LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Nonsenical and the Sentimental Canon

on February 14, 2013 12:54pm

Just like Alice, the reader always gets swept away into Wonderland. The nonsensical and bizarre details of what we find there are exactly the things that make us want read it over again and pass on to our own children. In class, we were asked the big question: why the nonsense? For the most part, it contributes to the active imagination that we encourage in children. It is often said that a child’s imagination knows no bounds. Fantastical stories tend to be favored because they also provide a sense of escape from reality and Wonderland is that perfect escape. Things may not make perfect sense and everything may appear be topsy-turvy, but that’s exactly why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass exist and remain in the sentimental canon. Their popularity has survived so long because they don’t contain the sort of rigidity and seriousness that overcomes a children’s story when the author draws so much attention to state a moral, such as in The Water Babies. Though there may be violent acts present, it’s nothing like the violence we see in Pinocchio or even some of the classic fairy tales. Since Charles Dodgson’s first telling of the story to bored young girls, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was meant for amusement and entertainment. The nonsense is so creative and outlandish that no other book else can quite compare.


Illustration by Bessie Pease Gutmann, one of the few illustrators to depict Alice as a brunette, as opposed to the traditional blonde.

Illustration by Bessie Pease Gutmann, one of the few illustrators to depict Alice as a brunette, as opposed to the traditional blonde.

As it has been passed down through the years in the sentimental canon, we have come to see proof that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is also timeless, as it has maintained such popularity over time. The hints we get of Alice’s life outside Wonderland is what every child continues to goes through. Both Alice and children today have lessons to learn, time to grow, and plenty of time to enjoy their childhood (“let children be children”). Children are and always will be curious.



One response to “The Nonsenical and the Sentimental Canon

  1. azelinski2010 says:

    I agree that the ability to escape into Wonderland with Alice is what keeps readers returning to Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice stories. I think there is also a bit of an act of rebellion when readers open those pages. You say that the fantastical land of Wonderland, where the normal laws of logic fail to hold true, lacks the “rigidity and seriousness” that exist in other golden age texts, such as Charles Kingsley’s pedagogical, moralistic Water Babies text. At the time, during the height of the Victorian era, rigidity and seriousness were the norm for children. They sat through intensive lessons during the day- reading the classics in Greek and Latin, learning arithmetic and basic science. It was a rigorous schedule to say the least. Outside of the academic lessons, there were the rules and customs of society to be complied with. Proper manners and etiquette were of the utmost important for a well-bread child like Alice. Talking nonsense of the sort found in Carroll’s Alice stories would most definitely have been frowned upon. The concept of “let kids be kids” which is prevalent today, would not have been a popular notion at the time.
    For child readers of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, there is an element of excitement in being allowed to revel in the nonsensical quality of Carroll’s writing. To be able to escape into a world where the nonsense that is forbidden in the real world prevails at every twist and turn is exactly what makes Wonderland such an exciting place to be. In an era where so much of a child’s time was structured with “rigidity and seriousness,” it would have been exciting and even a bit dangerous to escape down the rabbit hole with Alice, away from rules, manners, and lessons.

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