Waugh in Wonderland

In a recent New Yorker article, critic-at-large Anthony Lane, author of the essay on Waugh in the Cambridge Companion to English Novelists (2009), adds his own thoughts to the outpouring of words marking the bicentenary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. Near the beginning, he quotes part of Waugh’s epigraph to Vile Bodies in which Alice is discussing reality with Tweedledee and Tweedledum:

“You know very well you’re not real.”
“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.
“You won’t make yourself a bit realler by crying,” Tweedledee remarked: “there’s nothing to cry about.”
“If I wasn’t real,” Alice said—half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—“I shouldn’t be able to cry.”
“I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?” Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt. 

The bolded text (from Through the Looking-Glass) was used by Waugh for the second half of his epigraph. Lane goes on to comment that “the tone is a perfect match for the chill, directionless frenzy of Waugh’s personae” in Vile Bodies.

Lane recognizes that there is more text in Waugh’s epigraph (also from Through the Looking-Glass) but doesn’t mention the content of the first half, which quite literally involves “directionless frenzy:”

‘Well in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else–if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’

‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get to somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.’

The remainder of the article goes on to discuss now mostly familiar topics, such as whether Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll was a pedophile who would have either been arrested or hounded by the press in today’s Oxford. One would like to hear Waugh’s take on that issue. He did write an essay on Carroll in 1939 in which he comments: “Children became for [Carroll] the symbols of innocent faith and accordingly the only tolerable companions; converse with them gave his fantasies literary form” (Essays, Articles and Reviews, pp. 260-62). But that was before pedophilia had engaged the public’s attention.

The article closes with the story of the 1932 lecture trip to the United States by Mrs. Alice Hargreaves, who as Alice Liddell was the model for Carroll’s heroine. That was news to me, as was the fact that a film of that event (Dreamchild) was was made in 1985 with a script by Dennis Potter. That will have to go on my Netflix queue.

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