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Alice in Wonderland. What Nonsense?

Alice's dream grows by feeding on itself.

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Finding Wonderland

Is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pure whimsy or does it mean something? Theories of all stripes have been imposed on Carroll’s story: Freudian, religious, Darwinian, psychological, biographical. Alice has variously been claimed as a repressed Freudian adventure into Carroll’s love of little girls, parodied as an allegory of religious history, claimed as a model of evolution, explained as being a novel about consciousness, and shown as a series of in-jokes, devised specifically for the first children he told the story to. All of these ideas are true to some degree, but the real answer is subtle and kaleidoscopic.

Some people believe that the value of a great book is its ability to wear so many interpretations. But that belief can lead us into idle speculation where a lot is said and only a little is learned. Instead, let’s look at what we know about Carroll and his book to understand how it works. (His real name was Dodgson, but I’ll use Carroll to keep it simple.) Carroll came of age in the great age of Victorian invention, and Alice reflects the great variations and unexpected innovations of its time.

Carroll was of a younger generation than many famous Victorian authors. Born in 1832, he is the next generation on from Dickens, Mill, and the Brontes. They were born in the Napoleonic era. Carroll was raised in a much more Victorian world. His early life was spent in isolation, living in his father’s remote parish, before he had four miserable years at boarding school. He matriculated at Oxford in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition.

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