The Dormouse in Chapter VII of The Annotated Alice (pgs. 93-95) gets the following footnote from Martin Gardner:
The British dormouse is a tree-living rodent that resembles a small squirrel much more than it does a mouse. The name is from the Latin dormire, to sleep, and has reference to the animal’s habit of winter hibernation. Unlike the squirrel, the dormouse is nocturnal, so that even in May (the month of Alice’s adventure) it remains in a torpid state throughout the day. In Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 1906, we are told that the dormouse may have been modeled after Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pet wombat, which had a habit of sleeping on the table. Carroll knew all the Rossettis and occasionally visited them.
The only dormouse native to the British Isles is the Hazel dormouse, which is indeed more closely related to a squirrel than to a mouse. (The suborder Sciuromorpha contains chipmunks, squirrels, and dormice. Mice and rats are muroids.) Although dormire in Latin does mean “to sleep,” it might not be directly related to the etymology of “dormouse.” The Wiktionary‘s etymology: “From Middle English dormous, of uncertain origin. Possibly from dor-, from Old Norse dár (‘benumbed’) + mous (‘mouse’). … Although the word has come to be associated as an Anglo-Norman derivative of Old French dormir(‘to sleep’), no such Anglo-Norman word is known to have existed,” and it cites the Random House Dictionary as its reference. (The dormousian association with sleepiness seems to go back centuries – the Elizabethans apparently rubbed dormouse fat on the soles of their feet to induce sleep, according to The Sleepyhead’s Bedside Companion by Sean Coughlan. How could an animal both nocturnal and hibernating have any other reputation? We posted a cute viral video of a snoring dormouse a few months ago here.)
William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919)
As for Gardner’s one literary reference in his note, the Pre-Raphaelite memoir Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti (1906), it’s widely available and has been reprinted multiple times in the past decade. Google Books has several accessible copies of the text: Vol. I here; Vol. II here. It is true that C.L. Dodgson knew the Rossetti’s and would hang out with them sometimes. It is also true that Dante Gabriel Rossetti owned several wombats (and some dormice and other exotic pets), and that one beloved wombat would entertain at dinner parties. However, it’s impossible that Gardner read in that specific book that Rossetti’s wombat “may have” inspired Carroll’s dormouse, because it’s neither written there nor true. In Volume I of Some Reminiscences, William Michael Rossetti describes some of the “beasts” Dante Gabriel kept in his garden, after which he describes his indoor pets:
From "Rossetti and his Circle" by Max Beerbohm. One of those animals is supposed to be a wombat.
…they were my brother’s companions day by day, and the wombat would follow at the housemaid’s heels when she went upstairs to make the beds. An anecdote is current of the wombat, and I accept it as only somewhat exaggerated – not untrue. My brother had asked, as he pretty often did, several friends to dinner; he himself never smoked, but for the satisfaction of his guests he had provided a box of superior cigars. The dinner over, he proceeded to produce the box. The box was there, but the cigars were gone: the wombat had made a meal of the entire assortment.
The Rossetti Family, photographed by Lewis Carroll (1863)
Hilarious! The wombat ate some fancy cigars. Sounds like a good party (except for the shortage of tobacco). He then goes on to describe several drawings of wombats by Edward Burne-Jones he owned, and of poetry by Christina Rossetti which mentions wombats as well. (“When wombats do inspire / I strike my disused lyre.”) Carroll is not mentioned in Volume I. Neither is any dormouse nor any of the Alice books ever mentioned in either volume of Some Reminiscences. In Volume II, William Michael Rossetti has one uninspiring paragraph about Carroll:
Lewis Carroll's photograph of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863)
One of the earliest of these [visiting authors] but I only saw him once or twice was the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, whom the English-speaking world knows under the name of Lewis Carroll. He was a skilful amateur photographer, and he took some few photographs of Dante Rossetti, and of other members of the family. He continued keeping up some little acquaintance with Christina till the close of her life, sending her his successive publications. My reminiscence of Mr. Dodgson is so slight and indeterminate that it would be vain to attempt any exactness of description. Suffice it to say that he impressed me mainly as belonging to the type of ” the University Man ” : a certain externalism of polite propriety, verging towards the conventional. I do not think he said in my presence anything ” funny ” or quaint.
The only mention of wombats in Volume II is a reference to his unsuccessful attempt to purchase one in Sydney.
