Lewis Carroll (Charles Ludwig Dodgson) was an incredible story teller. He was known for being a well educated man who was capable of writing both accomplished literature and fun, satires that were amusing to children and adults alike. However these days, he is remembered best for the novels he wrote for his child friend Alice Liddell. Carroll wrote the first of the Alice books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in 1865 and the second of his novels, Through the Looking-Glass was written in 1871which places these stories right in the middle of the Victorian Era, which arguably can be considered to be from 1837 to 1901, or the time of Queen Victoria's reign. As previously mentioned, Carroll was known for being a great satirist, writing poems and short stories that mocked the English government, the stiff scholars of Cambridge (where he worked and was educated), and even himself. While his Alice novels are enjoyed mostly for their magic, fantastic qualities, they are not without their own message that Carroll slipped beneath the story. In particular, the Alice stories hold an underlying message about the difficulties of being a young upper-middle class girl growing up in the Victorian era; having to blindly follow rules and social stereotypes that she doesn't agree with and becoming a young woman in a world that provided girls with no information about the changes that would occur, both physically and mentally.
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It's important to understand that during this time, women had a very specific place in society which was notably below the men. Any upper-middle class girl growing up in the mid to late 1800's was taught from a very young age a number of societal rules that all women of a higher social status were expected to follow. Young girls could be seen as the very bottom of the common Victorian family. They were always expected to maintain a certain level of submissiveness with their parents and guardians. Of course it was important for any child to obey their elders, but young boys tended to have more freedoms with their parents. "Girlsâ€¦treated their parents with the same kind of deference that we have observed in boys, but there was often an added touch of obsequiousness and submission," said Anthony Fletcher, a professor at the University of London who has studied English social history [I] . After a girl grew up and finally became a woman, there was no opportunity for her to move up on the social ladder. She was stuck in the status she was born in, and the only expectation made of her was to act as a woman of her status would be expected to act. Women were also always expected to be subservient to the men in their lives. Katharine Chorley was a woman who was growing up when Lewis Carroll was still writing his books. She was raised in such a way that taught her that she was living in a world made by men, in which the men were lord. She wrote that "[Women] existed for their husband's and father's sakes and their lives were shaped to please masculine vanity." [II] There is no doubt that Lewis Carroll was well aware of this clear distinction between men and women, yet in the first of his Alice novels, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, he created a character that went against the very gender-laws that governed his society.
The Queen of Hearts is a character that clearly holds more power than her husband the King of Hearts, and out right ignores the King's comments and demands. The Queen is famous for her constantly repeated command "Off with her head!"which is only one of her never ending demands and proclamations. The King tries to reason with her with passive comments such as "Consider, my dear: she is only a child!" but she blatantly ignores him without even the slightest hint that she heard what he said in the first place. Real women of the Victorian Era would not only be incredibly startled by the very idea of not doing what her husband told her to do, but she would have no power to make demands or orders in the first place. A young girl reading Carroll's novels would likely be rather amused by the idea that a man would be so totally subservient to his own wife, especially if the girl was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that she would never be educated like her brother and, as a woman, would never have the same opportunities a man would.
