Places: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass: And What Alice Found There (1871 but dated 1872)

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Victorian era

Places DiscussedRiver bank

River Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandbank. The story opens on the bank of a river. The location is not specified, but it is presumably near Oxford, England. In a prefatory poem, Lewis Carroll recalls a boat trip he made in that region in 1862 with Alice Liddell (his model for the fictional Alice), two of Alice’s sisters, and a friend. At the village of Godstow, about three miles up a branch of the River Thames called the Isis, he first imagined and told the story that became Alice in Wonderland. The book begins and ends on the river bank, whose quiet and order are bookends surrounding a noisy and disordered dream world.

Rabbit hole

Rabbit hole. Passage through which Alice enters Wonderland. Just as Wonderland is a realm of transformation, the tunnel through which she reaches that realm is a classic symbol of birth. Much of the book unfolds against a background of symbols of gestation and birth, such as a too-small passage to a bright new world through which she can see but not pass; the pool of salt water produced by Alice’s own tears, in which she swims; the too-tight room in the rabbit’s house, where she kicks out; and her many changes in size.

Wonderland

Wonderland. Despite Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole and her references to being “down here,” there is no definite indication that Wonderland itself is underground. It is a parody of Victorian England from a child’s point of view: rule-bound, moralistic, and didactic, and of the Oxford town and university that Carroll knew. Often, Carroll describes no more of the setting than is minimally necessary for the action. There are no scenic descriptions of the surrounding territory, which is of no interest to either dreamers or children. In dreamlike fashion, scenes fade from one into one another in ways impossible to observe closely; the sizes of things and creatures are variable and inconsistent with one another.

Hall

Hall. Room in which Alice finds herself after falling through the rabbit hole. It is a “long, low hall,” with locked doors all around it, from which Alice peers through a fifteen-inch-high door and sees the “loveliest garden you ever saw.” In psychological terms, the desire to reach the garden can be interpreted as a longing to return to paradisal childhood innocence (or more crudely, to the womb). Conversely, it can also be interpreted as reflecting a desire to attain womanhood. Alice’s frustration at being unable at various moments to get the key, open the door, or fit through the door, is true both to the frustrations that arise in dreams and to those of children, who must often perform tasks they do not understand, tasks at which they are awkward, and tasks for which they are the wrong physical size.

White Rabbit’s house

White Rabbit’s house. Place in which Alice fetches the White Rabbit’s gloves and fan. Resenting his high-handed command, she grows so large that the room she is in becomes like a womb, a place in which there is insufficient space in which to grow up. She is thus symbolically trapped in the constricting limits of childhood–stuck in a world in which one is ordered about and has no say in one’s own affairs.

Caterpillar’s woods

Caterpillar’s woods. With a dream’s lack of consistency, the size perfect for the White Rabbit’s house (three inches, which makes no sense for a rabbit) makes Alice as small as an insect in the surrounding forest (and the exact size of the caterpillar). Alice’s normal height–regaining which was one of her goals–seems to fit the forest, but she keeps it only briefly.

Duchess’s house

Duchess’s house. Alice must again shrink to enter the Duchess’s house, which is only four feet high. Inside she finds the perfect reversal of an orderly Victorian household and of the proper rearing of a child: pepper reigns in the cooking and the temper, children are spoken to roughly, beaten, and shaken, and cooks indulge in casual assault by saucepan. The Duchess’s baby does the opposite of what a well-reared child like Alice is trying to do: instead of growing up (becoming more civilized, socialized), it transforms into a pig.

March Hare’s house

March Hare’s house. This house, with chimneys shaped like ears and a roof thatched with fur, is larger than the Duchess’s; Alice grows to two feet in order to approach it. A table is set out in front of the house for a never-ending tea party, as Time, insulted by the Mad Hatter, will not advance past 6 o’clock. It has been speculated that the tea party is Carroll’s satire on his college dining table at Oxford, where the same people gathered every evening for the same–it may have seemed to him–inane conversation.

Queen of Heart’s garden

Queen of Heart’s garden. This can be viewed as the lovely garden of childhood, haunted by the bullying of adults. Since reaching it is Alice’s goal throughout most of the book, the garden may also represent womanhood, which can appear glorious from a child’s view, but when reached, may prove difficult and confusing. Such an interpretation may reflect Carroll’s own views on being a grown-up; he was intensely shy around other adults and preferred the company of young girls.

Mock Turtle’s shore

Mock Turtle’s shore. Small rock ledge by an otherwise undefined shore. There, nearly all that the Mock Turtle and Gryphon tell Alice has to do with fish and the sea, including their many puns and the poem/dance, “The Lobster Quadrille.”

Court

Court. Room in which the King and Queen of Hearts try the Knave for stealing tarts. The trial over which they preside is a parody of an English courtroom, a symbol of adult, autocratic authority. Characters from throughout the book, of all sizes, come together for the finale. During the trial, Alice gradually grows larger than everyone about her, as she stands up against the kind of bullying and illogic that have pursued her throughout the book. At this point, the dream of childhood ends.

BibliographyBlake, Kathleen. Play, Games, and Sport: The Literary Works of Lewis Carroll. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974. Wittily argues that the Alice books create a world of games spinning out of control. Firmly establishes their author in a Victorian context.Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Edited by Martin Gardner. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1960. Martin Gardner’s notes in the margin alongside the text help to clarify jokes and conundrums and explain contemporary references.Carroll, Lewis. More Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Edited by Martin Gardner. New York: Random House, 1990. Based on letters from readers of the original The Annotated Alice, as well as new research, this sequel supplements rather than revises the first book. Reprints for the first time Peter Newell’s illustrations and includes Newell’s essay on visually interpreting Alice in Wonderland.Guiliano, Edward, ed. Lewis Carroll: A Celebration. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1982. A collection of fifteen essays, most referring to the Alice books, written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s birth. Provides many photographs and illustrations, including Lewis Carroll’s original renderings for Alice in Wonderland.Kelly, Richard. Lewis Carroll. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A broad critical survey of Carroll’s work. Emphasizes the humor in the Alice books.Phillips, Edward, ed. Aspects of Alice: Lewis Carroll’s Dreamchild as Seen Through the Critics’ Looking-Glasses, 1865-1971. New York: Vanguard Press, 1971. A wide-ranging and often entertaining omnibus. Includes a comprehensive bibliography.
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