G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked) – The Dormouse and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Wombat

A sleepy young Hazel dormouse

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.

This is the second blog post in a series for the LCSNA called Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked, in which we employ the mighty power of the internet to illuminate, investigate, and of course provide links for the footnotes from The Annotated Alice.

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 Ford and 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 LD50 of 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.

Please “like” the Lewis Carroll Society of North America’s sparkly new Facebook Page!

For years, our Facebook presence has been limited to a Group. The ribbon is now cut for the Lewis Carroll Society of North America’s new Facebook Page. If you’re a Facebook neophyte, all you have to do is click the “like” button. Links to this blog, information about Society events, and other trivialities will then occasionally but unobtrusively appear in your Newsfeed. The image we’ve chosen for our first Cover photo is from Mahendra Singh’s graphic novel version of The Hunting of the Snark (2010). Singh’s blog (with many more illustrations) is here. The LCSNA’s Twitter feed is here. A video of a snoring dormouse is here.

Management Strategies from the Mad Hatter

they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapotWould you take lessons in business management from the Mad Hatter? Charles Jennings, British “thought leader” and learning and performance consultant thinks that might not be such a bad idea.

In a January blog post Managers and Mad Hatters: Work that Stretches, Jennings takes events from tea party and turns them into lessons in leadership for today’s managers.

“Alice looked back once or twice, half hoping they would call after her: the last time she saw them they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot”

Many [learning and development] people struggle with the challenge of engaging and enrolling business managers in employee development. Trying to wedge them into a place they don’t really want to be. More…

The post is the last in a series of three which uses Alice’s adventures to illuminate strategies for effective learning in the workplace wonderland. Previous posts covered “The Lobster Quadrille for Learning and Development” and topical advice from the Cheshire Cat.

 

 

Snoring Dormouse

Dormice are in the news this week – not for their entertaining stories about treacle – but because of a newly viral video of a cute snoring guy.

The month-old video already has 2.3 million views on YouTube, and Slate has published an “Explainer” article answering the question “Do animals that hibernate get up to go to the bathroom?

Karen Mortillaro’s Bronze Sculptures & Anamorphia

A few weeks ago we blogged about the Arne Nixon Center‘s Alice exhibitions currently on display in Fresno, California. One of the artists featured in the collection is Karen Mortillaro, who does amazing “anamorphic” bronze sculptures. What is anamorphosis, you might ask?

Over the past thirteen years, Mortillaro has been exploring anamorphia. A concept taken from the past-from the Chinese, the Greeks, the Renaissance masters, and the 17th Century French-and brought it to the 21st Century. She literally has lifted the image from a flat page and made it a truly three-dimensional form.

If Fresno is not in your travel itinerary, Mortillaro’s website, www.karenmortillaro.com, has many images of her work in an anamorphic gallaery and a sculpture gallery, most of which is of Lewis Carroll characters.

Look under the News and Updates section of her site to see a rotating image of the 3D anamorphic art, and an explanation of the current project:

The Alice in Wonderland Bronze Collection is very pleased to announce the addition of anemographic sculptural illusions. Watch for the first release of this amazing art form. All twelve chapters will be explored, starting with Chapter I, “Alice Down the Rabbit Hole.” This is an extraordinary addition to the collection. Mortillaro is very pleased to announce this exciting new addition to the Alice in Wonderland Bronze Collection. If you have never experienced an anemographic illusion, you are in for a real treat.

Gillian Welch sings “White Rabbit” on NPR

The great country revival duo, Gillian Welch (with Dave Rawlings), released their first album in almost a decade, The Harrow & the Harvest. (It’s really good.) They went on Fresh Air with Terry Gross to schlep it, and at the end of the show, Gross asked them to play a cover, “to surprise us with a song that we might not think that they like.” They chose Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and it’s a pretty damned beautiful cover of that song. Starting at 41 minutes into the show, Welch explains why they chose that song, and then their version of it gets cut off for the credits. HOWEVER, naturally, they’re hawking it as a special single on iTunes, for $1.29. Remember what the dormouse said… “That I can’t remember,” said the Hatter.

Scariest Alice/Palin yet by Martin Rowson

Cartoonist Marin Rowson, contributor to U.K. newspaper the Guardian, has drawn possibly the scariest Alice/Palin yet.  It appeared on Sunday, October 31 on the Guardian website under the heading “Martin Rowson on a tea-party at the US midterms.” This time we seem to have a Murdoch Mad Hatter stuffing an Obama Dormouse into the teapot while U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron peers out of his pocket – and that is definitely Glenn Beck in the high chair – but I can’t place the two-headed March Hare. Any guesses?

How many more tea-party cartoons can we expect? Check out our Political Cartoons page if you need a reminder of the ways Wonderland was co-opted into political parody in the pre-tea-party world.

Martin Rowson

The Joker, the Hatter, & an armed Alaskan Alice

    The buzz from the DC universe is that the Batman spinoff, The Joker’s Asylum II, June 16th, 2010, “is devoted to the Mad Hatter and his Alice obsession” (thanks, Devra Kunin.) The incredible cover art is by Bill Sienkiewicz, written by Landry Walker. The DC website explains The Joker’s Asylum as “a special month-long, weekly series of one-shots starring the greatest villains in Batman’s rogues gallery.”