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A nice game of Croquet was not an uncommon way for an upper to middle class Victorian family to spend an afternoon. It was a game introduced by the French around 1852, and the English picked up an immediate enjoyment of it. While the game was the exact type of calm game that would be enjoyed by middle and upper class women who didn't care to exert themselves, there is little question that the young Alice Liddell (about and for whom Carroll wrote his books) and her sisters would have thought the game to be most burdensome. However, "Mrs Liddell's approach to exercise for her girls suggests that they would have participated in what became...the most popular of all country-house summer lawn games." [III] Carroll turns the game of Croquet into quite a mockery of 'high class' gaming in his first novel, as he creates quite a bizarre recreation of the game. The character Alice is forced into playing the game by the Queen of Hearts, much like Miss Alice Liddell would have been forced into it by her mother. "Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches," [IV] Carroll describes a truly comical scene which Alice Liddell might have been incredibly amused with and might even have imagined herself in as she was forced to parade about her yard knocking about a Croquet ball. Another past time that Carroll mocked in the same way a young child might is dance. Young women were encouraged to learn to dance because "the great emphasis on learning dancing reflected the conviction that it revealed gracefulness and therefore governed body language as a whole: bowing, curtseying and proper posture were all in the remit of the dancing master" [V] . It was specifically important for girls of a higher social status to learn how to dance. It would show potential suitors that she was raised properly in a family who could afford to have her learning to dance rather than working. Younger girls however, would find the whole thing most taxing, especially when they were just starting to learn the disciplines of dancing. They would be incredibly clumsy at it, and would no doubt be embarrassed and frustrated at the very idea of dancing while their mothers looked on critically. Carroll did an excellent job of portraying the emotions that Alice might have felt through the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as they perform the Lobster Quardrille. (The Quardrille was also a common dance to learn in Carroll's era.) The pair of creatures "began solemnly dancing round and round Alice, every now and then treading on her toes when they passed too close, and waving their forepaws to mark the timeâ€¦" [VI] and while they try to be serious about the dance, they are simply clumsy beasts that step on Alice's toes. Carroll's creation of these characters shows his insight into how his young friend Alice would have felt while trying her best to dance as well as her mother would have expected her to, even though she was only twelve years old.
Carroll manages to capture another point of Victorian Childhood in how he writes about Alice's various changes in anatomy. The constant changes in Alice's anatomy and how the creatures of Wonderland find her odd while she is in fact normal may be amusing to the readers, they are actually observing Carroll capture the very essence of how a young girl might feel when going through puberty, but having no knowledge of what was happening to her at all. In the Victorian Era, young girls were told very little about what was actually going on in their bodies. The first time they experienced the menstrual cycle was a frightening surprise that they would be completely unprepared for as their mothers would have told them nothing about it. The physical changes would be just as alien to them and they would feel like they didn't belong. Carroll portrays these feelings through the flowers that speak to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass. As Alice passes through their garden, they tell her shape is awkward and that her 'petals' (hair) were "tumbled about" [VII] . Any young girl who is experiencing new changes with her body and is starting to notice and care about current fashions and wanting to fit in might feel that she stood out; that while she really looks like everyone else she didn't fit in at all. Part of the magic of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that every reader remembers is how rapidly and frequently the heroine of the story changes from being an average girl, to five inches tall, then shortly thereafter bigger than a house, back to being small, and before you even realize it is all stretched out and unusually thin. Physical changes happen constantly throughout the book. This is more of a reference to not only a young girl changing on her own, but how her mother might change her body. "The 18th century saw increasing parental preoccupation with the physical attributes of their daughters and concern about how these could be most effectively maximized," [VIII] and during that era in time, the 'preoccupation with physical attributes' manifested itself to the extreme in the form of corsets, which would literally contort a young girl's body with metal boning. Corsets were designed to make a woman slim and keep her posture upright. Alice Liddell, and the young, upper-middle class girls of her time would become introduced to the corset around the time of puberty. They would be forced to not only deal with the natural development and changing of her body, but also the unnatural physical changes that were induced by her parents. As the character Alice grows, shrinks, thins out, stretches, and grows again, you see through a rather comical way how a Victorian girl would probably feel; her body changing from one extreme to the next, leaving her feeling much the same way about these new shapes and sizes just as the novel heroine Alice, who "was a good deal frightened by this very sudden change, but she felt that there was no time to be lost, as she was shrinking rapidly." [IX]
