Escapees from an Exhibition: Some Curious “Alice in Wonderland” Items…

Alice once fell asleep and she was dreaming. / When she awoke, she started screaming... "Jabberwocky: Novelty Fox Trot Song," [©1921]. (Cotsen SM 1965)

Alice once fell asleep and she was dreaming. /
When she awoke, she started screaming… “Jabberwocky: Novelty Fox Trot Song,” [©1921]. (Cotsen SM 1965)

Exhibitions of illustrated books, manuscripts, ephemera and other “curiosities” are great ways of highlighting certain aspects of “rare” collections that usually don’t otherwise see the light of day. This is certainly true for items relating to Alice in Wonderland, due to the book’s ongoing popularity and all the “variations on the original theme” by later illustrators, pop-up book designers, and manufacturers of collateral marketing paraphernalia. Imagine seeing a Through the Looking Glass biscuit tin once owned by Lewis Carroll’s sister! Or depictions of Alice as a 1920s flapper girl or as grown-up woman waking from a nightmare dream in a musical score. Or a number of later illustrators’ reinterpretations of John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice.

One problem, though, is that an exhibition (particularly a “live” one) can never accommodate everything. There are usually just too many books and items to display them all! Selecting from among all these items was one of the (fun) challenges in curating Cotsen’s “Alice after Alice” exhibition, which will soon be ending its run (extended from its original July 15 end-date). With that in mind, I thought it might be amusing to feature here some of the “also-rans” and items that we just didn’t have room for in the display cases.

First up, is perhaps Cotsen Library’s smallest version of Alice, measuring just 7 cm (2 ¾ inches) in height: a 1998 Russian edition, Alisa v strane chudes. The pictorial paper dust-jacket shows a smiling Alice with a somewhat modern, but essentially timeless look — fitting perhaps with the timeless beginning of Alice: “All in the golden afternoon…”

Minaiture Book version of Alice

Cover of Russian miniature edition of “Alice” — Alisa v strane chudes — with a penny for size comparison (Cotsen 153255)

Alice

Alice as imagined by illustrator Ekaterina Shishlova

But things really get interesting when we open the book and see Ekaterina Shishlova’s language-transcending, process-printed color illustrations, which accompany the Russian text. In one, Alice herself is shown as a doe-eyed, brown-haired girl, full of perplexity, when trying to decide what to make of the key after she tumbles down into Wonderland. An interesting ‘take” on a character depicted many different ways by various illustrators in the 150 years since the first edition (a number of which were featured in the “Alice after Alice” exhibition)..

But I think Shishlova’s real genius manifests itself in her depictions of Alice tumbling down into Wonderland and a too-large Alice peeking through the tiny door.

timblign alice

Alice tumbles down into Wonderland

In the first, Alice seems to be tumbling down into a well-cum-malestrom, along with a framed picture (the river-bank scene where her sister had been reading to her?) and some leaves from tree Alice was sitting under; you can almost feel the downward motion! Note the tiny circle of sunny sky at the top of the well. And how about Alice’s hand, foregrounded so it looks like the disembodied hand of some giant? Brilliant!

Alice4-Russian2

“Big” Alice peering though the tiny door…

I also particularly like Shishlova’s depiction of Alice peering through the door she’s too big to go through before swigging from the “Drink Me” bottle. The garden seems full of mysterious plants, befitting an enchanted place; and note the hint of red from the Queen of Hearts garden to come.  And how about Alice’s huge eye peering through the door? While great in and of itself, this illustration seems especially perfect for a miniature book!  A big eye peering into a brave new miniature world…

"I'm late, I'm late..."

I’m late, I’m late…

Other wonderful depictions of Wonderland characters in this book include the White Rabbit, wearing what looks like a red-and-blue livery of some sort with a giant floppy hat, mouth agape, and holding his packet-watch, which looms large in the foreground and features a cameo portrait of a harridan-like woman. Is it the Queen of Hearts?