    On other shelves in other shops, the June 12th-18th Economist picked up the “mad” Tea Party theme on its cover, this time with Palin as Alice, Glenn Beck as the Hatter again, and I’m assuming the cigar is supposed to imply that Rush Limbaugh is the Hare. (He was the Cheshire Cat in The Nation.) I’m not sure how to interpret FoxNews as the dormouse.

    “Alice’s Theme”: Music & Lyrics by Danny Elfman

    Danny Elfman’s soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland will be released on CD (an ancient kind of optical disc used to store digital audio) next Tuesday, March 2nd, and there’s some short clips at the Amazon store if you desire a teaser. I couldn’t help noticing the opening song – with children’s voices singing “Oh, Alice, dear where have you been?” – and I found the complete lyrics at a blog called cinemusic.net. I’ll include them with that website’s charming introduction:

    Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp as Elijah Wood The Mad Hatter begins pissing off prickly Lewis Carroll purists on March 5, 2010 in theaters everywhere in eye-popping 3D. Lending musical support is Burton’s constant composer Danny Elfman, AKA film music’s most awesome red head.

    Threaded throughout the score is an original song penned by Elfman, called “Alice’s Theme”, and it opens up the Disney Records score album due in stores on March 2 (obligatory Amazon link). Here’s a sneak peek at the song’s lyrics (thanks to the supremely talented LD for these)…

    “Alice’s Theme”

    Music and Lyrics by Danny Elfman

    Oh, Alice, dear where have you been?
    So near, so far or in between?
    What have you heard what have you seen?
    Alice, Alice, please, Alice!

    Oh, tell us are you big or small
    To try this one or try them all
    It’s such a long, long way to fall
    Alice, Alice, oh, Alice

    How can you know this way not that?
    You choose the door you choose the path
    Perhaps you should be coming back
    Another day, another day

    And nothing is quite what is seems
    You’re dreaming are you dreaming, oh, Alice?
    (Oh, how will you find your way? Oh, how will you find your way?)
    (There’s not time for tears today. There’s no time for tears today.)

    So many doors – how did you choose
    So much to gain so much to lose
    So many things got in your way
    No time today, no time today
    Be careful not to lose your head
    Just think of what the doormouse [sic] said…Alice!

    Did someone pull you by the hand?
    How many miles to Wonderland?
    Please tell us so we’ll understand
    Alice…Alice…Oh, Alice

    (Oh how will you find you way? … Oh, how will you find you way?)

    Sing along!

    I’ve never met a prickly Lewis Carroll purist, let alone a pissed-off one, but I would presume they’re easily decapitated with a vorpal sword. Or defenestrated with a defibrillator.

    Anyway, if you are not familiar with Mr. Elfman, he is the film composer and long-time collaborator with Mr. Burton, the man wrote the iconic music for Batman, The Simpsons theme, and those wonderful songs for The Nightmare Before Christmas. He has done less-than-stellar work for some of Mr. Burton’s more recent mediocrities. Elfman is often mocked in the classical world for basically having a team of composers do his work for him, although I sometimes feel this criticism is harsh. (After all, Renaissance painters employed whole crews of apprentices, Dale Chihuly has a studio to manifest his glass-art masterpieces, and George Gershwin didn’t do the orchestrations for Rhapsody in Blue (free round of drinks if you can name the composer who did!) Art is not always the product of an agonized solo genius, sometimes she can be more of an architectural designer, et cetera, especially in the film music world. Thus ends this parenthetical rant.)
    As dear to my adolescent heart as Elfman’s music for The Nightmare Before Christmas is, there’s many cringeworthy lyrics (e.g., “I wish my cohorts weren’t so dumb / I’m not the dumb one / You’re no fun / Shut up! / Make me!”) I would pay a large sum of money to hire William Shatner to read the lyrics to “Alice’s Theme” as a beat poem accompanied by bongos and upright bass (as he did for Sarah Palin’s verbiage). In conclusion, Mr. Elfman should hire a real librettist.

    Alice Eats Wonderland: A Cookbook

    Alice Eats Wonderland, “An Irreverent Annotated Cookbook Adventure,” is available now. Authored by by LCSNA members August A. Imholtz, Jr. and Alison Tannenbaum – aka Baumholtz (we like portmanteau names) – the cookbook follows the twelve chapter format of AAIW, but this time Alice gets a bit more to eat than cake and biscuits.

    Menu items include Stuffed Dormouse, Jugged Hare and Iguana Tamales, but fear not for your favorite animal characters! (or at least, fear less!), the publisher, Applewood Books, reassures us: “Although many of the characters seem, alas, to be transformed into edible dishes during the adventure, the story has a surprisingly happy ending.”

    We hear that Alice Eats Wonderland combines excerpts from the original text, scholarly notes and original illustrations with recipes to challenge, intrigue, and possibly upset, the most adventurous gastronome. Has anyone had a chance to sample the book? Has anyone jugged a hare? Please post your reviews and experiences in the comments below!

    Alice Eats Wonderland is available at $14.95 per copy, plus shipping, from Applewood Books, 1 River Road, Carlisle, MA, 01741. Phone: 781-271-0055; e-mail: applewood@awb.com