while the caterpillar’s role is perhaps vital, it is not an essential one. Alice leaves the caterpillar relatively powerless and vulnerable. This is the reason Carroll keeps her in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The reader experiences Carroll struggling to understand his feelings as he confronts Alice’s eventual transition and gives up control. Carroll is the winner in this subtle power struggle between Alice and Carroll.
Alice is forced to surrender control of her situation and becomes a victim in a more sexualized and narrower scene. Alice is blinded by the darkness and cannot see where she will end up when she falls down the rabbit hole. She sees the end in her, but she is not sure what it will bring (Carroll 52). This hole represents Alice’s passage through a birth canal and her rebirth as a woman. Wonderland is Alice’s experience of increased consciousness and realization. This happens after long periods in confusion. In order to get to the “other end”, or in a different way, her “fall” leads her to greater wisdom and knowingness. Because she is unable to control her sexual identity, the actual fall through the hole is characterized by a lack of control. This loss of control over her own sexuality, including her body, desires and assertiveness against unsolicited advances, comes back to haunt her in Wonderland. The Duchess is curiously keeping her chin on Alice’s shoulders as they walk together after croquet (Carroll 122). This scene is clearly made more disgusting by Carroll than the sexuality, although it isn’t particularly jarring. But the scene’s atmosphere makes it seem so dreadful and confusing that it makes the reader shudder with dismay and confusion. The footnote clearly states that the Duchess is clearly a grotesque male and invades Alice’s space constantly, wanting to do an experiment. Alice, with her manners intact (which Carroll decides to preserve even when faced with exploitation and extreme discomfort), reaches out for an excuse. This is until the Queen appears (125). The reader is left feeling anxious about Alice’s vulnerability to many unfavorable occurrences because of her gentleness and sexual appeal.
Carroll’s anxieties and reactions to Alice’s impending motherhood are a major theme in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll’s fears about Alice are reflected in the pigeon. The pigeon first fears Alice. This leads to anger and disbelief about her words and motives. Carroll probably asked the same question. He is also afraid that he will fall for her. Are they innocent or are they cunning (temptation?)? This makes it clear that Alice, by her control of Carroll, is unconsciously cunning. He must then assert his control over Alice’s creation.
Carroll may be criticized by the reader for sexualizing Alice. However, it is not impossible to see that part of Alice’s eroticism is written with love and not in a perverse way. The eroticity of her character comes from the fact that she keeps the reader engaged. She acts passively but in a way that is visible to the men, but not too close. Carroll’s Alice blends a little bit of coyness with just a little bit of stubbornness. This is most likely true to real-life Alice. While Alice is not powerless in certain areas, she is still powerful and keeps the gap between her and the eager reader. The inability of closing this gap may disappoint some. However, Carroll, a child-lover, sees the hidden joy, that Alice’s adventures can live on for future generations. It is this strange, complicated and sometimes perverse relationship that Carroll has with Alice that creates such strong and confusing love. Sometimes, such manifestations are criticized. It is possible to sympathize with Alice while detesting Carroll’s control and manipulation of his imagined character. While this may be true, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Carroll’s control over Alice is a result both of real and strange love and a growing fear of losing him.
Through the Looking-Glass ends with Carroll’s poem in which he shares his feelings of loss when Alice is (white) pawn and (red) queen. Although it is difficult to understand his feelings of loss, it is very relatable because Alice is still living. He is grieving, but he also knows that he will never see his beloved again. The imagery is full with language of closure. “Still I haunt me phantomwise. Alice going under skies” is the most poignant stanza that Carroll uses to describe his deep sense of loss (Carroll 223). Carroll compares Alice, the older Alice, to a ghost. He also implies that he dreams often about Alice. This stanza, while sentimental, is inherently erotic. Carroll is seen to be helpless in his desire for Alice, and Alice is seen to be in control of Alice’s power to seduce him. As his books give him a sense of eternity, his last line of poetry asks “Life… what is it but dreams?” perpetuating Alice’s adventures as well as perpetuating her friendship with him.
A compilation of sources that includes a brief description of each one.
Bruhm and Steven. Natasha Hurley. Curiouser: On Children’s Queerness. The University of Minnesota published something in Minneapolis in 2004. Print.
John Tenniel, Lewis, Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Macmillan published the work in New York in 1963. Print.
Garland, Carina. “Curious Apetites: Food Desire, Gender, Subjectivity and Gender in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Texts.”Proquest. N.p., n.d. Web.
Kincaid James R. Child loving: The Erotic Child & Victorian Culture. Routledge published a work on New York in 1992. Print.
Schanoes, Veroncia. “Fearless Children & Fabulous Monsters: Angela Carter and Lewis Carroll.” Proquest. N.p., n.d. Web.