A couple of years after the first publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the recently established Aunt Judy’s Magazine printed two new stories by Lewis Carroll: “Fairy Sylvie” and “Bruno’s Revenge.” Several years later, Carroll decided to use these as the basis for a novel, and in 1889 he was hard at work finalizing the first volume, Sylvie and Bruno, for publication.
Carroll enjoyed drawing throughout his life and he has been lauded as “the most outstanding photographer of children in the nineteenth century,” but he always turned to professional artists when it came to illustrating his children’s books.
The caricaturist Harry Furniss, who also illustrated the works of Dickens and Thackeray, worked for several years with Carroll on Sylvie and Bruno, and their collaboration is richly documented in a series of letters from Carroll to Furniss. Their correspondence discusses in detail the composition and illustration of the story, and Carroll has filled his letters with sketches to guide the artist.
Carroll hoped to see the first volume published by Christmas 1889, and in a letter (shown above) from September of that year, Carroll notes that “the case looks almost hopeless” because seven chapters still need to be illustrated. He then goes on to describe in detail a number of illustrations that he wants Furniss to try. To depict The Mad Gardener’s Song in chapter 12, Carroll asks him to show an Albatross turning into a postage stamp. He then acknowledges, “I’m aware it’s an almost impossible subject! But don’t you think there is a certain zest in trying impossibilities?”
Any 6-year-old girl obsessed with Disney Princess merchandise will tell you that Alice was not one of the princesses (‘princi‘?). However, it turns out a real princess seems to have been interested in Alice. At the center of the media spotlight right now is Prince William’s royal fiancée Kate Middleton, to be wed in a few short weeks, and guess what? She did her thesis on Lewis Carroll. The Daily Kate, a blog about a breadth and depth of topics as long as that topic is related to Kate Middleton, posted in June 2009 “Kate’s Lewis Carroll Dissertation Revealed.”
Posters on the internet have been circulating links to the title of Kate Middleton’s university dissertation in recent days. The topic of Kate Middleton’s project should shock no one who knows of her interest in art history and photography: it was a study of the photographic representations of childhood created by Lewis Carroll, author of the famous Alice in Wonderland books.
The website of the School of Art History at the University of St. Andrews lists an honors dissertation by Catherine Middleton, titled “‘Angels from Heaven’: Lewis Carroll’s Photographic Interpretation of Childhood.” Kate completed the paper as a part of her master’s program in art history at the university.
The dissertation topic fits well with what we’ve learned about Kate’s interest in photography over the years. Her work with her parents’ Party Pieces company includes photographing stock for the company’s catalogue and website. She also helped to host a photography exhibition of Alastair Morrison’s work to benefit UNICEF while still living in London; both Prince William and Laura Lopes, daughter of The Duchess of Cornwall, were attendees at that function.
Kate’s interest in art and photography, I hope, will bode well for her future patronage of and work with the heritage of British arts should she and William marry.
I don’t believe the text of the dissertation is out in public, which is well and good. (It’s listed on the St. Andrew’s website here.) Her thesis topic has also been mentioned recently in a Newsweek and Daily Beast article called “Citizen Kate,” if you want to read more about her. If you’re apathetic to tabloid subjects, this may seem more or less irrelevant to anything, but it is nice that the likely future Queen has good taste.
Author Richard Conniff wrote an entertaining post for the New York Times blog Opinionator yesterday. It starts off at sea in a Sieve with the Jumblies and ends in the Tulgey Wood, all to discuss the relation between the Nonsense poets’ zoology and the age of 19th Century scientific exploration, which turned up many fanciful new creatures. “Charles Darwin himself could sound as whimsical as Lewis Carroll,” writes Conniff. Read the whole article here, and here’s an excerpt:
A pigeon from one of Edward Lear’s books.
[...] But it never occurred to me that there might be a direct connection between the two worlds of nonsense verse and biology. Then one day I picked up an old print of a tropical pigeon species and noticed the “E. Lear” in the bottom corner. Though he is celebrated today mainly as the author of such works as “The Owl and the Pussycat,” Lear had started out as a naturalist. His first book, “Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots,” drew favorable comparisons with Audubon when he published it in 1832, at age 19.
Like many naturalists, Lear described the natural world not just in literal-minded scientific detail, but also in fanciful doodles and verse. And when this blossomed into books for children, he often dispatched his characters, like naturalists, on wild explorations to the back of beyond. He also had them devote considerable energy to collecting the oddities of the country:
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Nonsense was almost a byproduct of natural history. The twin themes of exploration and taxonomy, were “present in the genre as a whole, even in Lewis Carroll, who had no special interest in the subject,” according to the French scholar Jean-Jacques Lecercle, in his 1994 book “Philosophy of Nonsense”: “The reader of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is in the position of an explorer: the landscape is strikingly new … and a new species is encountered at every turn, each more exotic than the one before. Nonsense is full of fabulous beasts, mock turtles and garrulous eggs.”
Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch blog posted pictures last week from the upcoming Broadway musical Wonderland, which will open in the Marquis Theatre April 17, 2011. Kate Shindle was Miss Illinois in 1997 and Miss America in 1998, and has since appeared on Broadway in Caberet and Legally Blonde.
“One of my first questions to the creative team was, ‘Why is the Mad Hatter female?’” admits Shindle about her gender-bending new role.
“It’s a cool gimmick, but it has to make sense.” And it does: This update, featuring music by veteran Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlett Pimpernel), features a grown-up Alice who, dissatisfied with her marriage and career, takes an elevator into the bowels of Manhattan to find her missing daughter and, consequently, herself. “There are a lot of messages here,” says Shindle, who is introduced during the famous tea party sequence (pictured, top). “One is that there are forces at work within everybody and the question is what we want to let win. The Mad Hatter represents a part of Alice — I hesitate to say her dark side because she’s the fun, life-of-the-party side, but she’s also her insecurity, self-sabotage, and fear. The tea party is where Alice is introduced to the Hatter and realizes she has to reckon with that force.” What about the red pantsuit and bustle? “That’s the final showdown. It’s at a point in the show where the story might as well be over, but bad stuff, you know, just doesn’t go away quite so easily. That song is the beginning of it.”
Cryptozoology, according to the Wikipedia, “refers to the search for animals which are considered to be legendary or otherwise nonexistent by the field of biology. ” Dr Karl Shuker, according to his own bio, is “one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world.” Wikipedia describes him as “full-time freelance zoological consultant, media consultant, and noted author specializing in cryptozoology.” He is author of dozens of books, such as 2010′s Karl Shuker’s Alien Zoo, and he is currently working on his second book on “mysterious and mythical cats,” (the first was the “seminal” Mystery Cats of the World from 1989, out of print), called I Thought I Saw The Strangest Cat… Phantom Cats (again according to Wikipedia) “are a common subject of cryptozoological interest, largely due to the relative likelihood of existence in comparison to fantastical cryptids lacking any evidence of existence, such as Mothman.”
Dr Shuker gave us a sneak peak of this forthcoming book on his blog ShukerNature last week, posting a lengthy excerpt about the Cheshire Cat! Read the whole thing here, and here are the first few paragraphs:
Ever since Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s book was first published in 1865, literary scholars, Carrollian biographers, and cat-lovers alike have debated the source of one of its most enigmatic characters – the famously evanescent Cheshire Cat, with its maniacal, detachable grin! What was Carroll’s inspiration for such a surreal creation?
To begin with: as there is no such breed as a Cheshire cat, where did its name originate? Unlike most of its history, however, this seems to be quite straightforward.
Born in 1832 at Daresbury in rural Cheshire, Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) spent much of his childhood there and later at Croft, a little further north. Consequently, he would have frequently encountered various of the local farm, pet, and stray cats – in other words, cats of Cheshire.
Moreover, as pointed out by Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice (1960), there was a popular saying, current during Carroll’s time – “Grin like a Cheshire cat” – which must also, surely, have influenced his choice of a name for his fictitious feline.
Hardly surprisingly, that phrase has been mooted by several scholars as the origin of the Cheshire Cat’s synonymous smile too – but there are a number of other, equally compelling claimants for that particular honour. For example, it is well known that during the period when Carroll and his family lived in Cheshire, there were several inns whose signboards portrayed broadly-grinning lions; their incongruous visages would undoubtedly have attracted the attention of anyone so captivated by the allure of the ludicrous as Carroll.
Notwithstanding this, he needed to look no further than his home county’s celebrated cheeses for immediate inspiration. In her book Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1979), Anne Clark noted that a renowned medieval inhabitant of Chester, John Catheral, whose coat-of-arms from 1304 included a cat, always bared his teeth in a grin when angry – and died with a smile on his face, quite literally, while defending his beloved town. In honour of his valour, a longstanding tradition arose whereby Cheshire cheese-makers would mould their cheeses into the shape of a cat, and carve a wide grin upon its face. Once again, Carroll would certainly have seen such cheeses, and would have known the origin of their unusual form.
