The delights of nonsense
On July 4, 1862, a little-known math tutor at Oxford, Charles Dodgson, went on a boat trip along with his friend, Reverend Robinson Duckworth, Alice Liddell and her two sisters. The next day, under the pen name Lewis Carroll, he began writing the story he made up for the girls — what he first called the “fairy-tale of ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.’”
As Alice fell down, down, down the rabbit hole, so too have Carroll lovers after her, wanting to explain precisely how Wonderland made such huge waves in children’s literature. How can some sort of with a disappearing cat, hysterical turtle, and smoking caterpillar capture and hold readers’ imaginations, young and old from now and then? It could seem obvious, but at the time, Carroll’s creation broke the guidelines in unprecedented ways that are new.
They departed from prior children’s books, which served as strict moral compasses in Western puritanical society, eventually adding more engaging characters and illustrations since the years passed.
But by the time Carroll started recording his tale, children had a genre to call their particular, and nonsense that is literary just taking off. The scene was set for Alice.
Written throughout the first Golden Age of Children’s Literature, Carroll’s classic is an absurd yet magnificently perceptive form of entertainment unlike something that came before if not after it.
B efore 1865, the season Alice went along to press, children did not read books with stammering rabbits or girls that are curious were unafraid to speak their minds:
`No, no!’ said the Queen. `Sentence first — verdict afterwards.’
Nonsense and `Stuff!’ said Alice loudly. `The notion of having the sentence first!’
`Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
`I won’t!’ said Alice.
This kind of rubbish certainly d >The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), by Puritan John Bunyan, “was either forced upon children or even more probably actually enjoyed by them in lieu of anything better.”
Another collection that is illustrated of stories wasn’t even exclusive to children. Published in 1687, Winter-Evenings Entertainments’ title page read, “Excellently accommodated for the fancies of young or old.”
Books — even fables, fairytales, and knight-in-shining-armor stories — are not intended solely for the amusement of girls and boys. This all started to change as people, most notably Jean-Jacques Rousseau, started thinking about childhood in a new way. Rousseau rejected the Puritan belief that humans are born in sin. As Йmile, or On Education (1762) illuminates, he saw individuals as innately good, and children as innocent. The fictitious boy Йmile learns through observing and interacting with the corrupt asian wife world around him; he follows his instincts and grows from experience, like Alice.
Thus, by the century that is mid-18th a romanticized portrayal of childhood — full of unbridled action, creative expression, innocent inferences, and good intentions — began seeping into children’s literature.
Authors and publishers dusted their stories with stylistic sprinkles, because children were no more viewed as having to depend on religion or etiquette guides to make sense of the entire world. As writers realized the power of entertainment, preachy, elbows-off-the-table books became less dry. Books entered a unique, more fantastical phase: “instruction with delight.”
Publishers paired history, religion, morals, and social conventions with illustrations and catchy nursery rhymes. “Bah, bah, black sheep,” “Hickory dickory dock,” and “London Br >Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book (1744). John Newbery, known as “The Father of Children’s Literature,” came out together with first book, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744). The small, pretty edition was bound in colorful paper and came with a ball for boys and pincushion for women — a clever method of expanding the children’s book market. Teaching young readers through amusing and playful techniques became much more popular, and thanks in large part to Newbery, children’s books had potential to be commercial hits.
This hybrid of storytelling, education, and entertainment became known as a “moral tale. because of the end for the 18th century” As stories grew longer and much more sophisticated, like Maria Edgeworth’s “Purple Jar” (1796), writers introduced “psychologically complex characters place in situations for which there isn’t always an obvious moral way to be studied.”
A milestone for authors like Carroll, these kinds of tales gave characters, and in turn readers that are young the capability to learn by doing rather than when you are told by a parent, preacher, or pedagogue. Alice embodied that shift:
“She had never forgotten that, in the event that you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is
almost certain to disagree to you, in the course of time. However, this bottle was NOT marked `poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice…she very soon finished it well.”
Unlike the middle-class that is familiar or charming villages by which most moral tales were set, Alice swims in a pool of tears and plays croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs. During the same time, she sticks up for herself, tries her best to make use of sound judgment rather than gives up — values moral tales would encompass. Wonderland, though, perfectly satirizes the narrative that is instructive even while epitomizing an emerging genre of the time called “nonsense literature.”
In a February 1869 letter to Alexander Macmillan, Carroll wrote, “The only point I really look after when you look at the whole matter (which is a source of very real pleasure to me) is the fact that book should always be enjoyed by children — therefore the more in number, the better.”
Carroll’s peculiar creation twists logic and language, but nonetheless is practical. Its non-human characters act like people and contradict one another; however, its riddles and juxtapositions deconstruct the reality without destroying it.