So where did Martin Gardner learn that Rossetti’s wombat inspired Carroll’s Dormouse? I don’t know, but he didn’t invent the idea. That honor goes to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. The artist’s grandson, Ford M. Hueffer (who changed his name to Ford Madox Fordand became a 20th Century novelist) wrote the book on Madox Brown in 1896: Ford Madox Brown: a record of his life and work. He also describes the Rossetti zoo and some legendary parties:
The beast that made the greatest impression, at least on Madox Brown, was the singularly inactive marsupial known as the wombat – an animal that seems to have exercised a latent fascination on the Rossettian mind. On high days and holiday banquets it occupied a place of honour on the épergne in the centre of the table, where, with imperturbable equanimity, it would remain dormant. On one occasion, however, it belied its character. Descending unobserved, during a heated post-prandial discussion, it proceeded in leisurely fashion to devour the entire contents of a valuable box of cigars, achieving that feat just in time for the exhaustion of the subject under consideration and consequent attention to things mundane.
If Madox Brown may be believed, the wombat of Rossetti was the prototype of the dormouse in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the author of which beloved work was a frequent visitor of Rossetti’s household at Chelsea. The ‘ Alice ‘ books exercised an even greater fascination over Rossetti and for that matter over Madox Brown than the historic wombat had done …
Note Ford’s subtle skepticism of his grandfather’s word. I found the final nail in the coffin to the Wombat-Dormouse theory in a 2003 lecture by Angus Trumble, the Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Trumble adds some Australian local knowledge to his scholarship, in a talk called “Rossetti’s Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England.”
A crystal épergne ($160) from the Horchow Collection, 20"H x 17"W x 14 1/4"D. Adult wombats are approx. 39" long.
…James McNeill Whistler invented a silly story about how the wombat had perished after eating an entire box of cigars. Ford Madox Brown thought that Rossetti’s habit of bringing the wombat to dinner and letting it sleep in the large épergne or centrepiece on the dining room table inspired the dormouse in the tea-pot incident at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is also impossible because Lewis Carroll wrote that chapter in 1863, and the novel with its famous illustrations by John Tenniel was published two years later in 1865. As my colleague David Marshall has also pointed out, either Rossetti’s épergne was enormous, or the wombat was dramatically small.
He says “impossible,” because his research shows that Dante Rossetti had bought the first of his pet wombats in 1869. I don’t know how big an épergne usually is, but dormice certainly fit more easily into teapots than wombats do. Do wombats fit in teapots? Do teapots fit in wombats?
"Dormouse surnamed Dwanging," by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, c. 1834 (age 6), pencil on paper.
Several final discoveries about cute animals owned by Pre-Raphaelites before we go. One of the earliest drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was of a dormouse – he drew pictures of his pet dormouse named “Dwanging” when he was about six years old. It looks to me more like a cave painting than anything drawn by any pre-tween I know. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his family-letters, Vol. I, his brother also describes his pet hedgehog, which also hung out on the family dinner table. So Dante was into pets long before he acquired his own large collection of strange creatures as an adult. What became of the wombat? It died.
"I never reared a young Wombat / To glad me with his pin-hole eye, / But when he most was sweet & fat / And tail-less; he was sure to die!" Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1869
"May I please sit on your épergne?"
American artist James McNeill Whistler’s version of the story (from this early biography) has the wombat skeleton discovered in the cigar box. (A humongous cigar box?) I wouldn’t attempt to guess how Rossetti’s wombat actually died, but eating tobacco is extremely poisonous. According to the Wikipedia, “The LD50of nicotine is 50 mg/kg for rats and 3 mg/kg for mice. 0.5-1.0 mg/kg can be a lethal dosage for adult humans, and 10 mg (0.1mg/kg) for children.” A cigar contains around 150 mg of nicotine. Wombats weigh between 20 and 35 kg. Eating even a single cigar would very likely kill a wombat. Again, I’m not trying to perpetuate the theory that Rossetti’s wombat died from eating cigars at the dinner party in question. But either William Michael Rossetti’s anecdote is more than “only somewhat exaggerated,” or it didn’t end well for the wombat.
It has been some time since we mentioned the stream of new translations flowing from the fount of Evertype Publishing, but that is not because that stream has abated. Six first-time translations and a new Esperanto edition have been published since the start of this year alone.
This brings to eighteen the titles in Evertype’s list of Carroll Books in Translation. It is a great achievement and one that has us daydreaming about radically ambitious installation art involving the United Nations General Assembly Hall (see above), inflatable mushrooms and hundreds of schoolchildren from around the world. (Just imagine. . . )
L’s Aventuthes d’Alice en Êmèrvil’lie Alice in Jèrriais translated by Geraint Jennings. (Jèrriais is spoken on the island of Jersey and is a descendant of the language of the Norsemen who conquered France in the 9th century.)
