What really went on in Wonderland

150608_r26609-320Anthony Lane at The New Yorker:

Legend has it that a book came out of a boat trip, but nothing is ever that simple. The mathematician, moonlighting as an alchemist, turned things both animate and inanimate into different substances. Dodgson became a dodo (a word that toys not just with extinction but with Dodgson’s own tendency to stammer), while Duckworth, who later became chaplain to Queen Victoria, shrank into a duck; both creatures splash about not in a sun-warmed river but in a pool of a child’s tears. Alice Liddell became “Alice,” with no surname to tether her. “Alice’s Adventures Underground” became what we call, for the sake of convenience, “Alice in Wonderland,” although there is no such book. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published in 1865; the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary has been widely celebrated this year. In 1871 came “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”—another title that we often elide or get wrong. In that fable, our heroine walks into a wood where objects lose their names. She puts her hand on a tree, and can’t summon the word for it. Even her own identity escapes her: “Then it really has happened, after all! And now, who am I?”

Douglas-Fairhurst is at home with transformation. His previous work, “Becoming Dickens” (2012), the best and the most fine-fingered of the many books published to coincide with the bicentenary of the novelist’s birth, touched upon the genesis of “The Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” and other early successes. If Dickens scholarship is a crowded field, however, Carroll studies should have a sign nailed firmly above the door: “Standing Room Only.”

more here.