Queen of Hearts

Shishlova’s Queen of Hearts

Speaking of the Queen, take a look at Shishlova’s reimagining of her — a comically scary figure, recalling the proverbial evil step-mother of fairy tales, here with a fawning courtier draped over her. Definitely recognizable as the Queen of Hearts, but also quite distinctive, in the best tradition of illustrators’ reimaginings of Tenniel’s originals!

Apart from the specific delights of this tiny Russian edition, it also serves as a reminder that Alice has been translated into some 174 different languages, including Afrikaans, Latin, Cornish, Welsh, and Tongan.

AliceLetters2

“26 Letters of Lewis Carroll,” fanned out for display, as per the book designer’s suggestion. The Q image is (of course!) the Queen of Hearts (Cotsen 46698)

Another “curious” item that didn’t quite make it into the exhibition is titled Twenty-Six Letters of Lewis Carroll, a 1998 limited printing of 26 letters that Carroll actually wrote to various children, including Alice Liddell (the “real” Alice) and Queen Victoria’s granddaughter. What makes this collection so interesting is the presentation. Each of the letters — one for each letter of the alphabet — is housed within an envelope with an illustration based on a Tenniel original: the whole collection of illustrations forming something of a rebus alphabet (A is for Alice, B for beeQ is for Queen…).  All the envelopes are bound together within a bright red “piano hinge binding,” designed so that the letters can be fanned out for display in a semi-circle. (The bound collection even comes with a descriptive sheet from the book designer, Linda K. Johnson, suggesting display options–no “mere” child’s toy, this!)

TC

The list of letter recipients: from A (Alice Compton) to Z (Zoe Dodgson)

Carroll corresponded with a large number of “child friends” throughout his career and wrote special Christmas or holiday letters or messages to some, including Alice. The pictorial Table of Contents page provides some of of the scope of this correspondence.

Let’s take a look at just two of the letters: Carroll’s letter to Alice Lidell and her sisters and his letter to Princess Alice, Duchess of Altlone (aka. granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who is sometimes regarded as Tenniel’s inspiration for the Queen of Hearts).

Alice

My dear Lorena, Alice, and Edith…

The letter to the Liddells: Lorina, Alice, and Edith (addressed to them essentially in order of their ages) is housed in an envelope with an illustration of a lion (L is for Lion) and the letter itself has the lion illustration too, as you can see. It’s addressed to “My dear…” as were many of Carroll’s letters to children. He didn’t write to children as a celebrity author or a condescending adult, but rather as a friend, which is probably one reason he was so popular with them.

As you can see, the letter also contains an acrostic poem, the first letter of each line spelling out a letter in the three girls’ names — Lorina, Alice, Edith — Carroll loved all sorts of puzzles, based on words and math alike. He actually wrote the original version of this letter on the flyleaf of a book he gave the girls as a Christmas present: Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House (with no lion pictured, though!). The stilted formal style of this letter, although typical of both the time and some of Carroll’s other writings, is quite unlike that in Alice — probably a good thing in terms of the lasting appeal of the book!

p

My dear Princess…

In another letter — P for Princess (Alice), illustrated here with a crowned regal-looking version of Wonderland’s Alice — features a letter Carroll actually wrote to Princess Alice, Victoria’s granddaughter, as well as another acrostic poem. The letter has a remarkably conversational tone (quite unlike the poems), which is doubly remarkable since Carroll was writing to a royal princess at a time when the social bounds between “commoners and royals were quite pronounced. Carroll had actually met Princess Alice previously, something he alludes to in his letter (“before you’ve forgotten me…”). After the 1865 publication of Alice, his celebrity as best-selling author allowed him an entree to social levels quite impossible for a math don (his “day job” as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), something he clearly relished.

The original letter accompanied a “Through the Looking Glass Biscuit Tin” that Carroll sent to Princess Alice, after he had licensed Barringer, Wallis & Manners to produce the tins as a purchase incentive for biscuits (“cookies” to those of us in the USA). Although Carroll complained about the firm’s commercialism in using the tins to encourage purchase of their products, this didn’t stop him from requesting several hundred freebies to give away to various people!

AliceLetters5.3

Whenever your brother Charlie is very naughty, just pop him in [the biscuit tin] and shut the lid!

