Alice as Innocence and Temptation

June 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

Although there is much controversy surrounding Lewis Carroll’s relationships with and feelings towards little girls, it is a simple fact that his works “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” have been widely revered for their comedic and imaginative natures. His photography, however, (which is often under his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) while technically and aesthetically masterful, is more criticized and certainly less widely appreciated than his writing. At first glance, it can seem as if Carroll’s different mediums convey in him dual personalities and objectives, even in terms of a single muse; Alice’s stories are whimsical and playful accounts of a young “maiden[‘s]” adventures, while the photographs of her are often seen as eroticized images depicting a vulnerable child in sometimes downright compromising positions, with the purpose of serving a perverse male gaze. This misconception cannot be maintained at a closer glance, because upon examining certain scenes and motifs in the Alice texts, it is clear that Alice Liddell’s written counterpart is every bit as eroticized as her photographic form. The scene in which Alice’s body is stretched and she encounters a pigeon begs the question of whether Alice is a little girl or a serpent, whether she is innocence or temptation, or if they are the “same thing after all” (Schanoes). Using evidence from his journals, poetry, and mainly his Alice texts and photographs, it can be argued that for Carroll, innocence was temptation, and they were the same thing, after all. Although it is not clear whether his purpose was to sexualize Alice in the photos he took of her, Lewis Carroll does so in a somewhat blatant manner. In one photograph, Alice can be seen centered among what appears to be shrubbery, with unidentifiable white drapery falls off of her shoulder to reveal her left nipple (Carroll 280). Her hand is on her hip as she looks tauntingly at the viewer, and leaves the viewer wondering why exactly she is depicted in such a way (Kincaid 275). In a similar photograph, Alice’s body is covered entirely, again she is wearing white, and if possible, it seems more provocative than the one previously mentioned. Perhaps this difference, in spite of the difficulty posed by being fully clothed, is due to the even more impish and knowing smirk than in the other photograph (Carroll 279). Indeed, the knowing smile is likely evidence of “enticing knowledge of her own reserve” allowing her to “elude even her own photographs” (Kincaid 276). Many of these photographs posed by Alice do display coyness and reserve, but certain others have what seems like crassly overt sexuality. For instance, in another photo, Alice dons a similar large white dress, which seems to be buttoned entirely up the collar. She is with her two sisters, wearing identical dresses, and Lorina is feeding her cherries. Alice is standing very upright, with her back slightly arched and her mouth opened (Carroll 282). The camera seems to linger on the position of her head and the profile of her face, which seems notably erotic as her sister dangles cherries in the air. Such an image can only lend notions to seemingly more innocent and chaste images of Alice- (such as one where she is fully clothed, sitting on a bench and wearing a headdress, faced away from the camera, and not casting a lingering gaze) of satirical or pretended innocence, rather than actual. However, Alice was very young and was very likely a typical little girl, and not an erotic deviant, as photos would have one believe. The provocative nature of these photographs is a direct result of Carroll’s keen skillful eye in posing Alice, directing her motions and expressions, and capturing her in a sexual light; his fantasies came alive through the camera. In later accounts of her memories of Carroll, an adult Alice Liddell recounts watching him develop photographs by saying “Besides, the dark room was so mysterious, and we felt that any adventures might happen there” (Carroll 278). Although reading any implications of Carroll’s in this circumstance would be presumptuous, there is certainly an ominous air to what Alice recounts as an adult, which she does not acknowledge. The admission of this acknowledgement at least demonstrates a lack of “enticing knowledge” on her part of “her own reserve” and quite possibly demonstrates naievete, which all counter the erotic nature of her appearance in the photographs. Therefore, it is artfully constructed or especially captured by Carroll. Lending credence to the view that the photographic Alice and the textual Alice are not similarly sexualized, are the other inherent visual differences in both representations of Alice. The real-life Alice Liddell, as shown in photographs, had short brown hair and dark eyes, as straight across bangs. Hairstyle and color may not initially seem to be an important factor, but it is one of the main ways in which Tenniel’s drawings of Alice are