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Young girls never had the opportunity to leave home and go to school every day like their brothers did. In fact, most girls didn't get any education at all. The upper class girls, such as Alice Liddell, were lucky enough to have the opportunity to be schooled at home by mothers or a governess if one could be afforded. As a result of being kept away from public schooling, girls had little experience with the outside, adult world beyond any family friends who may have paid her parents a visit or stayed for dinner. Girls could not be secluded forever though, for the only thing a girl was really good for in the Victorian era was to marry as well as her social status would allow and bear children for her husband. Because of this duty, when her parents decided it was time, an introduction to society and 'coming out' was inevitable for girls. The entire process was strenuous on a previously private young woman as "she suddenly found herself expected to socialize and practice polite conversation in an accomplished manner." [X] The Victorian era metaphor used for a young girl experiencing the changes of having to dress with hair up and in full skirts like a woman and coming out into the world was one of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. One of the most popular of Carroll's characters is the blue caterpillar of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This caterpillar is presumably an adult, as it acts in an adult manner. It smokes a hookah and chastises Alice before demanding that she recite for him. Though this caterpillar has the air of an adult, he remains a caterpillar and the reader never has the privilege of reading any scene in which the caterpillar forms a chrysalis and emerges as is the metaphor for adulthood. The caterpillar also lives alone on his mushroom and tries to blissfully ignore Alice until she speaks to him, at which point he is forced to respond. Carroll developed this character excellently, as he is a great representation of how a young Victorian gir.l who has little experience with the public world. would much rather stay at home and essentially remain a caterpillar. These girls would have had such little experience with being social, that the idea of remaining at home and becoming an adult alone, educating themselves and ignoring the rest of the world would have been much more appealing than the idea of exerting themselves and constantly fearing they would make a fool of themselves and their family.
Another idea that Carroll could be exploring through the infamous Caterpillar is how young Victorian girls would be expected to act around a male figure in her life. Victorian boys were never really expected to emerge into like young girl was because they were never really kept away from society to begin with. Boys were the pride and joy of Victorian families, and weren't kept inside and hidden away from the public. They went to school and were able to get used to society right away. The undeveloped Caterpillar, in this sense, essentially represents a privileged Victorian man who never really had to "emerge from his chrysalis", and upon returning home from his place of work, could sit around in his study and smoke all evening, much like the Carroll's Caterpillar sits around on his mushroom and spends his time smoking a hookah. Upon meeting Alice for the first time, the Caterpillar does not acknowledge her at all until he feels up to it, and when finally he speaks to her he is very stern with her. He gives her unasked for advise, such as "Keep your temper" [XI] , demands that she recite for him, and then chastises her that her recitation was "wrong from beginning to end" [XII] . The Caterpillar acts in such a way as a father might act towards his daughter, especially if she were to interrupt him when he had withdrawn to his study and didn't wish to be disturbed, criticizing and making demands of her in a very paternal manner. Because "A girl's prime obligation was always obediance to her parents and principally to her father" [insert footnote (Fletcher)], a girl interacting with her father in this way would be expected to oblige him no matter how she disagreed with his demands or was irritated by his criticizing. It's quite clear that Alice is frustrated by the Caterpillar, and Carroll expresses this clearly, writing that Alice "felt a little irritated" [XIII] , she "swallow[s] down her anger as well as she could" [XIV] , and "had never been so contradicted in all her life before, and she felt that she was loosing her temper" [XV] . While a real Victorian girl may have felt the same way, she would have been forced to comply with her father and remain pleasant. Carroll chooses to delve into these thoughts though, and instead of writing Alice as a mild mannered girl without an ill thought in her head when she addresses a father-like figure, he shows her true thoughts and how she is positively aggravated by the Caterpillar's antics, and despite knowing how she ought to behave, remains discontent. Carroll opens a window right into the mind of a young Victorian girl and how she might feel about her relationship with her father figure.