Apart from the social-climbing aspect of this letter, what makes it interesting to me is Carroll’s tongue-in-cheek advice to Princess Alice: the idea that she should “pop” her annoying little brother, Charlie, into the tin and shut the lid whenever he was “very naughty”! Take a look at the highlighted text. Imagine an author passing along that sort of advice to a kid today!

Princeton has one of these original biscuit tins in our Parrish collection, ours formerly owned by Carroll’s sister, Louisa. Even though the tin is displayed in Cotsen Library’s “Alice after Alice” exhibition, I thought you might like to see it here — from several different angles, something not really feasible in the actual “static” exhibition.

Tin1

Front of the “Looking Glass Biscuit Tin”: Alice & the Knights (Parrish Dodgson 967)

Tin2

One side of the tin: Alice & Humpty Dumpty

Tin4

Side two: Alice, the White King, and “the Messenger”

Tin3

Back of the tin: Alice, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, and the Red Queen

 

top

Top of the tin: Alice goes through the looking glass

A final “escapee” from the exhibition is a Jecktor Company Alice in Wonderland movie filmstrip from 1933. As you can see, it’s an early form of a movie, printed on a translucent paper strip with two rows of images; it’s wound on a wooden spool and would probably be about 2 feet long if fully unrolled.

film

“Alice in Wonderland” filmstrip (#165) by Jecktor Co., 1933 (Cotsen 40848)

But when looking at the Jecktor Alice more closely for this blog posting, I noticed a curious thing: the images on the top and bottom of the filmstrip are slightly different — I’d assumed that the parallel images would be the same, creating some sort of “stereo” or three-dimensional effect when viewed while they moved in some way. (Take a look at the photos above/below and you’ll see what I mean.) So I did what most of us do these days when looking for basic information; I looked online.

movie

“Alice in Wonderland” filmstrip: Alice tumbles down into Wonderland… (note the differences between the images on the top and bottom rows)

procector

Jecktor projector and movie-strips (image from: http://www.icollector.com/)

I learned that Jecktor (based in New York City at 200 5th Avenue, close to the Flatiron Building — quite a toney address now) was an early manufacturer of home movie projectors and gramophone-projector combos gizmos in the 1930s — Jecktor/projector, get it? They made at least 12 filmstrips of popular children’s titles, including Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Tom Sawyer. These filmstrips were designed to be played back using an ingenious, but very unusual-looking, playback device (that combines aspects of a hand projector with a gramophone in some cases). It even had its own US patent: #1,929,353. Take a look at it!

The projector had two lenses and a shutter that flipped the projected image from top to bottom row, and back again, when the film was hand-cranked through the projector, thereby creating the effect of animation (not unlike a flip-book, but much more mechanically complex).

qalice

“Alice” filmstrip: sequence showing Alice shrinking and getting taller…

So that’s why the images on the top and bottom rows are different — shifting from one to another enhanced the  “moving picture” effect that the changing images in each parallel row create as the film was unrolled. (If you’d like to find out more about these filmstrips, the projector, and see an animated clip of Alice, take a look at the YouTube clip from the University of Texas’s Ransom Center, which also explains more about how it all works and describes a conservation project on their own Alice filmstrip for a recent exhibition.)

projector 2

“Talkie Jecktor” projector and gramophone unit (image from” Skinner Auctions, https://www.skinnerinc.com/)

But that’s not all. Some of these projectors also had a record-playing device on top, which enabled playing of what looks like a 78 rpm record, presumably as some sort of a musical soundtrack or perhaps even some sort of dialogue, although synchronizing the movie and filmstrip would have been very very difficult. In the 1930s, commercial movies with soundtracks were still newfangled technical marvels, so I would have guessed that the record would play music — not unlike that heard in many cartoons in the 1940s-1960s — early Mickey Mouse, for instance. (Sometimes the accompanying music was classical music too — William Tell Overture, anyone?) But the box identifies the projector-cum-gramophone as a “Talkie Jector,” so maybe the record did indeed play dialogue? But I prefer to think of Alice in Wonderland set to classical music. What a combination! What music would you select?

