[(essay date 1997) In the following essay, Sigler provides an overview of the critical reception of the Alice stories over the last century and discusses Carroll's contributions to literary modernism.]
It may be thought that in introducing a certain little lady ALICEnce has been taken. But royal personages are public property.--Jean Jambon, Our Trip to Blundertown (1876)
Alternative Alices brings together some of the most lively and original of the almost two hundred literary imitations, revisions, and parodies of Lewis Carroll's enduringly influential Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Produced between 1869 and 1930, the works represented here do not passively imitate Carroll, but trace the extraordinarily coherent, creative, and often critical responses to the Alice novels.
The Alice imitations of this period embody the golden age of Carroll's influence on popular literature. They are associated in the ways they all adapt the structures, motifs, and themes of the original Alice books and respond to the issues they raise. These works are distinct from later, post-1930 imitations, which tend simply to make references to the Alice mythos while commenting upon issues and concerns far from Alice's world.
The literary responses of this golden age range from Christina Rossetti's angry subversion of Alice's adventures, Speaking Likenesses (1874), to G. E. Farrow's witty fantasy adventure The Wallypug of Why (1895), to Edward Hope's hilarious parody of social and political foibles in Alice in the Delighted States (1928). Alternately enchanting, experimental, satiric, and subversive, these Alice-inspired works reveal how variously Lewis Carroll's celebrated Alice fantasies were read, reinscribed, and resisted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are the most universally recognized and acclaimed Victorian works for children, having lost neither their appeal nor their mystique in the more than one hundred and twenty-five years since their publication. A few months after Carroll's death, in an article entitled "What the Children Like," The Pall Mall Gazette reported on a poll which asked children to list their favorite books. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was ranked a resounding first, with Through the Looking-Glass following in eleventh place.1 For children and adults alike, Lewis Carroll's Alice books remain today both popular favorites and literary classics, sold by purveyors of fine editions, university presses, and shopping-mall bookstores, and available in a wide variety of editions ranging from picture books to annotated paperbacks to luxuriously illustrated hardbacks.2 In high schools and universities the Alice books are regularly taught in English literature classes and appear on virtually every Victorian "great books" bibliography. They are the most widely quoted books after the Bible and Shakespeare's plays, and have been translated hundreds of times into languages which include Japanese, Croatian, Turkish, Danish, Maori, Bengali, Chinese, Gaelic, Russian, and Swahili.3
Though often cited as vanguards in the use of fantasy in children's literature, Carroll's Alice books actually reflect widespread shifts in nineteenth-century literary tastes. These changes were the subject of much discussion and debate in the years surrounding the...