Thursday, March 24, 2011
I finally finished...
Sorry all, I got frustrated in the middle of the book and slowed down... so I just finished the book on the plane ride home two days ago. Now I've had time to process and here's my attempt to put together my feelings about this book:
First, I wanted to address the 'dodgy-ness' of the dodgson photos. In the afterword by the author, she says, "it's very difficult for some modern readers to look at the photographs taken by Dodgson... without seeing something off, if not downright disturbing. I admit that was my first reaction..." which I think echoes a lot of what we felt when we read about the gypsy girl photo, and felt again when Ruskin possessed the photo of young Alice. The author says, "we need to remember that photography in the 1850s was a very new, very exciting phenomenon" and that because of how long a subject had to stay still, photographs of children were "more highly prized." And since they were highly prized, it is not surprising that someone such as Ruskin would want a photograph of a young girl. While I understand the author's point, I think the dodgy feeling we all got not came from a child being the subject, it was Alice's state of undress that brought on the heeby-jeebies. The author tries to justify this by saying, "our modern minds have difficulty understanding the Victorian era's fascination with children, in a largely ethereal manner... the idea that children's unformed bodies reflect the purest, most idealistic representations of humanity" and goes on to say that the naked child is more like an angel than a sexualized being. This did convince me that the photography was not sketchy and in fact a reflection of the times and soothed the awkwardness that had been nagging me.
In Victorian era novels, what always seems to bother me is the idea of who to blame for whatever fall from grace the woman subject suffers. In Tess of the D'Urberville's it was her "rape" and here it is the kiss in the train/gypsy photo that is ultimately Alice's "destruction." In both books, it tired me endlessly that there was no responsibility on the part of the woman for her actions and role in the fall from grace. For Tess, it was always unclear what happened for most of the book but somehow she was with another man- and she took no responsibility for it. Some argue she was raped, by my readings were always that it was sketchier than that, and that she was not truly purely the victim. Additionally, everything henceforth for her was suffering and her life was the worst and there was never going to be recovery. There was never a stage of acceptance and moving forward- it was always misery. That said, for a large portion of this book, especially the prince leopold section, I had the same problem. Alice was miserable because of some childhood transgression she couldn't (or wouldn't- i'll get to that later) remember. She was a victim of her times and a pure soul that had terrible misfortune showered on her. I got extremely annoyed at her self-pity which is why I slowed down reading, and had to put the book away for a little while. When I finally finished, I was actually really happy at how the author made her accept and move forward! It was what I was looking for- she says at one point, "I had taken his wonderland, and then he had taken mine" (or something similar, I can't find the page right now) and that was the moment she realized that she had a role in her misfortunes and accepted it. That really redeemed the book for me, and with that resolution, I actually can say that I enjoyed the book.
Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the interplay between what were her memories and what was wonderland. I liked that she met the Peter of Peter Pan and told him, "I suppose at some point, we have to decide which memories to hold on to, and which ones to let go." I think that this was a parallel way for the author to demonstrate Alice's growth and ability to acknowledge her role in her life's misfortunes, accept it and try to move on. The idea of choosing what to remember and what to hold on to or let go of is important because it is the way you come to peace.
In the reader's guide the author discusses what was fact and fiction- if you can, I'd highly recommend reading that because I found it rather interesting how much fact was woven into this tale! Anyhow, that's all for now- I have more but it's jumbled... I'll revisit the blog in a few days to write more, if I can.