Strange Bedfellows? “King Lear” and “The Natural History of Ants”

Some strange things happen to King Lear in Shakespeare’s tragedy about the proud king of ancient Britain who gives away his crown, loses all — including his wits — and finds himself in tatters on a heath in a raging storm, accompanied only by his (perhaps witless) court fool and a truly noble, young nobleman pretending to be a madman (Edgar).  At one point, the three of them crowd together inside a hovel to seek nighttime protection from a raging storm — a mad king, a fool, and a nobleman feigning madness, all huddled together: strange bedfellows, indeed!

Title page: "The Junior Class-Book," by William Frederick Mylius (London: M.J. Godwin, 1813) Cotsen new accession.

Title page: “The Junior Class-Book,” by William Frederick Mylius (London: M.J. Godwin, 1813) Cotsen new accession.

But even this amazing juxtaposition might not seem stranger than finding a (greatly shortened) version of King Lear cheek-by-jowl with “The Natural History of Ants,” which outlines the behavior of ants and uses it to model virtuous conduct for children.  Yet, that’s just what I came across recently while cataloging a newly-acquired Cotsen Library book: The Junior Class-Book, or, Reading Lessons for Every Day of the Year, by William Frederick Mylius (London: M.J. Godwin, 1813).

How did such seemingly disparate items as Lear and ants  come to be yoked together?  Credit a literary miscellany for children, a genre featuring abbreviated excerpts (fiction, prose, poetry, religion) from a wide variety of authors on an intentionally wide variety of subjects and topics.  Like the once-popular literary miscellanies for adults, those for children were samplers of sorts, but they were also meant to subserve an underlying didactic purpose as well. The sheer variety in the selection of materials in children’s literary miscellanies was intended to make them both more engaging and more readily-digestible to young minds, as per Enlightenment thinking on education.  It was also meant to provide a wide array of information on all sorts of topics that educators of the time thought children should know about: morality, history, geography, natural science, and classical mythology, among them.

Religion, once the exclusive foundation of early childhood learning (“A is for Adam”) was no longer the sole basis for childhood reading by the time of this book’s 1813 publication.  In a Preface, Mylius, the book’s compiling editior, is quite explicit about the role he intends the miscellany to play and how this differs from prior practice:

It is now a maxim sufficiently established in schools that children of both sexes are to be practiced and perfected in the art of reading by a miscellaneous collection.  Fifty years ago, the Bible was the only book used for English reading… a miscellany has great advantage… a stepping stone and ladder to all knowledge…

The variety of a miscellany for children is thus the point, as well as one of its key means to achieving its pedagogical ends.  The unusual range of material in The Junior Class-Book certainly got my attention!

But to be accurate, I should also stress how stress that Mylius imposes considerable didactic order on his selections — this is definitely not free-form, study-what-you-will learning!  The eclectic overall work is carefully divided into weekly reading selections — to be commenced on the week “after the Christmas Holiday” — and each week’s reading is further subdivided into six passages, one for each day of the week.  (“Six days a week,” you ask?  Sunday, while a day of rest, was presumably not a day without reading and study in Mylius’s eyes, but one still revolving around the Bible, not assignments from his book.)

Contents

First page of “Contents” for “The Junior Class-Book”: from Fenelon to French Cookery to Shakespeare.

The first “Contents” page listing of readings should, I hope, give you with some idea of the variety of the content and format, as well as how the clearly didactic orientation is leavened by literature and variety: “Industry & Idleness,” “On Lying,” and “The Folly of Ambition” (almost sermon-like in their moral titles) are accompanied by “Of Bird’s Nests.” (Yes indeed, this passage discusses how birds’ nests are actually made, but it also stresses what humans can learn from observing how birds themselves learn how to build nests: learning from others’ learning — quite a sophisticated, psychologically-oriented  approach, when you think about it.)

