I went to a lovely 12th-night party this weekend at some friends’ house where we exchanged Christmas gifts, and the person who drew me (Dave Newman!) gifted me with a bunch of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed books, one of which is Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser. The first essay was a feminist interpretation of the Alice books.
I was reading it, and the writer praised the character Alice but didn’t seem to grasp that she wasn’t a person, but a character written by a male writer.
Personally, I think Alice isn’t a feminist book so much as an Alice book, a book meant to show a particular girl how to make it through life–how to think logically, how to question common knowledge, how to navigate lies and hypocrisy, and how to have fun doing it. I ran into the idea that the Alice books were there to instruct after rereading The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. I started thinking, “If I were to write an illustrated primer like that, what are some of the traits it would have?” And I kept running back into the Alice books: the world is the adult world, as a kid might see it at the time–threatening, yet she (brattily) navigates it.
If you were going to write some kind of work instructing a particular kid in some of the things that they need for survival (perhaps that you suspect they aren’t getting from their immediate family), how would you do it? I try not to think like that too much; I don’t want to come across as preachy. And try as I might, I seem to keep coming back to themes in my work for kids: bullies don’t get to say who you are, sometimes grownups can’t be relied upon, people will try to get you to do what they want you to do, not what’s right for you. But mostly when I sit down to write, I want to show kids doing stuff.
And as far as the idea that Charles Dodgson was reliving his past to some extent in the Alice books, well, why not? Don’t we all have things that we learned in childhood (or mis-learned) that we want to pass on?