John Tenniel's illustration of "Pig and Pepper," from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll
When we first meet the Duchess in Chapter VI of The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner’s footnote (on page 82) is this:
A glance at the portrait of the Ugly Duchess, by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter Quintin Matsys (it is reproduced in Langford Reed’s book on Carroll) leaves little doubt that it served as the model for Tenniel’s duchess. Matsys’s duchess is popularly supposed to be Margaretha Maultasch, a fourteenth-century duchess of Carinthia and Tyrol. “Maultasch,” meaning “pocket-mouth,” was a name given to her because of the shape of her mouth. The unhappy life of poor Margaret, who had the reputation of being the ugliest woman in history, is told by Lion Feuchtwanger in his novel The Ugly Duchess. (See “A Portrait of the Ugliest Princess in History,” by W. A. Baillie-Grohman, Burlington Magazine, April 1921).
Classic Gardner, in that is fascinating, imformative, but slightly dated, as it references a bunch of books and articles that are difficult to find in the 21st Century. The Life of Lewis Carroll by Langford Reed was published in 1932, and rarely or never afterwards. A few used copies turn up on Amazon for as cheap as $19.50. (The picture to the left is from an eBay copy listed for $14.99. A scanned copy is on Google Books, but the full text is currently restricted.) If one wanted to see Matsys’ painting, and can’t make it today to the National Gallery in London where it hangs, it’s still a quasi-famous if not iconic image and there are copies all over the internet. Recent research about the painting, as reported by the Guardian in 2008, solved a few old mysteries: “firstly, the portrait is truthful and she almost certainly looked like that, and secondly, a long held historical theory that the painter was copying Leonardo da Vinci is wrong. The medical research shows that she was suffering from an advanced form of Paget’s disease – osteitis deformans – which enlarged her jaw bones, extended her upper lip and pushed up her nose. It also affected her hands, eye sockets, forehead, chin and collarbones.” Gardner says there is “little doubt” that the Matsys image inspired Tenniel, and I presume he can state that without a reference because the portrait was famous enough, and his illustration evocative of it enough, to be obvious. (The nose, the headdress, the “pocket-mouth.”)
"An Old Woman ('The Ugly Duchess')" by Quintin Matsys, c. 1515, Oil on Oak, 25.6" by 17.9"
The Google Art Project has a very high quality image of the painting here. You can zoom in close and see every crack in her décolletage. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Google Art Project, it lets you wander around famous museums all over the world, virtually wander from room to room, and then study paintings in spectacular detail.)
Lion Feuchtwanger utilized her story in his novel The Ugly Duchess and in 1816 Jacob Grimm collected the ‘Legends of Margarete’ in his book German sagas.” Did you catch that? The original Margaret may actually have been “beautiful,” and it was centuries of folklore that created the figure of the Ugly Duchess. And then centuries later, people began to associate her with the painting of “An Old Woman.”
As for Feuchtwanger’s 1923 historical novel, Die häßliche Herzogin Margarete Maultasch (The Ugly Duchess), also recommended in Gardner’s footnote, it also appears to be out of print. First Editions in German go on Amazon for over a hundred dollars, but used copies of later editions can be found for $11. Used copies of Willa Muir and Edwin Muir’s translation into English, also out of print, can be found for pretty cheap. The text for the Feuchtwanger is also on Google Books in German and English, but it’s also currently restricted.
But just as we were beginning to get discouraged that none of the books Gardner referenced could still be found easily, Whala! “A Portrait of the Ugliest Princess in History,” by W. A. Baillie-Grohman, in Burlington Magazine’s April 1921 issue, can be found on the Internet Archive here! Thank you, Brewster Kahle.
Vol. xxxviii, p. 31 (Jan., 1021).
A PORTRAIT OF THE UGLIEST PRINCESS IN HISTORY
BY W. A. BAILLIE-GROHMAN
HE accompanying plate [a] is from
the portrait of Duchess Margaret of
Tyrol, better known as Pocket-
mouthed Meg, by the hand of Ouen-
tin Matsvs. [continue reading...]
(‘Y’s sometimes look like ‘v’s when text is scanned in, et cetera.) Subscribers to the Burlington Magazine can still read back issues online, but I’m not sure if that goes all the way back to 1921. (If the quote from the Internet Archive above can be believed, the article might be from January 1921, not April.)
