II. The Pool of Tears

Illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reprinting (1900)

[ Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reprinting (1900) with illustrations by John Tenniel ]

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By the beginning of Chapter Two, Alice's physical form has already undergone dramatic changes: the stretching of Alice, as shown in both Carroll's and Tenniel's illustration, offers a first glimpse of the logic of Wonderland's association of physical transformation with changes in identity. Children's literature scholar Peter Hunt has defined these transformations as being at the heart of Alice's enduring appeal, as Carroll "caught the confusion of growing up, changing size and identity, and coming to terms with self and death and sexuality" (79). Perspective is central to the transformations Alice experiences: the tears she sheds while huge become a pool to potentially drown in once she shrinks. The choices made while in one "body" haunt her in another.

In these reprintings, the figure of Alice Liddell grows more distant, as Tenniel's iconic Victorian girl gave physical form to the mostly undescribed Alice of Carroll's texts. Francine Prose points out that Liddell is not to be confused with the character:

The lively intelligence, the bravery, and the supreme self-confidence with which Alice tries to make sense of the Dormouse's absurdities are a model of youthful, or adult, conduct. Carroll's heroine was his truly ideal child-friend... the "real" Alice mattered only partly for herself, and partly for her ability to provide a blank screen on which Charles Dodgson could project his ideal. (85)

This does not so much diminish Liddell as it serves to immediately sever Alice from any concrete definition of self.

The lack of explicit details in Carroll's texts as to Alice's physical appearance made Tenniel's illustrations essential to imagining the visual Wonderland. Will Brooker notes that Tenniel is responsible for much of the visual expectation of Alice and her fellow characters as the same details from Tenniel's illustrations appear again and again (including the iconic dress, white apron, and blonde hair that mark most depictions of Alice) (128). In her multimodal work on Alice in visual culture, Erin Frost suggests that the relationship of Tenniel's images with Carroll's text changed our understanding of the idea of illustration:

We must consider what we mean when we talk about texts, for—as shown by Tenniel's effect upon Carroll's writings—images and writings are integrated in such a way as to make it impossible to talk about one without calling up-at the least-echoes of the other. The consequences of this are that we work in forms that we call texts, but which are actually integrated image-texts.

No matter which media we inhabit with Alice, echoes of Tenniel go hand-in-hand with words of Carroll.

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