Tag Archive: Lewis Carroll

Blake and Wonderland

Rifle through Songs of Innocence and you’ll discern both a literary and artistic analog in the well-known children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Though written some tens of years apart, the former in 1785 and the latter in 1865, one encounters undeniable parallels in both works. These similarities vary from the more obvious, such as each texts’ accompaniment by engraved fascimiles or illustrations—the inclusion of which is necessary in making the work comprehensible and less cryptic—to the more complex, entering the commentative realm. Carroll, based on his incorporation of the imaginative, particular thematic elements, and critical analysis and allegory, is unarguably a contemporary of William Blake and, by Blakean definition, an exhibitor of Poetic Genius. Carroll evidently turned to Blake as a source of inspiration and possibly even reinforcement as he embarked on a seemingly controversial and unorthodox literary and artistic journey, weaving the vividly eccentric, or at least seemingly so, account of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.



Blake and Wonderland

As I was reading Songs of Innocence and doting on the engraved companion facsimiles to each poem within the series, I couldn’t help but find a parallel to the work of Lewis Carroll. Known predominantly for his children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll was also a prolific Victorian-era photographer. Carroll’s photographs acted as inspiration for the illustrations accompanying the unconventional text of his works, most especially Alice, and certainly recall Blake’s “illuminated printing.” Just as Blake’s work is practically incomprehensible without the inclusion of his engravings, Carroll’s works is rather cryptic without the aid of his illustrations. Blake is known for his eidetic imagination and the prophetic visions he claimed to have that birthed such radical figures as Urizen. The peculiar cast of characters within Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the tale that Carroll weaves similarly reveals his vividly eccentric imagination. I would argue that Carroll, in Blake’s opinion, attained if not at the very least striven to achieve Poetic Genius.
Another similarity between Carroll and Blake is the central theme of their hallmark pieces: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Songs of Innocence, respectively. Both encompass the main tenet of education. While Blake’s works seem to emphasize a scene of instruction about Christian truth and values, Carroll’s work seems to implicitly teach audience members, bringing to light societal and political ills. Both works start with images of a woman teaching a child. The cover page for Songs of Innocence features a woman holding a book with two children at her feet, eager for instruction. Correspondingly, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins with Alice’s sister reading to her from a worldly novel.

Blake spoke against and challenged the ideology of late eighteenth century England. He attacked the moral codes of English society, the political monarchical institution, and the Enlightenment veneration of human reason as egregious components of the country. Carroll’s story likewise seems to retaliate against such conventions and norms. His sarcastic depiction of the monarchy with his “Red Queen” and “White Queen,” dramatization and mockery of the judicial court system through Alice’s trial, and illogical arguments of the Cheshire cat and Tea Party guests, among others, illustrates Carroll’s similar contempt or, at the very least, dissatisfaction with the status quo of England.

It is not difficult to find similitude between these two authors, though Carroll began his creative career some tens of years later than Blake, having only been born in 1832. I wonder if Carroll took to Blake as inspiration and possibly even reinforcement as he embarked on a seemingly controversial and unorthodox literary and artistic journey.