This is the first blog post in a series I call “G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked),” named after the exclamation (“GAH!”) we sometimes speak softly when a footnote references a book that is increasingly difficult to put your greasy paws onto. The Annotated Alice is still the definitive edition of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, but sometimes it needs some links.
We’ve already exhausted the ‘March Hare Mad-Hatter-ness’ pun on this blog a few years ago, but Lewis Carroll is making basketball news during the college playoffs! His contributions to bracketology were discussed at length at the Wall Street Journal in two articles:
In addition to writing “Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll was a mathematician who was offended by blind draws in tennis tournaments. So Carroll devised a method to ensure that the most skilled players would survive to the latest rounds.
So in the spirit of adventure, The Wall Street Journal put Carroll’s radical format to the ultimate test: this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. If we assigned the 64-team field randomly, then played out the tournament based on the NCAA selection committee’s overall ranking for each team, what would happen? Would the teams that got unlucky draws or suffered early upsets still make it through to the late rounds? And would there be enough surprises to keep people entertained? [continue reading]
The excellent illustration for the WSJ article by Scott Brundage
Then Bachman expanded the idea into a printed WSJ article:
When The Wall Street Journal undertook a search to figure out who invented the concept of the tournament bracket, nobody had any idea where the search might lead. It’s fair to say nobody imagined it would bring us to the same neighborhood inhabited by Alice, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter.
After our March 17 story, in which we speculated that an 1878 pairings list from Wimbledon was among the first brackets used in sports, we received a number of letters offering fresh leads. The most intriguing one came from a longtime reader, Joel Chinkes, who lives in Luna County, N.M.
Chinkes had in his possession a version of an 1883 monograph written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a 19th-century English mathematician better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. Carroll, as you may recall, is the author of Alice in Wonderland. Chinkes thought we should have a look at the monograph.
The monograph, “Lawn Tennis Tournaments, The True Method of Assigning Prizes with a Proof of the Fallacy of the Present Method,” is just about what it seems to be: a proposal for a better way to conduct a sports tournament. Let’s get one thing straight: Carroll didn’t invent the bracket. In writing this nine-page plan, his only goal was to make it better. [continue reading...]
In quasi-unrelated sports news, did you know the team name for Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana, is the Lincoln Alices? Apparently they’ve been called that for so long that no one remembers why. (If anyone actually does know why, please tell us in the comments.) Anyway, congratulations on being the 2012 Sectional Champions!
Students at the University of Southern California and affiliated institutions take note: the submissions deadline for the 2012 Wonderland Award is only two weeks away.
The goal of the annual award, now in its eighth year, is to encourage new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll. The competition is multidisciplinary and all manner of submissions are welcomed, from scholarly essays to animation, digital compositions, film, music, performance pieces, and visual artworks.
Last year, the award was won by USC Thornton School of Music student Veronique Van Pelt for her musical album, The Alice Sketches: Songs About Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell, the Wonderland Stories and the Present. Below is a picture of Van Pelt receiving her award. Linda Cassady, founder and sponsor of the award, is pictured far right.
Submissions for 2012 USC Libraries Wonderland Award are due on April 2nd. For more information visit the USC Libraries website.
USC Libraries Wonderland Award 2011
Update: If you are coming to the LCSNA Spring Meeting in Cambridge, MA, next month, you will get the chance to hear Linda Cassady talk about her Wonderland Award and some of the many artistic and scholarly creations it has inspired. More details are available here. If you haven’t yet made plans to attend the meeting, there is still time!
Full details for this year’s LCSNA Spring Meeting are now available online. Join us in Cambridge, Massachuettes for a weekend of Carrollian scholarship, conviviality, and a little magic.
The main meeting will be on Saturday, April 28 at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Speakers include Selwyn Goodacre on the 150th anniversary of the boat ride during which Lewis Carroll told the Adventures to Alice Liddell and her sisters, with a review of the various editions of Alice’s Adventures under Ground. Following on this theme, Matt Demakos will discuss the evolution from Underground to the Wonderland. Mark Richards will enlighten us on the finer points of Carroll’s mathematically poetic work A Tangled Tale, and Alan Tannenbaum will tell us about A. B. Frost, the illustrator of A Tangled Tale and Rhyme? and Reason?. Linda Cassady will then talk about the exciting Wonderland Award at the University of Southern California, and show examples of the brilliant art it has inspired. Finally, Chris Morgan will demonstrate some of the magic practiced by Lewis Carroll. Other events include Friday’s Maxine Schaefer Reading for Children and a visit on Sunday to the Tannenbaum collection in nearby Chelmsford.
