The 43rd Most Highlighted Phrase by Kindle Readers

Speaking of privacy matters, in case you didn’t already know this, Amazon keeps track of what phrases are most often highlighted by folks who read their eBooks on Kindles.  Now, by all rights, if those folks using Kindle readers really knew their Carrolliana, they would have found a way to make it 42nd, but research has shown that following after a whole slew of Suzanne Collins/The Hunger Games quotes, the 43rd most highlighted phrase is the Duchess’s Escher-esque advice to Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

“Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”

To read the full New Republic article about the highlighting habits of Kindle readers (and what it says about our culture), click here.

G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked) – The Ugly Duchess

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.)

Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, better known as Margarete Maultasch (1318 – 3 October 1369) has a Wikipedia page here. Of her posterity, it’s written: “Though contemporaries such as the chronicler John of Winterthur called her beautiful, the nickname Maultasch led to the widespread notion of a woman with deformed features. Quentin Matsys‘s 1513 portrait The Ugly Duchess, after a sanguine by Leonardo da Vinci, may refer to Margaret, and it was Sir John Tenniel‘s model for the ‘Duchess’ in his illustrations of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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.

Kate’s Middleton’s honors dissertation: “Angels from Heaven’: Lewis Carroll’s Photographic Interpretation of Childhood”

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.

The Future of Alice Books, Part II of an Infinite Part Series

Image from Atomic Antelope's Alice iPad app

There’s more discussion on the Alice pop-up book app for the iPad (originally mentioned here in the post Through the LED Screen). The Atomic Antelope app ($9, or a free demo) is the original Carroll text with interactive animated illustrations based on Tenniel. Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy is ruminating on all of this over at the Guardian this week.

…But this is nothing compared to Alice for the iPad. You can throw tarts at the Queen of Hearts, help the Caterpillar smoke his hookah pipe, make Alice grow as big as a house and then shrink again. You can watch as “the Mad Hatter gets even madder”, and throw pepper at the Duchess. Over the 52 pages of the app there are 20 animated scenes. Each illustration has been taken from the original book and has been made gravity-aware, responding to a shake, tilt or the touch of a finger. The story is never the same twice, because users are Alice’s guide through Wonderland. The Caterpillar will smoke his hookah in a new way when you tilt your iPad, or you can throw more pepper the second time around.

continue reading…

Criticizing the Critics, & futterwacking around the Alice Movie Paradox

[Warning! Spoiler alert! It was all a dream!]

When Lewis Carroll published a few thousand copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, with no hype or buzz, it received some mixed reviews. That’s one of the few things Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has in common with Carroll’s original stories. The critics were out this week, and occasionally perceptive. As of this morning, the “top critics” that Rotten Tomatoes tracks average at about 59% (between rotten tomato and ripe tomato), with the general masses giving it about 53%. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, one of my favorite critics to disagree with, had some interesting insight into the Alice Paradox in movies:

Dark and sometimes grim, this isn’t your great-grandmother’s Alice or that of Uncle Walt, who was disappointed with the 1951 Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland.” “Alice has no character,” said a writer who worked on that project. “She merely plays straight man to a cast of screwball comics.” Of course the character of Carroll’s original Alice is evident in each outrageous creation she dreams up in “Wonderland” and in the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass,” which means that she’s a straight man to her own imagination. (She is Wonderland.) Here she mostly serves as a foil for the top biller Johnny Depp, who (yes, yes) plays the Mad Hatter, and Mr. Burton’s bright and leaden whimsies.

Her conclusion, however, is vague and baffling:

This isn’t an impossible story to translate to the screen, as the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer showed with “Alice” (1988), where the divide between reality and fantasy blurs as it does in dreams. It’s just hard to know why Mr. Burton, who doesn’t seem much interested in Alice, bothered.

The great Roger Ebert, at the Chicago Sun-Times, admits he didn’t care for the books growing up, which possibly explains some of his strange tangents:

This has never been a children’s story. There’s even a little sadism embedded in Carroll’s fantasy. It reminds me of uncles who tickle their nieces until they scream. “Alice” plays better as an adult hallucination, which is how Burton rather brilliantly interprets it until a pointless third act flies off the rails. It was a wise idea by Burton and his screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, to devise a reason that Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a grown girl in her late teens, revisiting a Wonderland that remains much the same, as fantasy worlds must always do.

[...]
Burton shows us Wonderland as a perturbing place where the inhabitants exist for little apparent reason other than to be peculiar and obnoxious. Do they reproduce? Most species seem to have only one member, as if nature quit while she was ahead.
How could he not develop that shocking exposée? Who was the Duchess’s baby daddy? Is there a Mrs. Mock Turtle!? I wish Carroll was around to explain the laws of dream procreation.
One more quote, I’ll give Elizabeth Weizman of New York Daily News my highly coveted Saying Nothing Award:

“Frabjous” may be a word Carroll invented, but Burton knows just what it means, at least in his own mind. He’s clearly excited to invite us inside, and as long as you’re open to so much muchness, you’ll be very glad he did.

This parsing of critics possibly to be continued… In the meantime, I have several questions:

-How come no one has discussed the influence of Miranda Richardson’s Queen Elizabeth I from BBC’s “Blackadder II” (1986) on Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen?

-Why was the Dodgson-esque figure named Charles at the beginning Alice’s dead father? What?
-Did the bizarre Chinese trade-route plot-line at the finale, which was guided on by the blue butterfly (née Caterpillar), have anything to do with opium (i.e., the possible contents of the Caterpillar’s pipe)? I know it was 2am and I had a headache from two hours of drinking wine in an IMAX with 3D glasses, but I think I may be onto a possible explanation for the otherwise unexplainable China thing.

Pittsburgh and Colorado Springs, but not Sunderland

As mentioned in the last issue of the Knight Letter, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be performing the ballet of Alice in Wonderland April 17 to 20. Originally created for the English National Ballet, the performance is danced to pieces by Tchaikovsky and includes illusions such as roses that change color and the Duchess’s “flying house” (!?). www.pbt.org/performances/alice.php
www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/03-27-2008/0004781489&EDATE=

Alice in a hookah lounge… with the Caterpillar performed by a male belly dancer… in Colorado Springs? Okay, sure, why not? The Moody Touring Mystery Theatre (http://moodytouringmysteries.com) performs at 40 Thieves Hookah Lounge (http://40thievesonline.com/)on Friday, March 28, and Saturday, March 29: www.csindy.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A24182.

The yet-to-be-filmed Mischa Barton movie, Malice in Sunderland, is now Malice in Wonderland, due to lack of funds: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7316174.stm.