Tenniel’s Alice – Alternative Alices (Pt. 2)

alice5
‘”…Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has gone all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It’ll be easy enough to get through-” She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.’
Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice (Penguin Books, London: 1970), pp. 179-182

‘Enchanting Alice! Black-and-white
Has made your charm perennial;
And nought save “Chaos and old Night”
Can part you now from Tenniel’
(From a poem by Austin Dobson as quoted in The Annotated Alice (Penguin: 1970), p. 352)

If you missed my introductory post on this ‘Alternative Alice’s’ series click here (alternatively don’t and I think you’ll manage, read on, read on!).

 

The above quote kind of sums up the close association between Carroll’s Alice and Tenniel’s illustrations of her in our minds. It seems that Alice will always already be the fair-haired little girl with tiny black-and-white striped feet sticking out from beneath her black-and-white umbrella-like dress. It is Sir (he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1893) John Tenniel that we have to thank for that.

Tenniel’s artistic life pre-Alice consisted of a marathon stint as Punch magazine’s principal cartoonist, creating over 2,000 cartoons for them. It seems a tittle wonder then that Tenniel’s Alice is rendered in the precise and distinctive, cross-hatched, clearly outlined, black-and-white style characteristic of a snappy satirical cartoon based on a carved-wood engraving. (Although some have attributed his distinctive style entirely to loss of sight in his right eye caused by an early fencing accident.)

Mary Hilton Badcock
Mary Hilton Badcock. Carroll’s desired model for Tenniel’s Alice.

As inspiration for Tenniel, Carroll sent a photograph of his child friend Mary Hilton Badcock. However, in a later letter written by Carroll we learn that from his point of view:

‘Mr. Tenniel is the only artist, who has drawn for me, who has resolutely refused  to model, and declared that  he no more needed one than I should need a multiplication table to work a mathematical problem. I venture to think that he was mistaken and that for want of a model, he drew several pictures of “Alice” entirely out of proportion – head decidedly too large and feet decidedly to small.’

Tenniel brought his own interpretations to the story.

alice6
‘In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room…Then she began looking about and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that all the rest was as different as possible.’
Carroll, The Annotated Alice (Penguin:1970), pp. 184-186

In the first picture in this post, and the one immediately above, we see Alice stepping though the Looking-glass from two viewpoints. In the second illustration the hand that is pictured on the mirror in the first is partially hidden by the gauziness of the mirror as seen from the other (second) side. The focus here is on the mysterious Looking-glass itself rather than on providing a view of the extent of either the room that we are leaving or the one that we are entering. Tenniel still manages to provide tantalising tasters of the topsy turvy reflection that the reader has arrived in by paying attention to the details. For example, items such as the clock and the vase of flowers, objects immediately associated with the Looking-glass and the mantelpiece are shown, in the second illustration, with faces in a typically fairy tale move to anthropomorphise household objects. These details emphasise the magic in the text as well as the transition from the ordinary home to the Looking-glass room where things are ‘…as different as possible’ (Carroll. Alice, p. 186). The detail goes beyond the narrative as far as the monogram at the bottom right of the first picture which has been flipped into its Looking-glass position and form. However, the mark of the engraver, the Dalziel brothers (the wood engravers responsible for all of Tenniel’s illustrations) remains the same. This amount of detail is part of the charm of these illustrations. 

'All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera-glass. at last he said "You;re travelling the wrong way," and shut up the window, and went away. "So young a child," said the gentleman sitting opposite to her, (he was dressed in white paper), "ought to know which way she's going, even if she doesn;t know her own name!"' (Carroll, Alice, p. 218)
‘All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera-glass. at last he said “You’re travelling the wrong way,” and shut up the window, and went away.
“So young a child,” said the gentleman sitting opposite to her, (he was dressed in white paper), “ought to know which way she’s going, even if she doesn’t know her own name!”‘
(Carroll, Alice, p. 218)

Tenniel’s satirical background is evident through nods to the world outside of Wonderland or the Looking-glass world.  For example, it has been suggested that the man dressed in white paper pictured in the above illustration of Alice travelling by train through the Looking-glass world,  resembles Tenniel’s illustrations of Benjamin Disraeli in Punch, and that Tenniel and Carroll may have had in mind the ‘white papers’ often found engulfing statesmen. Alice herself is modelled on Millais’s painting My First Sermon (1863), but here the bible becomes Alice’s pocketbook.

Sir John Everett Millais, My First Sermon (1863), oil on panel, 13x9in
John Everett Millais, My First Sermon (1863), oil on panel, 13x9in

   

    Tenniel’s experience as a cartoonist inevitably brought the kind of clear and distinctive illustration necessary for the conveyance of a snappy message or joke, as well as the pop-culture references of the time, that become shorthand for a satirist. Tenniel’s illustrations thus seem to inform the reader about Carroll’s story and characters, but also about the period in which they were created and the man/men that made them.

Another instalment of the series is on its way soon…

Advertisements

Please Leave a Reply!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s