Term Paper: Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a Story of Victorian Childhood

Pages: 9 (3889 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Topic: Children  ·  Buy This Paper

Victorian Childhood and Alice in Wonderland

The World of Victorian England

Childhood in the Victorian England of Lewis Carroll

Alice in Wonderland as Victorian Literature

Analysis of Alice in Wonderland

Works Cited and Consulted

The children's novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written in 1865 by Charles Dodgson, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, may well be the most popular, and imitated book in the history of the English language. It has inspired numerous screen adaptations, stage plays, and served as the basis for a number of fictional stories loosely based on Alice's adventures. Whether because of the 1951 Disney version, the 2010 Tim Burton film, or the sheer power of the novel itself, the characters have become archetypal in the modern world. Who has not heard of the Mad Hatter, or used the phrase grinned like a Cheshire Cat? Indeed, the sheer paradigm of imagination expressed in the pages as a juxtaposition of humor and satire makes Carroll's book suitable for children on one level, and certainly adults on another.

As a novel written during the Victorian Period of England, much of the nonsense in the book is based on common occurrences in Carroll's life. The songs in the book are burlesques of popular poems and street songs, all familiar to a child in England. Similarly, Carroll's abject platonic fondness for young females is expressed in the representation of Alice. Alice is a child struggling to survive in the confusing and sometimes hypocritical world of adults. Alice falls into "Wonderland," a rather cynical representation of England, and meets a number of creatures that mirror a number of adult stereotypes. As Alice travels through Wonderland, symbolic for her struggle to grow up, she continually tries to become more aware of the adult world, while clinging to the comforting imagination of childhood. In fact, it is through the struggle through Wonderland and Alice's confrontation with the Queen of Hearts that Alice learns about the dual nature of expectations and self. Certainly, childhood in Victorian England was fraught with different expectations that modern psychological stages provide. Still, the ever present theme of "journey," so popular in so many legends and myths, provides the basis for Alice's actualization and ability to not only reason as an adult, but see the world in a new light.

The World of Victorian England -- Great Britain in the Victorian Era was a modern empire like no other before it. Technology had advanced to the point in which Britain ruled the seas, the land, and with colonies and resources world-wide, much of the economic prosperity of the entire world. The entire focus of the Victorian empire was to trade -- import and export, use the colonies to prosper, allow Britain her expected might over all she surveyed. Between this and the massive increase in railways there was a need for more financing, more complex fiscal transactions, and thus more banks. In fact, between 1852 and 1957 "the deposits in a set of five London banks grew from £17.7 million to over £40 and the typical amount of bills of exchange were in circulation increased to 200 million from just 66 million" (Houston, 71). This "boom" occurred all over England, and the importing of goods flourished, so did stock speculation which mean that some won heavily and others became destitute -- and resentful at the same time.

Charles Dickens, perhaps the epitome of Victorian literature, described the economic victories as "happy strokes of calculation and combination," or "Gigantic combinations of skill and capital" and, technically, he "almost always couples the two terms, implying that each presupposes the other. Combine this economic boom with the divergent social nature of the very wealthy, the upper middle class, and then the rest of England (85%), and one can see that the very nature of life, and especially childhood, was expressed quite differently (Novak, 36-61).

This era, so prosperous and wonderful for so many, allowed the middle and upper classes a chance to read, write, and experience art as never before. However, in contrast, the huge population increase and rapid urbanization caused by the industrial revolution drew large numbers of skilled and unskilled individuals to the cities where they were paid wages barely at the subsistence level, and situations of such abject poverty and despair that not only drastic political theories arose, but the realities of urban life were reflected in much of the literature of the time -- whether tragic or fantastic, all as a response to social and cultural conditions (Daniels).

