Alice’s Adventures in Puberty

Alice’s journey in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be interpreted as a metaphor for her transition from child to adult. This would then suggest that Wonderland becomes a place for Alice to go through puberty, and the sister’s narrative at the end of the novel suggests that she has become an adult.

Alice’s realization that Wonderland is “nonsense” suggests that she has grown out of its wonders: ‘”No, No!” said the Queen. “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.” “Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!” (102). In comparison to many earlier events in the novel, when Alice for the most part seemed perplexed or fascinated by Wonderland’s creatures and events, Alice here takes a firm stance on her beliefs of what is right and wrong. This suggests that she no longer is susceptible to possibly accept the “nonsense” of Wonderland, and goes by real life’s “rules” that she sentence should follow the verdict.

Alice also feels superior to the cards at the end of the novel: ‘“Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”’ (102). Her realization that they are “nothing but…cards” further suggests that she has lost Wonderland’s sense of fantasy as reality, and is “superior” to childhood’s ideas. Additionally, the note that she has grown to her full size after multiple changes to her body in the novel, and her waking up right after growing to her right size (102), further suggests that Wonderland is a place for childhood, which she no longer belongs to. The multiple changes to her body in the novel can symbolize her transition through puberty, as she does not understand all the changes that she experiences, and the end of those changes implies that she has now grown to become an adult.

The sister’s narrative about how Alice will one day tell her children of Wonderland further implies that Wonderland is only accessible to children: “…she pictured to herself how this same little sisters of hers would…be herself a grown woman… and…gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland long ago” (104). The sister’s idea of how Alice will one day gather her children is reminiscent of how Alice already told her sister her dream, which implies that she already is “a grown woman.” Alice’s leaving Wonderland, telling her sister her tale, and then running off thinking “what a wonderful dream it had been,” seems then to symbolize her leaving behind her childhood.

The Femme Fatale in Paintings and Poetry

Iversen_Reader Response 3_PaintingThe woman depicted in The Apparation by Gustave Moreau seems to be a femme fatale. The painting’s focus on the woman, her exotic outfit and her bare skin creates an erotic impression, and the murder of John the Baptist suggests that her sexuality is what makes her dangerous. The depictions of the woman’s sexuality also reminds me of the woman in The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Tennyson, and how she was punished by death for acting upon her sexual feelings. Therefore, the women in The Apparation and The Lady of Shalott are depicted as dangerous because of their sexuality, which suggests that the 19th century attitudes towards women’s sexuality were that it should be suppressed, and the ideal woman was pious and a virgin.

As the woman is in the foreground in The Apparation, the observer’s focus is drawn to her. The woman’s body seems to be “put together:” She has a long, bare leg, an upper body which accentuates her breasts, and a long, sensuous neck. The portrayal of the woman therefore reminds me of “the male gaze,” as sensual parts of her body are put in focus. However, as the jewelry that drapes her body suggests that she has monetary value, her sexuality has associations to a prostitute. In the background, a man sits on a throne, which could be her father. Since he is in the background and depicted as passive, and the woman appears to not have a husband, the patriarchy seems to be defied. Therefore, the painting suggests that sexually active women are a threat to the patriarchy. Furthermore, since it seems that the woman ordered the murder of John the Baptist, sexually active women were also a threat to religion – or more specifically Christianity – and shows the ideal of pious women, who are virgins until marriage. The walls of the room have ornamental decorations, and the clothing of the people in the room give me associations to East-Asian countries. Therefore, the painting seems to stereotype women of the East, and suggests that they, and their active sexuality, are a danger to the West, Christianity and patriarchy.

The femme fatale in The Apparition reminds me of the woman in The Lady of Shalott. Though she is not depicted exactly the same way as the woman in the painting, the poem shows the same ideal that women should suppress their sexuality: “A curse is on her if she stay / To look down to Camelot” (135). As Camelot is where men are, the “curse” suggests that she cannot act upon her sexual feelings. However, as she did look and died as a result from it, she was punished for longing for a man, which shows the ideal that women should “wait” while men “seek.” Therefore, while the woman in the painting is a femme fatale and dangerous because she is sexual, the woman in the poem was “turning into” a femme fatale by acting on her sexuality, and was punished for it by death.

The Good, the Bad, and the Children

Marian’s comment on how Walter and Laura’s children will speak for her made me think of the differences between how the children from illegitimate marriages and the children from legitimate marriages are portrayed in the novel. While it seems that the children of Laura and Walter are going to grow up in a strong and happy marriage, and become the new voice of a new generation, the children that were born outside of marriage – Anne and Percival –both end up in the grave.

