Monday, 4 July 2011

ALICE AFORETHOUGHT

July 4th has another claim to fame apart from being American Independence Day (greetings to all my American readers!) because one-hundred-and-forty-nine years ago, today, Charles Dodgson, a mathematics don from Christ Church, Oxford, took three little girls on a river picnic and, as they rowed, began spinning a tale of a little girl called Alice who followed a white rabbit with a watch, fell down a rabbit-hole and found herself in a place that could only be described as a land of wonders...

The book, published two years later in 1864 under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll, was illustrated by the great British Victorian cartoonist, John Tenniel (resulting in images that are, in the estimation of many, inseparable from the text), but countless other artists have since depicted Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, among them, in 1946, Mervyn Peake and, as we are currently marking the centenary of that man's birth, here are a few of his strikingly original Alice images...

Striking because Alice is so much a child of our time, as opposed to Tenniel's nineteenth century child; striking because the White Rabbit looks genuinely harried about being late, the Queen's Footman is truly a fish out of water, the Hatter and Hare (and probably the Dormouse too, if he were awake) are clearly dangerously unhinged, the Jabberwock is not a foe to be taken lightly by any beamish boy, the Walrus is accompanied by a carved-wood carpenter and Alice wears an ivory chess-piece crown and holds us with eyes that have unquestionably beheld wonders...









And, finally, on this frabjous day, here's a commercial for a French academic-support organisation, Acadomia, that speculates on how the wild nonsense of Mr Carroll's imagination may have had its beginnings...



Illustrations: © The Estate of Mervyn Peake

9 comments:

alex milway said...

I'm such a fan of Tenniel, but I think I like Peake's Walrus and the Carpenter more! Lovely post Brian!

creatingruth said...

Great to see those illustrations. I love Mervyn Peake's work, how did I miss he had illustrated Alice in Wonderland!

Peter Bangs said...

fabulous video, really understated but making a serious point about imagination and potential. Great illustrations too. The first one particularly is interesting as it gives Alice something of a Lolita feel and seems to have been influenced by old Hollywood Studio publicity shots. I'm sure I've seem Clara Bow or somesuch striking a very similar pose.

Brian Sibley said...

Alex – As a Tenniel fan who obviously knows the illustrations well, you would enjoy a cartoon by ffolkes showing the W & C sitting on the rock "conveniently low" with all the little "standing in a row" and the Carpenter is saying to the Walrus: "Do you eat the boots?"

creatingruth – There's a good paperback edition in print. They are very worth checking out.

Peter Bangs – Yes, if she had sunglasses, she would be Lolita! When the drawings first appeared Graham Greene described Peake's Alice as a gamin.

alex milway said...

I am now searching for Ffolkes... oh there aren't enough hours in the day!

UM said...

These are terrific, I had not seen them before. Thank you for posting.

Brian Sibley said...

You must find the book, Uli, or you can go and look at some of the originals in the British Library's MP exhibition.

I'm sure you know that Ronald Searle was an acquaintance and regarded his work very highly.

Norma said...

Hi Brian,
A friend of my daughters' sent this blog to me because she knows I love Alice and Mervyn Peake's work. My better judgement stopped me naming my daughter Fuschia and she is Alice instead, what a great find, thank you!

Brian Sibley said...

Norma - You are very welcome! I hope you'll find some other Peakean and Carrollian pleasures on my blog. Click on any of the tags at end of the post to see more.