distinct, and there is a clearly large difference, in this capacity, between the Alices. The Alice portrayed in Wonderland and through the looking-glass has long blonde flowing hair, and it is pushed back to reveal her entire forehead. The hairstyles are nearly as opposite as they could be, and another important physical distinction is in their eyes, Clearly a drawing will be less accurate than a photograph, but Tenniel’s depiction of Alice’s eyes shows them as large, widely open, and almost considerably more curious and less mischievous than those of the real person in pictures. Again, Carroll must have pulled the strings, and brought about exactly what he desired as an end product of the photographs, but with this in mind, one wonders why the fictional Alice has these physical distinctions if the non-fictional Alice does not. If the real Alice’s image can be so manipulated, then the fictional Alice is a clearly fraught construct of Carroll’s, and with much deliberation. Carroll himself has said that he would like his books to be read “gently and lovingly,” similar to the manner in which they were written (Kincaid 218). Therefore, one can easily understand why Carroll created his vision of Alice in such a way, because since the child is “artificial,” then there is no reason that it wouldn’t be to one’s particular liking, and according to Kincaid, gentleness can be made to the order” (Kincaid 219). Since gentleness and modesty were characteristics which Carroll especially esteemed, he created an Alice in this image; by taking the Alice he so admired and fine-tuning any qualities which may have undermined her “gentleness” or purity, Carroll created an Alice to be adored by the masses. Along with this, his constructed Alice can be considered a blank slate; she is small, young, impressionable, fair-skinned, light-haired, has wide circular eyes, and is “aesthetically indistinct” (Bruhm and Hurley). These “gentle” and indistinct qualities serve to further eroticize Alice, though they may seem, on the contrary, to emanate innocence. This version of Alice, more than anything else, may be Carroll’s form of a psychological construct, of his own desires, or those anticipated desires of the reader. The washed complexion and hair and the eyes, which, inconsistent with her character, convey no expression, are all ways in which Carroll can make Alice erotic, through creating blankness (Bruhm and Hurley). Such light features are not innately more enticing, but rather, they signify nothing and therefore “[do] not interfere with projections” (Bruhm and Hurley). Just as importantly, the epitome of an erotic child, which is any reader’s template to project their own preferences and desires, also tends to be sporadically foolish in certain instances, and bourgeois in background. It is for this very reason that Carroll posed Alice in usually all white for her photographs. He clearly could not change her physical appearance, and adored her the way she was, so he would not have wanted to; to ensure her alluring appearance, though, while simultaneously keeping her modest, Carroll almost exclusively captured her in white. Controlling her outfit color was the most Carroll could do to make his Alice as blank as possible, and therefore, appeal to as many gazes as possible. In creating an image of a child so malleable and so susceptible to outer projection, Carroll also created a child quite exploitable. He pokes fun at this idea, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when Alice finds the bottle that says “DRINK ME” (Carroll 56). Sarcastically, Carroll calls her “wise little Alice” when she looks for a sign marked poison. While the humor in this scene can be appreciated, there is something very unsettling about it. Although the liquid merely changes her size, the potential for danger upon drinking from an unknown bottle, especially contrasted with Alice’s false sense of security when she does not find the word poison, demonstrates the ease with which Alice could be endangered, and possibly exploited, even sexually. This humor is rather dark, as Alice could be put into imminent danger, but in light of the fact that she is not and that Carroll has direct control over this, the humor is a manifestation of his own mixed feelings of latent adoration, sexual frustration, desire for Alice, and slight resentment that he cannot have her in the way he would like. Along with these feelings, and to more completely portray Alice in the light of the “erotic child,” Carroll writes Alice as passive, and often denies her of her feelings, such as anger, indignation, hunger and loneliness (Garland). Carroll liked children to be modest, polite, and not excessive in any way, particularly in hunger. A very well-known quirk of Carroll is that he was repulsed by a ravenous appetite, which explains the character of the Duchess, and also the Red Queen, and why both characters were so contemptible (Garland). To go along with their odious depictions, Carroll was very fond of little girls, but tended to dislike women, and therefore their transition