- From Wonderland to the Marketplace:Alice's Progeny
In Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice Books, Carolyn Sigler brings together twenty selections from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century texts that in various ways derive from Lewis Carroll's two Alice books. While some of the authors collected here will be familiar (for example, Jean Ingelow, Juliana Horatia Ewing, C. Rossetti, Frances Hodgson Burnett, E. Nesbit), others will most likely beknown only to specialists (for example, Alice Corkan, John Rae, Caroline Lewis); this blend makes for an interesting mix of stories that have more or less "survived" and others that, although probably popular in their day, have faded out of common sight. The mix also helps support Sigler's assertion of the immediate and immense effects of the Alice books, effects that were not limited to mere imitation in the hope of cashing in on the lucrative "Alice industry" that began developing almost as the ink was drying on first editions (Carroll himself, of course, did much to impel this industry). The anthology classifies the stories into four parts: "Subverting Wonderland," "The Didactic Looking Glass," "Sentimental Re-Creations," and "Political Parodies." Although Sigler does not provide notes or glosses for the primary texts, she does offer a brief biographical sketch and analysis for each story; most of her primary texts are excerpted from longer works. In a nice touch, black and white illustrations from their original editions are reproduced well. Overall, this is a handsomely designed volume, although here and there one will find a typographical error that should have been caught (for example, note 26, p. xxiii).
Sigler's introduction surveys various historical and contemporary critical studies of the Alice books and notes a number of recent texts that also use Alice as a point of departure, but her primary interest lies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries' appropriation of the stories by both female and male writers in order to challenge and [End Page 226] deconstruct the very concept of Alice (from the cultural right as well as from the left). Sigler asserts that the Alice revisions by Victorian women "illustrate the transition—especially important in the emergence of women writers—from private to public discourse: the transformation of private occasional writing for a particular child to a public text for popular consumption" (xviii) and that many of these texts subvert "the original texts' conservative images of Victorian girlhood and domestic ideology and present Alice-like heroines who demonstrate power and authority over their fantasy adventures" (xix). Curiously, this movement from private to public text is precisely that of the Alice books themselves, which, as the legend has it, began as an oral tale on a drowsy afternoon, matured into the gift book Alice Underground for the Liddell children, and ultimately evolved into the fullblown texts we know today. Part 1, "Subverting Wonderland," collects six texts that Sigler believes consciously attempt to undermine "the conventions of the Victorian fairy tale and domestic fiction [and] the gender conventions that inform them" (50). Sigler does not claim that all six stem directly from the Alice texts as imitations or retellings but rather that, in various ways, they all react to and against the Alice narratives and thereby expand the imaginative possibilities for their protagonists. Included in part 1 are selections from Ingelow, Ewing, C. Rossetti, Burnett, Maggie Browne, Anna M. Richards, and E. Nesbit. Sigler restricts the writers of part 1 to women—otherwise, George MacDonald (especially the "Princess" stories) might well have been included here.
In part 2, "The Didactic Looking Glass," Sigler presents three tales that "attempt to counter praise that focused on the novels' lack of moralizing" (xix). In "Naughty Children Land" from Alice Corkan's Down the Snow Stairs (1887), we are shown a rather Dantesque place where children practice setting the world on fire and "love to kill flies and butterflies and see them wiggle" (230); in the evangelically correct end, "two severe-looking dames, carrying birch rods . . . pounce" on the "horrid" children (232). Part 2, then, presents...