While not impossible (Dodgson didn’t die till after the advent of sound recording), I was skeptical when this blog 22 Words claimed to have a recording of “Lewis Carroll reading ‘Jabberwocky.’” But I see they updated it with the comment “Oops! Sorry…This isn’t Lewis Carroll reading. Not sure how I made that mistake…” I can guess how they made the mistake: they had embedded the sound only from this strange YouTube animation. Its creator, Jim Clark, explains himself thusly: “Here is a virtual movie of Lewis Carroll reading his much loved poem Jabberwocky. The poem is read superbly by Justin Brett.”
There’s no known voice recordings of Carroll are there?
Mahendra Singh’s beautiful new graphic novel version of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark got a Christmasy plug in The New Yorker’s blog Book Bench, in a post called “Holiday Gift Guide: For the Precocious Child.” “…Illustrated with delightfully surreal (and somewhat macabre) drawings,” writes Eileen Reynolds. “The language isn’t easy, of course, so save this book for the brightest and most adventurous young word-worms on your holiday shopping list.”
Over at Melville House’s blog MobyLives, Singh wrote a short essay about his creative process when approaching the illustration of the Bellman’s blank map. The original post is here, and I’ll quote in full:
A panel from Singh’s adaptation
The infamous Blank Map of the Bellman is proof positive that there was no Bellwoman forcing the Bellman to stop and ask for directions. It’s also a classic example of Carroll’s subversive sense of fun in the entire Snark.
The original illustrator of the poem, Henry Holiday, simply drew a blank map for this scene, a zen-like decision which really complicated my life when I set about drawing this panel.
Outsmarting Holiday would not be easy, but I had two advantages working for me in my quest to draw that celebrated blankness. First, this was going to be the world’s first, genuinely full-scale Surrealist Snark. Second, I am a shameless borrower of things which don’t belong to me.
Both the Snark and Surrealism involve a lot horsing around with the exact meanings of words and pictures, with interchanging them, combining them, sometimes even making their entire meaning softly and silently vanish away.
Henry Holiday’s Map of the Bellman
The Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte, was obsessed with this sort of game and his painting, “The Lover”, makes a perfect comment upon the Bellman’s Map. So, I just took it. Shameless on my part, yes, but there’s even more of that to come.
The map’s legend, “you are here” is literally true but what’s really shameless is my insistence that French is the language of the lost and confused when everyone knows that it’s really English. This is easily verified. Stand on a street corner in any big francophone city and ask a stranger: where am I? If necessary, pull at shirtsleeves and wave your arms, speak very slowly while carefully pronouncing every word at the utmost decibel level. I think you’ll quickly see what I mean.
Words, words, words! If only they had the decency to cover themselves up, like the Bellman & Company. They have no loyalty, they can’t be bothered to mean anything anymore, they’re shameless!
Rene Magritte’s “The Lovers”
Singh’s Snark is for sale on Amazon here, and more on The Hunting of the Snark around our website here.
‘The Nursery Alice’ was first printed in 1889 but Carroll didn’t like the pictures, ‘too bright and gaugy’, some sheets were sent to America and some were used for the People’s Edition in 1891. The book below is the Second but first published edition dated 1890. 10.000 copie were printed but sales were slow so some became the 2nd people’s edition.
There is Thingumbob shouting! Mahendra Singh’s beautiful new illustrated version of The Hunting of the Snark is being released tomorrow, Tuesday, November 2nd (and we refuse to make any Election Day analogies) from Melville House Publishing. You can still pre-order it today for $10.08 on Amazon with free shipping (where it’s listed as a “graphic novel,” although where is the line between a graphic novel and a book with many, many pictures and conversations?) Singh, an LCSNA member and an editor of the Knight Letter, has been blogging about the creative process of this book for years with tons of sneak-peaks of the art at justtheplaceforasnark.
In 1879, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson–a.k.a. Lewis Carroll–published the classic “nonsense” poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Though often outshined by Carroll’s prose works like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Snark is beloved by Carroll fans and has been adapted in numerous iterations since it was originally published.
In November, Melville House is publishing the latest iteration, a lovely new graphic novel edition of The Hunting of the Snark, illustrated by the artist Mahendra Singh. (Singh has been blogging about the process of adapting this famous work over at justtheplaceforasnark–I encourage anyone who considers themselves aficionados of Carroll or graphic novels to check it out. His commentary about the process is incredibly fun and often brilliant.)
When you’re publishing something that’s already so well known, there’s no shortage of adaptations and interpretations out there. Each tends to say something not just about the original work, but about the time and place it was adapted. Yesterday I found this wonderful audio clip of Boris Karloff doing a reading of Snark. It’s lovely to hear Karloff’s eloquent rendering, to let it take you back to his time as he ruminates on Carroll’s playful language, and get wrapped up in all the “nonsense”…