into women. Speaking of the much-admired child Alice Liddell, Carroll wrote in a journal entry “Alice seems changed a good deal and hardly for the better—probably going through the usual awkward stage of transition” (Carroll 246). As a result, grown women were written as unlikable characters, and are connected with gluttony and large appetites (Garland). Therefore, it stands to reason that Alice would be pitted against many of these women. In so doing, Carroll indirectly demonstrates his belief in the sexual superiority and superior desirability of girls to women. Alice has composure, manners, and is illustrated to appear pretty, while the few women in both Alice texts tend to be hideous. The way in which Carroll stifles any ugliness, excessiveness, or undesirable feelings in the fictional Alice—and in so doing, manages to somewhat stifle her voice, rob her of agency and objectify her entirely—is believed to be desperate manipulation by Carroll, due to his anxieties about Alice maturing into adolescence (Garland). Another instance in which Alice is taken completely out of control is when she is very small and speaking to the caterpillar. Alice is an extremely shrunken size at this point, and is feeling quite vulnerable, as evidenced when the caterpillar asks who she is and she responds with: “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present”…”I ca’n’t explain myself. I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see (Carroll 84).” When the caterpillar finally answers how she can grow larger, and he tells her to take a bite out of one side of the mushroom, she cannot hear him and he does not specify what side. This leaves Alice just as confused as before, if not more, and she must do something, because she cannot remain so small. This part is especially interesting, because the caterpillar’s behavior seems to be intentional. He seems to want to be evasive towards Alice, possibly to leave her in a lurch, because he seems somewhat bothered by her naiveté or her present insecurity. The caterpillar’s responses to Alice can be read as ambivalent. While he seems less foolish and (maybe) wiser than the rest of the mad creatures in Wonderland, he is also doubtlessly argumentative and desires to leave Alice powerless. However, the powerlessness which he bestows upon Alice is very possibly his singular faith in her maturation. However, if this is so, then it is just as crucial to note that the caterpillar has only a small role—perhaps important—but not recurrent. Most importantly, Alice leaves the caterpillar still relatively vulnerable and powerless, which is how Carroll likes to keep her most of the time in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When there are deviations of any form (such as when Alice holds on to some control), the reader feels Carroll grappling with his own feelings, coming to terms with Alice’s inevitable eventual “transition” and relinquishing his control. There is a subtle power struggle between fictional Alice and Carroll, in which Carroll comes out on top, by making Wonderland and the looking-glass elaborate dreams. In a different and more narrowly sexualized scene, Alice relinquishes all control and is victim of her strange circumstance. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she cannot see in any direction because it is dark, so she can only wonder what will happen. She anticipates, but has no idea what will become of her at the bottom of the fall (Carroll 52). Alice falling through this hole is a parallel with her going through a birth canal, and being reborn into a woman. Wonderland (although the reader does not know it yet, and nor does Alice) is full of heightened consciousness and realization for Alice, after long periods of confusion. Therefore, the “fall” brings her into a place of more wisdom and knowingness; since this fall is a part of her dream, it represents her going through her own body in order to arrive “on the other end” or in a different form, with the hole alluding to her sexual awakening. The actuality of the fall through the hole being characterized foremost by lack of control points to the lack of control she has over her own sexual identity. This lack of control of her sexuality (including her body, her desires, and her assertiveness against unwanted advances) springs up again in a more conventional yet unsettling way, further on in her adventures in Wonderland. When Alice and the Duchess are walking together after croquet, the Duchess curiously keeps putting her chin on Alice’s shoulder (Carroll 122). Carroll clearly makes this scene strangely repulsive, even though the sexuality aspect is not extremely stark. However, the mood of the scene is set up in such a way that makes the reader shiver with disgust and confusion, especially when the Duchess claims that Alice must be “wondering why [she doesn’t] put [her] arm round [Alice’s] waist” (Carroll 124). As the footnote states, the Duchess very clearly has the face of a grotesque man and continuously invades Alice’s space, wanting to perform an “experiment.” Alice, with