As we continue our ‘Eye on Alice’ series, we abandon the cover and move into the interior of the book. The first important scene in the book is Alice’s descent into the rabbit hole. Some Freudian-minded critics have described this scene as a metaphor for sex, but I think it far more apropriate to view it as a birth scene. Like all newborns, Alice emerges into a world where the rules of adult society are not always logical or consistent. In that sense Alice is an Everychild. She is also Lewis Carroll himself, who, with his unconventional mind and unusual sexuality, must certainly have felt confused and appalled by the Victorian society in which he lived, with its jarring hypocrisy, sexual repression and the often topsy-turvy nature of its morality. Alice of course follows the White Rabbit down the hole–the rabbit, with his white fur and officious manner, is the perfect animal to represent a Victorian doctor delivering the child into the new world. And Alice appears to fall for ages, which could be considered something like a gestation period. I think it’s fairly clear that Carroll intended the rabbit hole as a stand-in for birth. These are some of the earliest versions of Alice’s encounter with the White Rabbit and her tumble down the rabbit hole:
This month’s edition of ‘Eye on Alice’ is dedicated to early covers for the book. The original artist was of course John Tenniel, who worked closely with Lewis Carroll to get the illustrations just right (not without some friction between the proud illustrator and the fastidious Carroll.) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of very few works–along with the Holy Bible and the works of Shakespeare–that has never been out of print since it’s original print run, and it is the only children’s book I know of that holds this distinction. During illustration’s golden age nearly every children’s book illustrator of reknown tackled the book, including Arthur Rackham, Bessie Pease Gutman, Jessie Wilcox Smith and Will Pogany.
A colorized version of John Tenniel’s cover:
E. Gertrude Thomson, a friend of Carroll’s, did the cover for the first edition of The Nursery Alice, a version of the book Carroll created for younger children:
One of the earliest books dedicated to the various artists and illustrators of Alice in Wonderland was this one, edited by Graham Ovenden, an accomplished artist in his own right, and published in 1972 (I’m not sure who designed the cover for this):