Marian’s comments that the children will “speak for [her]” in “their language” (Collins 621) suggests that the children will be a part of a new generation that will speak of her struggles as a woman in the Victorian society. The strength and intelligence that she has shown throughout the novel will then be a part of what the children will inherit from her. Since Marian remained an unmarried woman, the children that will “speak for her” then suggests further that Collins considered it to be a woman’s right to remain unmarried if she so wished it. The children are therefore portrayed to become advocates for radical movements in the society. Additionally, Walter junior is at the end of the story revealed to be the new heir of Limmeridge House, further showing that he has a bright future ahead of him.

However, Anne and Percival’s fates fare for the worse than the children of Walter and Laura. They were both born outside of marriage, as Anne was a result of an affair Laura’s father had, and Percival’s parents were unable to be legally married. Both Anne and Percival are portrayed to have something “wrong” with them: While Anne is described to be mentally handicapped, Percival is throughout the novel depicted to be the villain of the story, along with Count Fosco. Additionally, they both die at the end of the novel: Anne’s tombstone hardly gets a description, compared to the fake tombstone of Laura’s, and there is not even a mention of a funeral for Percival.

The Victorian society was, at this time, concerned with the single women like Marian. Like Greg’s article demonstrates, many men worried about “women, more or less well educated…[retire] to a lonely and destitute old age…they have nothing to do, and none to love, cherish and obey” (Greg 159). I therefore wonder why Collins chose to protest against this idea of women in the novel, but still portrayed children from illegitimate marriages as either challenged or evil, and doom them both to death. As Walter and Laura got married at the end of the novel, it suggests that Collins’ solution for a successful family is marriage, but not love, as Percival’s parents did love each other, but had to remain unmarried. I am therefore left wondering why an author would protest against the ideas that Greg demonstrate in his article, but still maintain the idea that only children within wedlock can succeed in life.

The Beauties and the Beasts

In Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White, I noticed that the characters Marian and Count Fosco were similar in many ways: They are described to be intelligent, practical, and unattractive. However, even though they are similar, they work against each other to achieve different goals. While Marian works to protect Laura, Count Fosco works with Sir Percival to steal Laura’s inheritance. This opposition shows Collins’ ideas of the society in Victorian England: While Count Fosco symbolizes the driving forces behind the oppression of women, Marian becomes a symbol of those who defy this oppression.

Count Fosco is Italian, and is described to be an intelligent man in the novel by Marian (219), and Count Fosco praises Marian to have “the foresight and resolution of a man” (324). Both characters are also described to be unattractive, and they are fighting their cause with a less intelligent, but more attractive, counterpart. Compared to Marian, Laura seems to be a weak character who is prone to emotional outbursts, and her value is placed on her looks and inheritance. Similarly, Sir Percival is also described as attractive and rich. Sir Percival and Laura therefore have several Victorian ideals: While Laura is feminine, Sir Percival is upper-class and rich. Marian’s unattractiveness and traditional masculine qualities, and Count Fosco’s similar unattractiveness and foreign status, therefore make them unlikely candidates to be of importance in the Victorian English society, which then gives them room to attempt to control what happens to the people they care about.

Count Fosco’s oppression against women is exemplified in his behavior with his wife. Marian describes how he controls her briefly in her diary: “The rod of iron with which he rules [the Countess] never appears in company – it is a private rod, and is always kept upstairs” (Collins 222). Marian’s brief explanation that he “rules” her with a “rod of iron” suggests overtones of rape and domestic violence. As Count Fosco works with Sir Percival to steal Laura’s inheritance, this suggests that Sir Percival could also “rule” Laura with a “rod of iron,” as Count Fosco is familiar with controlling women. On the contrary, Marian seems to be interested in women’s rights: “‘I remember the time, Countess, when you advocated the Rights of Women – and freedom of female opinion was one of them’” (232). Her criticism of the Countess’ newfound lack of opinion suggests that Marian is an advocate for the Rights of Women as well, which would then make her a symbol of the New Woman. Furthermore, throughout the novel Marian and Count Fosco are shown to use their intelligence to take control of the situation to promote the interests of themselves or their partner. However, I am curious as to why there seems to be an attraction between Count Fosco and Marian at times. Marian’s initial reaction to Count Fosco was attraction, and although it is not as explicitly stated later as she comes to know his true intentions, she still seems to get certain “sensations” by his presence.