“Florizel and Perdita” provides a more distinctly “literary” reading selection for the opening weeks, although a title perhaps not as immediately familiar to a modern reader as it would have been at the time of the Junior Class-Book‘s publication.  A retelling of an episode from Shakespeare’s The Winters Tale, “Florizel and Perdita”  is abridged from Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, first published in 1807 to huge critical acclaim and general popularity and never since out of print.  Intended as an introduction to the then utterly-canonical (more unquestionably so then than today, believe it or not) plays of Shakespeare, the Tales were abridged narrative versions of twenty plays, intended as “easy reading for young children,” as the Lambs wrote in their own Preface.  But the selections are also quite didactic in their import, as the Lambs made clear at the end of the Preface, where they refer to their Tales as:

strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honorable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity… examples teaching these virtues…

Florizel

Beginning of “Florizel & Perdita,” adapted from Lamb’s “Tales of Shakespeare.”

Encouraging virtue and providing lessons for both thought and conduct: classic goals of didactic literature.

Reading the Tales now, their didacticism is striking and unambiguous — as you might expect in a version of Shakespeare from this time aimed at “young children.”  And this is is even more explicit in Mylius’s abridgement of Lamb in his Junior Class-Book.  The innocent virtue of Perdita — described as a “poor deserted baby” — is explicitly rewarded with happiness, marriage, and celebration, all traditional hallmarks of comic dramatic structure.  King Leontes, her father, repents the jealousy and wrath that led him to banish his daughter (his actual intent being her death).  Yet Mylius manages to distill Lamb’s twelve-page rendition of Winter’s Tale into a four-page anecdote of climactic discovery and reconciliation that captures the essence of the longer version to a remarkable extent, at least in my opinion — and one that does reasonable justice to the original play too.

Lear

Reading for the 18th Week: “King Lear” in 8 pages.

The complex psychological and moral story of King Lear is similarly pared down by Mylius into just eight pages — compared with about fifteen pages in Lamb’s retelling of Shakespeare; his version also endeavors to tell more of the original story of Lear, not just focus on the final episode, as his “Florizel and Perdita” did.  Mylius outlines the context of the original story — Lear compelling his three daughters to compete in extolling how much they each love him — although he refers to Cordelia’s “plainness of speech” in refusing to “flatter” Lear, rather than her “appearance of ingratitude,” as Lamb phrases it.  Similarly, Mylius describes Lear as “incensed,” “full of wrath,” and “so little guided by reason and so much by passion,” in lieu of Lamb’s “dotage to old age…clouded reason…[inability] to discern truth from flattery…[and] fury of resentment.”  Likewise, near the end of his narrative, Mylius (rightly) labels Goneril and Regan as “wicked women” but not “monsters of ingratitude,” as Lamb terms them.  In all three cases, Mylius seems to be deliberately simplifying not just the language, but also the emotions, psychology, and motivation of the characters to make them more self-evident and comprehensible to younger readers.  Ingratitude, dotage, and flattery’s deceptiveness are, after all, pretty complex ideas for a child to grasp — and hard to do justice to in eight pages, either!  (Sub-plots and some characters are also eliminated, including Edgar, in both retellings of Lear for children, I should add, changing the cast of Shakespeare’s “strange bedfellows” referred to above.)

Much of the horror of Shakespeare’s play is mitigated — or left out altogether — in the retellings of both Mylius and Lamb — but both include the death of Lear, an “unhappy and misguided old man,” as Mylius terms him, at the end of his “tragical and instructive narration.”  (Some eighteenth-century versions of the play for adults changed Shakespeare ending to create a happy reconciliation of Lear and Cordelia, more akin to comedy or romance than tragedy.)  Lear’s life thus provides a cautionary tale, his fate something to be avoided by avoiding such character flaws and behavior.

Lear-p2.1

Conclusion of “King Lear”: “By the help of sleep and medicine, [Cordelia] and her physicians at length succeeded in winding up the untuned and jarring senses” of Lear.