her manners intact—that Carroll resolves to preserve even in the face of exploitation and extreme discomfort—as to not be too assertive or strong-minded, reaches for an excuse, and is only saved by the sudden appearance of the Queen (125). Alice’s narrow escapes of many undesirable occurrences leave the reader feeling anxious for her potential danger or exploitation, because of her meekness and sexual appeal.The book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is fraught with Carroll’s reactions to and anxieties over Alice’s impending womanhood. Carroll himself is manifested through the pigeon, when he fearfully accuses Alice of being a serpent. First the pigeon is afraid of Alice, which transforms into a sort of anger and disbelief of what she says and her motives. Similarly, Carroll likely asked himself the question: “Is this Alice Liddell a tool for temptation?” In so asking, he likely considered her to be a deceitful and slippery force, conscious of her powers over him, and with the ability to break him down, or hurt him—(in this case, emotionally). He is also afraid of his feelings for her, and he likely attributes some of the blame to her, for being “serpent-like.” Quite possibly, this is how the allusion came about, eventually leading to the bigger question: Is Alice a girl or serpent? Is she innocent or cunning (temptation)? This leads the reader to decide that Alice is unconsciously cunning, through her power over Carroll. Such is why he must assert such power over his creation of her. The reader may or may not blame Carroll for sexualizing Alice, but regardless, one thing is for sure; part of the eroticism of Alice is written lovingly and not perversely at all. Her very character is erotic because she keeps the reader on their toes; although she acts somewhat passive, she does so in the way that she is always in view, but never too close, and this elusiveness invites the male gaze. Carroll’s Alice, which is probably faithful to the real-life Alice, blends a certain amount of passivity and coyness with just the right amount of stubbornness and unpredictability, that her character “Demands to be loved” and on her terms (Kincaid 274). Although there are certain ways in which Alice remains devoid of power, she is powerful and perpetuating this distance between herself and the greedy eager reader. Though the inability to close this gap may sadden some, a true child-lover such as Carroll sees the hidden blessing, that another generation and another generation of Alice and her adventures may live on, whereas if the gap were closed, it could never be reopened. It is this unexpected, convoluted and maybe perverse, relationship, between the little girl running (jovially, playfully) and the child-lover that is Carroll chasing, figuratively, that breeds such confusing but evidently strong love, that Carroll has for Alice. Such manifestations of this love are often criticized, and often times, rightfully so. Therefore, the reader can side with Alice and detest Carroll’s control over his invented character. However, although this is quite valid, it should not be ignored that the control is a result of strange but real love, and a gaping fear of loss. In Carroll’s poem that concludes Through the Looking-Glass, he shares with the reader his sense of loss once Alice goes from (white) pawn to (red) queen. It is easy to sympathize with his sense of loss, although it is not in the traditional sense, because Alice is still alive. However, he is mourning what he knows can never be again, and the imagery is full of language of finality. The stanza most indicative of his intense feeling of loss is “Still she haunts me phantomwise, Alice moving under skies” (Carroll 223). Carroll likens the older Alice to a ghost, but implies that he dreams about her in the line “Never seen by waking eyes.” These implications of night and dreams further confirm his sexual and romantic feelings toward Alice as a girl. Although this stanza is sentimental, it is also inherently erotic. Words such as “haunts” further frame Carroll as helpless to his desire and Alice as in control of her ability to seduce him. Much like the sense of eternity that his books have given to his friendship with young Alice, the last line of the poem asks “Life, what is it but a dream,” perpetuating the child Alice and perpetuating her adventures.Annotated BibliographyBruhm, Steven, and Natasha Hurley. Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2004. Print. Carroll, Lewis, and John Tenniel. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ; &, Through the Looking Glass. New York: Macmillan, 1963. Print. Garland, Carina. “Curious Appetites: Food, Desire, Gender and Subjectivity in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Texts.” Proquest. N.p., n.d. Web. Kincaid, James R. Child-loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print. Schanoes, Veroncia. “Fearless Children and Fabulous Monsters: Angela Carter, Lewis Carroll and Beastly Girls.” Proquest. N.p., n.d. Web.

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