Childhood in the Victorian England of Lewis Carroll -- the concept of childhood is really quite a modern idea. Prior to the 18th century, for instance, children were widely seen as "little adults," dressed in adult clothing just of a smaller size. Economic and social class was everything to the conception of what a child could do -- the further down the economic ladder, the quicker one had to grow up. Childhood, however, as the 18th and 19th centuries evolved, became a marketable category when social and cultural issues changed to allow a new market for service such as schools, playgrounds, parks, toys, and new lines of clothing. The irony of the Victorian Era is, however, that sociologists see the origins of the source of the modern institution of childhood evolving during this time; along with the increase in child labor -- which amounted to little more than slavery. It was, though, this conception of what childhood should be that led religious and social activists (including Charles Dickens), to introduce the Factory Acts of 1802-1878 continually limiting how children could be used (Cunningham, 85-92, 106-14). There was, however, an underlying fascination with childhood in the growing literary classes in England. This fascination often manifested in a rather idealized relationship between adult and child, mentor and pupil. Like the romantic poets who saw only the good and ideal in nature, and therefore pined for it, so too did this idea of the Romantic child -- fresh, untouched and like a tabula rasa, completely and utterly ready to be molded, influence Carroll (Thacker and Webb, 13; Ackerman, 31).

Yet there was this seed of contradiction in Carroll's world. In upper and wealthier middle class families children were raised by servants or nannies; often women brought in from the lower classes as workers in the households. In other parts of the Empire, children were often sent home to England to boarding school, and thus parents were parted from their children until late adolescence. Children in poorer families, even under the best of circumstances had to help with household expenses. Until mandatory school became a fact (late 1800s), there was not much of a childhood playtime once the child was old enough to walk, talk, and communicate cogently (Mitchell, 146-49).

Carroll, however, held a very different view of childhood. He was a professor of mathematics at Christ Church, part of Oxford. Politically, he was conservative and rather snobbish, a skilled photographer (during the time in which photography was a new technology), a patron of the theater and a fan of games and magic. He was, however, quite squeamish about morality -- which kept him away from any artistic work that might be tainted; thus ignoring Shaw, Wilde and even Ibsen (Irwin, 60-2). His view of children, particularly females, was one of harmony, development of the imagination, and the process of using childhood as the slow and optimistic journey to adulthood -- the romantic child theme. Children, in fact, were the innocent; they had not yet been corrupted by society, and were therefore lacking sin and professing honesty -- a considerable turn from previous views (Sander, 6-8). In contrast to the hierarchical template most Victorians held for children, Carroll seem to believe that one of the main things that the child must grapple with on such a journey, and one of the principal themes that Alice takes up, is the question of his/her identity in that world. "Who are you?" Alice is frequently asked early in her adventures, "and it is a question that she at first has a difficult time answering. Her initial erratic changes in size could be said to represent her inability to "fit" herself into this world. Her mastery of this process enables her to begin to be the master of her own destiny - to "fit," by enabling her to walk through the door that leads to the "beautiful garden," which she has wanted to enter since the beginning of her adventures" (Walker). In actuality, reading Alice as a children's book is even more fascinating when realizing that the majority of children in the time period not only had no access to books but could not begin to explore the wonderful and imaginative world of Wonderland. The choice of using not only a dream sequence, but a morality play based on fairy-tale elements could not have been more "anti-Victorian." Instead of appealing to the rational nature of the child's parents, Carroll was, in fact, appealing to the child's inner self (Leach,… [END OF PREVIEW]

Carroll Shakespeare Allegory as a Device Essay


Alice in Wonderland Term Paper


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Term Paper


Influence of Math Logic vs. The Influence of Shakespeare in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Term Paper


Alice and Her Animated Wonderland Alice's Adventures Essay


View 14 other related papers  >>

Cite This Term Paper:

APA Format

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a Story of Victorian Childhood.  (2010, June 26).  Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/lewis-carroll-alice-adventures-wonderland/7442

MLA Format

"Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a Story of Victorian Childhood."  26 June 2010.  Web.  12 November 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/lewis-carroll-alice-adventures-wonderland/7442>.

Chicago Format

"Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a Story of Victorian Childhood."  Essaytown.com.  June 26, 2010.  Accessed November 12, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/lewis-carroll-alice-adventures-wonderland/7442.