To an adult reader today, King Lear might not seem like the best source of a story for children: a father behaving badly and driven mad by old age and pitiless remorse; resentful, spiteful children who lie to him and plot revenge; and a certain level of violence ending in suffering and death.  But Shakespeare was seen as a “special” writer in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (again, even more so than now), an unmatched user of language and a perfect portrayer of human nature and activity.  And children can better appreciate complex character and motivations — even evil — and some level of violence in a story better than many of us once thought.  Just look at the popularity of the Harry Potter stories with children, some quite young; seldom have child readers (or movie-goers) found them too frightening or too violent to be compelling. Or perhaps that’s actually  part of their appeal?  Some parts can verge on being too scary or too extreme, but there are lines that don’t get crossed.

Regulus2-Turner

“Regulus,” as envisioned by painter J.M.W. Turner.

Mylius’s adaptation of King Lear is not unique among his selections in dealing with complex or potentially-disturbing stories either.  He also includes one titled “Regulus, the Roman Patriot” (adapted from Baldwin’s History of Rome) a history-based account of a Roman general captured by the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars, imprisoned for six long years, then sent back to Rome to urge peace terms favorable to the Carthaginians but not in Rome’s best interests.  Refusing to do so once back in Rome, Regulus returns to Carthage under the terms of his release, only to be subject to “excruciating torments” by the “cruel” Carthaginians for his refusal to place his own life before Rome’s interests.  This is hardly “kid stuff” and would probably not find its way into most books for children today.  But it is a compiling story — as anyone who has seen J.M.W. Turner’s stunning painting Regulus can attest — and it tells a story of stoical courage, patriotism, and “nobility” of character that was not so unusual in British children’s stories of the time, especially those for boys.

Readings for Weeks 18 to 20: From "King Lear," to the "Natural History of Ants," to "Robinson Crusoe"

Readings for Weeks 18 to 20: From “King Lear,” to the “Natural History of Ants,” to “Robinson Crusoe.”

As such, “Regulus” presents an important facet of the sort of reading material that educators thought children should read in 1813 — and which they no doubt did actually read. Turner must have gotten the original germ of an idea for his 1828 painting from somewhere and the dates are suggestive!

But what about the ants?  After all, I did mention them in the title of this blog posting.  And the “Natural History of Ants” does help us better understand Mylius’s overall miscellany, in particular because it’s the selection immediately preceding “Regulus”!  Reading for a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (“Regulus” is a two-day reading selection, as is “Florizel and Perdita” — “King Lear” is a unique five-day reading epic in The Junior Class-Book, a testament to both the complexity of the plot and its perceived importance as a piece of literature.)

Ants

Beginning of the “Natural History of Ants”: “They are seen diligently going from the ant-hill in pursuit of food for themselves and their associates…”  (“Associates”?  Are they all part of a law firm?)

Worker ants are presented as models of cooperation and diligence; they work together and they work hard; they “work continually … not sharing in the pleasures of the other parts of their community” (i.e. their “idler” children, who get to remain snug in the ant-hill!).  Ants also plan and defend their mound in concert, again working in “community” and even caring for the wounded and dead, according to the passage.  This rendition of “natural history” may seem a little poetic and anthropomorphized to a reader today, and Mylius’s selection is based on a work originally authored by poet Oliver Goldsmith (who also displayed his interest in children’s educational materials in works published by John Newbery).  Nevertheless, Mylius presents ants as models of social virtue, general benevolence towards their ‘associates,” and even patriotic virtues.  And he includes some of Goldsmith’s points of distinction between English and other European ants to make even clearer another at least implied meaning of the passage.  Rule Britannia!

So, we’ve seen how Mylius shapes material taken from Shakespeare and about Roman history, bird’s nests, and ants into the larger didactic whole of his miscellany.  Personally, I’m convinced that he does a masterful job of this.  But his didactic motivation is not without a sense of humor.  He includes William Cowper’s playful poem, “Dispute Between Nose and Eyes,” in which Nose and Eyes contend for ownership of the spectacles, using Tongue to argue and Baron Ear to hear the case (get it?).

And the verdict?

… whenever Nose puts his spectacles on,
Either by daylight or candle-light, Eyes should be shut.

I’ll let you puzzle out the full import of that poem for yourself — some works defy literary exegesis!