In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice goes through a unique experience and, thanks to the Red Queen and the White Queen, is able to become queened herself. Generally, young girls are associated with princesses, not queens. Princesses are the innocent ones, with no power and are often so childlike that they find themselves being kidnapped in many fairytales by the villain. They also are representative of the teenage stage; not little babies anymore, but certainly not women. Queens on the other hand, are the mother figures. They're the grown women who are accomplished and the image of a perfectly feminine woman. When Alice becomes queened, it is as though she is being forced to skip her princess stage entirely. At no point in Carroll's books do you see Alice go through a 'princess' stage, in which she starts developing a sense of femininity. She maintains her childlike demeanor and the headstrong oblivious attitude of a young person through the books, only to be queened and have to go straight from childhood to womanhood. The Red and White Queens are very womanly characters, and they treat Alice very much like a Victorian mother might treat her daughter or a governess (in upper-class circumstances) and the girl she teaches, the Red Queen especially. She gives Alice many nit-picky directions such as "Look up, speak nicely, and don't twiddle your fingers all the time" and "Curtsey while you're thinking what to say. It saves time" [XVI] . While the former of the instructions makes a good deal of sense and sounds something like what a mother would indeed say to her child, the latter of the two comments the Red Queen says to Alice makes very little sense and is very impractical. Alice simply "wondered a little at this, but [she] was too much in awe of the Queen to disbelieve it" [XVII] . This is a perfect demonstration of how young Victorian girls were expected to simply accept everything their parents told them to do, think or say merely because their parents told them to do it and they had to be very respectful and obedient without exception. On top of that, the Red Queen presents an image of how many Victorian mothers (especially the upper class mothers) would teach their daughter how to be a proper lady; by being nit picky and correcting their daughters' behavior constantly. Due to the fact that Alice Liddell's family was fairly respectable, it is very likely that her mother would be the type of mother who would make the same critical comments on her daughter's behavior that the Red Queen made on Alice's behavior simply in order to make her appear as civilized and proper as possible. Knowing that Carroll knew the Liddell family well, it would not be a stretch to say that the Red Queen is likely modeled after Mrs. Liddell. Therefore the Red and White Queens wanting to queen Alice as well is representative of how Victorian mothers essentially took away their daughters' 'princess' stage in order to teach them to become accomplished, well developed women, or queens. Alice's reaction to the queens, how she "attended to all [the queen's] directions" and "didn't dare argue [the queen's] point" confirms this perception.
Lewis Carroll was a very educated man who befriended a young girl named Alice Liddell. From this friendship sprouted Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It is through these two Alice novels that Carroll demonstrated a deep knowledge and compassionate understanding of what it was like to be a young girl growing up in Victorian England. Through his characters he portrays important figures in the lives of the upper-middle class girls whose lives he had a knowledge of; he shows a mother figure through the Red Queen and a father figure through the Caterpillar. He had a clear understanding of the Victorian family structure as well. He even gets into the mind of young girls, portraying how they would feel and react to the obstacles of growing up. The way he writes the character of Alice, how she wants to react to being bossed around by the adult figures and how she, in turn, actually responds shows how Carroll comprehended the child mentality of his young friend Alice Liddell. There is no way of knowing how Carroll was able to understand the nature of a young girl's mind to such an extent that he was able to write about it in his novels, but it is clear that he had insights into the child mind that Victorian society as a whole was lacking due to the "children should be seen and not heard" mentality. It is a possibility that he was hoping his novels would produce a more profound reaction from the people who read it, and hoped by that to open the eyes of Victorian society to the difficulties they were putting their daughters through. It seems as though this message was overshadowed by the fantasy and fun of his stories and therefore lost on anyone who wasn't looking specifically for a deeper meaning. Perhaps that was his very intention; to be subtle enough to light a spark of insight through his stories and then let individual readers delve deeper into the meanings as they see fit. Even if this isn't the case, Carroll's stories earned him the title of a real satirist; he turned a criticism of Victorian society into stories that were just as loved then as they are today, and only those who really choose to look are able to pick up on his societal objections. There's no denying that he expressed the feelings, thoughts and attitude of young Victorian girls masterly in his novels. Even if the message he intended to express may have been lost by the very era of people it was designed for, the message is there none the less and many a young girl can still, to this day, relate to the difficulties of growing up that Carroll expressed in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.