- Brave New Alice:Anna Matlack Richards's Maternal Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) are among the most enduring and successful Victorian works for children. At the end of the nineteenth century a poll by the Pall Mall Gazette to determine the twenty best books for ten-year-olds ranked Alice's Adventures in Wonderland first and Through the Looking-Glass eleventh (Avery 131). Now Lewis Carroll's Alice books have become an accepted part of both the children's and adult literary canons, appearing in countless classic paperback editions for both audiences and on virtually every Victorian bibliography of "great books." It is little wonder, then, that Carroll's popular and canonical successes have generated almost two hundred parodies, sequels, and imitations, including some, such as Anna Matlack Richards's A New Alice in the Old Wonderland (1895), that I believe construct radical revisions of the original Alice adventures. Richards's work, I shall argue, deserves special consideration in the Alice-imitation canon, because it indicates to the modern reader some of the ways that nineteenth-century American women read, responded to, and resisted the construction of femininity in the original Alice books.
To understand Richards's work more fully, it is important to place it in the context of the numerous works inspired by Carroll that proliferated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the best parodies, like Hector Hugh Munro's The Westminster Alice (1902) and Edward Hope's Alice in the Delighted States (1928), use the liberating nonsense of the Alice books for political and social satire; sequels, such as Hartley Georget's A Few More Chapters of Alice Through the Looking-Glass (1875) and John Rae's Another Alice Book, Please! (1917), continue or expand upon Alice's adventures. A majority of the works that modeled themselves after Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, however, could best be described as imitations: dream fantasies adhering to a similar plot structure (that of the journey) and using poems, songs, nonsense language, and familiar [End Page 55] characters from nursery rhymes and games.1 Many of these Alice imitations are didactic in nature, transforming Carroll's nonsensical Wonderland and Looking-Glass worlds into a place where lessons and morals are communicated directly rather than obliquely—"if only you can find [them]," as the Duchess wryly observes in Alice in Wonderland. Carroll was very interested in the many imitations that followed the publication of his two Alice books, and he notes in his diary entry for September 11, 1891, the acquisition of several of them for "the collection I intend making of the books of the Alice type" (Diaries 2:486).
Yet not all of the Alice imitations are merely didactic or, for that matter, merely imitations. Among the most radical revisions of the Alice myth were those written by women writers in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. These include Jean Ingelow's Mopsa the Fairy (1869), Christina Rossetti's powerful Speaking Likenesses (1874), Alice Corkran's Mrs. Wishing-To-Be (1883), Maggie Browne's Wanted- A King; or How Merle Set the Nursery Rhymes to Right (1890), and Richards's A New Alice, all of which pose feminized (if not directly feminist) alternatives to Carroll's oppressive and autocratic vision of Wonderland. Indeed, as Nina Auerbach and U. C. Knopflmacher point out in Forbidden Journeys, female fantasy writers "had to speak gently (like Lewis Carroll's Duchess) even when they were most enraged" (6, italics added). Ingelow's Mopsa the Fairy both complicates and resists the conventional morality and sentimentality of Carroll, Charles Kingsley, and many other Victorian fantasy writers.2 Rossetti's Speaking Likenesses offers up a dark antidote to what Auerbach and Knopflmacher characterize as the "cheerfulness demanded of good women" (317). Browne's Wanted—A King is, by contrast, exuberant and energetic in its subversion. Her protagonist, Merle, successfully rids the fantasyland, Endom, of a dictatorial ruler and restores the rightful king. Merle is encouraged by the Rhyme Fairy to be a defiant and resistant heroine:
"If you would banish Gunter Grim,Have not the slightest fear...