Type / Thesis

Re-animating Alice: Victorian Spectacles and Optics

Mou-Lan Wong

Page / 61-82


Out of all the abundance of new-fangled innovations and marvels in the Victorian age, it is perhaps the invention of various optical devices that forever altered the way people view the world. This paper aims to examine Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) affinity towards optical devices such as the magic lantern and the camera and how he incorporates a simulacrum of them into his perennial Alice books. Dodgson was fascinated by the development of various optical gadgets as a child and later became a dedicated amateur photographer for over two decades. Besides photography, Dodgson was also intrigued by the use of the magic lantern, a rudimentary projector. The device enables the showing of images and propels private viewings to public appreciations. Dodgson’s experience with the two optical instruments has been infused into the Alice books via John Tenniel’s illustrations. By exploring new visual boundaries heralded by popular optical contraptions, Dodgson’s narrative and Tenniel’s graphics maintain a constant referential relationship that is reciprocally enhanced in their play with word and image. Only through a thorough appreciation of how Dodgson’s masterful play on words is inseparable from his acute appreciation of optics can one truly view the Alices as they are—visual-verbal spectacles that transcend the test of time.

Keywords : Lewis Carroll, illustrations, Victorian Photography, the Alice books.
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