Chapter One

Apr. 2nd, 2009 02:57 pm
valadilenne: (Valadilenne)
[personal profile] valadilenne

Note: if you're one of my regular flist people and are currently asking yourself "WTF is she doing," read this first.

I'm going to try this, and I would really like some feedback on how well it works. If there's anything that you think I've missed, or that you have questions about, I'll try to answer it as long as it doesn't spoil the plot. Comments are anonymous.

Chapter One

"Your hair wants cutting,” said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.
In the original Alice in Wonderland, she and the Hatter had some apparent contentions: she thought he made too many “personal remarks” about her.

It was not long at all, and not terribly difficult at all, but that Alice had adjusted to life back aboveground…
The original title Carroll gave to the story was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Some people have asked me whether this is a Labyrinth reference, and I’m okay with that. I like it; I just didn’t do it on purpose.

…she joined her sisters' talk of cuirass bustles, princess sheaths, and the latest prints from the Continent. To be frank, she herself only really approved of the Artistic dress, with its lack of tightening…
The whole story has an odd sense of being removed from the Victorian era, but the dresses she’s thinking about would have been popular in the 1870s and 1880s, which still falls within the reign of Queen Victoria. As an aside, my personal favorite are the princess sheath dresses—I like the bustle look, but I prefer as few ruffles as possible.

Even now, as she was returning to the seven-eaved blue and white house at the end of the street…
This is a very strange reference to House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, I think, but there you go. Sometimes it just comes out like that.

These things alone would have been enough to make any self-respecting woman draw herself up and declare, “I say!”
The women in Wodehouse novels (which is pronounced Woodhouse, by the way) are always going around, drawing themselves up to their full heights and declaring things like “I say!” at the absurd things the male characters do. It makes for hilarious romance.

She dropped the packages and hat, which rolled into the center of the room and righted itself in a few spins
Foreshadowing the strangeness surrounding the hat. Any inanimate object that can right itself is a little scary. Even if it’s just a penny. But a whole hat, now that’s another story.

…and she was not going to think but instead read some strange novel whereupon the first chapter led her around in circles, calling upon her to make herself comfortable, that the book was the wondrous new creation of its esteemed and illustrious author and that she must truly savor the first line of the book.
This is a direct reference to If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. It’s a very strangely constructed book: every other chapter is written in second person, telling the reader what he or she is preparing to do while getting ready to read this book, while the other chapters actually follow the narrative of the story. It’s a hint at metaphysics—what exactly is Alice about to do?

She dreamt she was floating in a space without gravity or noise—or perhaps she was falling into something, she did not know which.
The rabbit hole! Surely she’d remember something like that. :D

The girl's suitor had sent her lilies-of-the-valley every day for the last three months…
You probably know that Victorians thought flowers had secret meanings—sending Lilies of the Valley to someone meant “You will find Happiness.” The flower is also said in legend to have sprung from the tears of Eve as she was cast out of Eden. I think they smell horrible.

She had once held a highly questionable conversation in a conservatory with some devious Frenchmen and their companions, which was soon broken up by the arrival of a tut-tutting matron.
This is a prime example of why I shouldn’t be allowed to make references, because I subvert them so badly. I was thinking of Lady Chatterley’s Lover when this appeared, and I always associate it with the line “Why couldn’t a girl be queenly, and give the gift of herself?” which the bohemian students used to seduce Connie and her sister when they were teenagers. I don’t think Alice was seduced, but I also don’t think she’s entirely oblivious to sexuality.

…her mother would not have known the difference if she were reading Middlemarch or The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam…
Not that I think Mrs. Liddell was an overbearing martinet, but I like to imagine Alice getting away with reading all kinds of salacious books while she hides out in the library. Middlemarch, by George Eliot, is a novel in the Realism school about the status of women in society and unwelcome change. The Rubayiat is a collection of Persian love poems—nothing like the Kama Sutra, but it contains some exceedingly famous passages that appear in later chapters.

…she realized she did not feel the same sense of panic she often did at the end of a dream—that all was lost and everything would finish without her.
Is Alice really awake when she wakes up, do you think? Or is she still dreaming?

“ the risk of sounding ra-ther pla-ti-tu-di-nous,” it slowly half-sang, “Here's what I believe should be the at-ti-tude-in-us.”
“Sunny Disposish” is an actual song. It’s in an episode of the Grenada Jeeves & Wooster TV series, based on the novels of… Wodehouse, who else? Hugh Laurie playing Bertie Wooster sings it and calls it a “spot of philosophy.” It’s a typical jaunty 1920s tune, with all kinds of shortened words thrown in as slang. Disposish is short for disposition, ridic is ridiculous, sill is silly, delish is delicious. Proof that it exists in song format:

“What ho, Alice!” he cried, apparently delighted at her fish-like stare.
Channeling Wodehouse! Everyone in Wodehouse novels galumphed about London and the country-side, what-hoing and all that. What ho is a quaint relic from the past—don’t go to England and say that now.

…and seemed quite surprised that she should ask.
“What do you mean what am I doing here? I am quite surprised that you should ask,” he replied in an affronted round tone.

Okay, I’ll admit. I laughed really hard at the implication that the Hatter is somehow mocking the narrator.

“Spreading sweetness and light,” he said reverently.
This has a ridiculous story behind it. Wodehouse wrote many books about different sets of characters, and one of those sets involved a young man named Reginald (!) “Pongo” Twistleton and his dear old Uncle Fred, whose real name was Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham. Uncle Fred was a spry old thing who swanned through about fifty different jobs (he was a soda jerk and a cowpuncher in the US for a little while) before someone died and he got the earlship. Fred had a mantra of “spreading sweetness and light,” which served him well and got everyone around him into a lot of trouble on regular occasions. I have a tattoo of the words “spread sweetness and light” on my hip: Wodehouse got the idea from Matthew Arnold, who got it from Jonathan Swift—they believed that honeybees are the perfect creature because they spread sweetness with their honey and give us light through candlewax. My name means “honeybee” in Greek, so it’s all a great big cycle. The Hatter just likes to think highly of himself.

He hummed over it, apparently approving of what he read there, adding “Ah!”s and “I see what you did there”s as he went.
Surely you all know the “I see what you did there” joke that’s been floating around the internet forever and ever.

Alice stared at him.
“No.” This seemed to momentarily stun him.

The best flailing attempt I can make at reproducing a typical awkward Wodehousian exchange. Oh, Plum. How I shall always pale in comparison to you.

“So, then. We will go together down.” The Hatter donned his hat and began humming again.
“We will go together down” is a snippet from Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” where a strange Duke is talking to a commoner, and in an attempt to create a greater sense of chumminess between them, uses the odd construction of putting the words “together down” next to each other. At least that’s what my professor said. I think the Hatter just likes odd sentence constructions.


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