Download this pdf for the full program and for information on how to book meals and accommodation.
Interactive books long-predate the LCD screen, and this exhibition features over 50 examples of pop-up, pull-tab, lift-flap, spin-dial papier-mechanical ingenuity from the past 500 years. In the video below, curator Leah Hamilton introduces the exhibition and demonstrates some of the items on display. Robert Sabuda’s Alice pop-up features prominently as does work by Kubasta, who created the wonderful pop-up Alice published in 1960.
The exhibition is being held University of Rochester, Rare Books and Special Collections, Rush Rhees Library from January 23 to August 17, 2012. Call (585) 275-4477 for exhibition hours.
For many collectors, the act of cataloging the collection can be an essential part of the pleasure. Caterina Morelli’s blog Alice in Wonderland is a great example. In her native Italian, Morelli painstakingly documents her extensive collection of Carroll editions; as she puts it, “every post is an index card of a book.” Each card starts with an evocative description of the edition, followed by detailed information about the illustrator, publisher, and text – even the dimensions and the construction of the book are recorded. The cards are organized by illustrator.
When she told me about her blog, Caterina mentioned that some day she would like to translate it into English. Perhaps someone reading this blog is an Italian-English translator and an Alice fan? Would you like to help with her project? What nicer way could there be to brush up on your Italian?
A science writer, a mathematician, and a professor of English walk into a library… no, it’s not an unpromising joke, it’s a very promising-sounding multidisciplinary event taking place in Los Angeles on February 22.
As part of Visions and Voices: the University of Southern California Arts and Humanities Initiative, three very different intellects will be discussing Wonderland and the Mathematical Imaginary. The trio consists of Australian science writer Margaret Wertheim, who you may have seen crocheting a coral reef during a TED lecture; Francis Bonahon, a professor of mathematics at the USC Dornsife College and a specialist in hyperbolic geometry and quantum topology; and Jim Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Chair in English at the USC Dornsife College and specialist in Victorian literature, culture, criminality, lunacy, and perversion.
The discussion will be held at the historic Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library and will be followed by an “experimental play/workshop” where, it is promised, “participants can make and play with absurd mathematical objects.” The event will run from 11am – 1pm and admission is free and open to the public.
The organizers are the same folks who run the Wonderland Award, an annual competition that encourages new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll. The deadline for entries this year is April 2 — we’ll be sure to remind you again closer to the time.
Imagine this… You are tucked up in bed and have a brilliant idea that must be written down. It’s dark, it’s late, and bedside lights have not been invented yet. What do you do? If you are Lewis Carroll you invent an entirely new system of writing – a card template of square holes, and a square alphabet to fit inside. Problem solved!
Any one who has tried, as I have often done, the process of getting out of bed at 2 a.m. in a winter night, lighting a candle, and recording some happy thought which would probably be otherwise forgotten, will agree with me it entails much discomfort. All I have now to do, if I wake and think of something I wish to record, is to draw from under the pillow a small memorandum book containing my Nyctograph, write a few lines, or even a few pages, without even putting the hands outside the bed-clothes, replace the book, and go to sleep again. – Lewis Carroll, Letter to The Lady magazine in October 1891
A nyctograph, reconstructed by Noah Slater
The Square Alphabet
In 2005, LCSNA-member Alan Tannenbaum built a square alphabet font and transcribed and produced a limited edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – some of you may be proud owners of the rare “Square Alice.” Now, for the first time, a square alphabet edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been published by Evertype and is for sale on Amazon. Below is an example of the text – it’s the passage that begins “‘Are you content now?’ said the Caterpillar,” though you may need a light on to read it.
"Are you content now?" said the Caterpillar.
The edition includes a forward by Alan Tannenbaum and an introduction by publisher Michael Everson on the challenges of the typography. Very little else has been written about Carroll’s nyctograph, but closely related devices may lie all around you – Carroll’s invention prefigured the types of text-entry systems used for tablet computers by 100 years. His own square alphabet has even been cited as inspiration for a unistroke text entry method designed for people with sight or motor impairments.
If you can’t help but try to back-transcribe the passage above (I couldn’t), don’t forget about punctuation. It seems letter characters all have a large dot in the top left of the square, while punctuation characters have a large dot in the lower right.