Thursday, January 17, 2013

From the Empirical Archives: Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz by Randall Auxier

Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz
Randall Auxier
A view of Lyndhurst, England, where Alice lived at the time of this imagined dialogue.
PHOTO: David Martyn Hunt

Originally Published in the July 2012 issue


Editor’s Introduction

I have taken my title from a certain theme that appears in what is published below. The following, in its entirety, is the content of a strange typescript I found in the papers of the famous scholar and archaeologist Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928). Her papers are held at Newnham College, Cambridge University. The typescript had no title. In the summer of 2008, I was researching a projected book on Jane Harrison and I took the opportunity of a conference in England to visit the papers. The arrangement of these papers and their provenance is very well described in two recent books by Mary Beard and Annabel Robinson.* [*Mary Beard, The Invention of Jane Ellen Harrison (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Annabel Robinson, The Life and Work of Jane Ellen Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)]. It is a sad story. The fast version is that for many years all of Harrison’s papers were in the possession of one Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978), an avant-garde writer, associated with the Bloomsbury bohemians. During her dotage, Harrison was cared for by the much younger Mirrlees. By the time Mirrlees died and the papers were obtained by Newnham, they were simply a disorganized wreck. There are all sorts of documents in this important archive that are impossible to identify. I copied for my own amusement and brought home the curious dialogue below. One cannot tell whether it was typed from earlier hand-written material (a habit of Mirrlees, who was then careless with the originals), as Mirrlees was organizing thousands of notes for a planned biography of Harrison that was never written. Or perhaps this dialogue was given to Harrison or to Mirrlees, by someone else. It is a mystery exactly how this typescript came to be among the Harrison papers at Newnham.

As you will see, the “dialogue” concerns Alice Liddell (1852-1934), the little girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s two most famous books, in a conversation with William James (1842-1910), the famous American psychologist and philosopher. Naturally, I wondered whether this “conversation” could possibly be a historical report of some kind. I am not a historian, but I have been able to verify that William James and his wife (Alice Howe Gibbens James) were at Lamb House in Rye, staying with Henry James, the novelist, during the spring of 1910 (Henry was indeed sick). Jane Ellen Harrison knew James well, and she also read a number of William James’s works, but then it seems that everyone knew the Jameses, so that is no special help. But Alice Liddell, now called Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves, was then living in Lyndhurst, within an easy day’s carriage drive from Rye. That Alice Liddell and William James did meet and discuss Lewis Carroll seems to be confirmed by a letter from James to his close friend, the Swiss psychologist Theodore Flournoy (1854-1920), but whether this “dialogue” below reflects what was actually said is, I think, exceedingly unlikely. It appears to be a work of fiction. There were a number people in Jane Harrison’s circle with vivid imaginations who wrote incessantly, after all, including Hope Mirrlees, Henry James, and Miss Harrison herself.

Also, in terms of history, William James did meet Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in 1909. Miss Harrison and Hope Mirrlees both had excellent German, and those in her circle discussed the theories of Freud without need of translations. By 1910, Harrison knew Freud’s theories of the unconscious, but then so did Hope Mirlees and just about everyone else who was soon to be swept up in “Modernism.” Jung, although he was still at the earlier stages of his career, is mentioned favorably by Harrison, and given the great impression Jung left upon William James, I have no doubt that James discussed him with many people, including his brother Henry. As for J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1902), which would mobecome a children’s book in 1911, I think it is safe to say that just about everyone in the south of England knew about it in 1910. L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900, and Baum wrote fourteen more Oz books between 1900 and 1919. I have found no mention of these writings anywhere in the published work, papers, or letters of the Jameses, but as with Barrie, the writings were wildly popular, and widely known by 1910. One can speculate that nearly everyone in 1910 or 1911 knew about all of these characters, but in the end, it is difficult to be certain. The point is that these references in the dialogue are possible for the date when it supposedly occurred. I am personally tantalized at the notion that Henry James overheard the conversation, jotted it down, and gave it to Harrison for amusement.

The one point that argues against the authenticity of this manuscript is that Henry and William James, and Jane Harrison, were extremely reluctant to talk about sex, even privately. This Victorian habit of reserve suggests that perhaps this manuscript is the work of some merry prankster or some later hand, one not so inhibited. The manuscript I discovered appears to be more or less complete. I have made no changes, but I have inserted the letter from James to Flournoy at the place I believe it belongs, in the order of events narrated. The dialogue begins without introduction or explanation.

*

“Mr. James, it is so good to make your acquaintance. I am Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves. We met once, very briefly, when you spoke at Oxford. I believe you knew my late father, the Reverend Henry Liddell, who was Dean in Christ Church and then Vice Chancellor in the University.”

“Yes, Mrs. Hargreaves, I remember your father well. Though he lived a long life, I feel he left us all too soon, and the world is much the wearier for want of his energy. Will you have some tea?”

“I will. Thank you very much. I came from Lyndhurst yesterday in the hope of speaking with you, Mr. James. I don’t wish to be of any inconvenience, so I will come straight to the point of my calling. Did you ever meet the Reverend Charles Dodgson?”

“I did not have the pleasure, I am afraid, but we knew a number of men in common through the exchange of the societies.”

“You mean the Society for Psychical Research, then?”

“Yes, that was principal among them. Have you an interest in the supernatural, Mrs. Hargreaves?”

“No, not really, Mr. James. I fear that my present problems are somewhat more difficult to discuss. I am embarrassed even to presume I might impose upon your time. I understand that your brother is quite ill, and that your own health has been rather poor.”

“I am a bit short of breath these recent weeks. Only a trifle, I assure you. Please go on. You asked about the Reverend Dodgson. I suppose we have all been delighted by his books for children.”

“Yes, that is part of what I wanted to discuss with you, Mr. James. It is not generally known, but I have had something to do with those writings. You see, my Christian name is Alice.”

“A name I like very much. My days have been blessed with Alices. There was my dear sister, and also my sweet wife carries that name.”

“Well, it has been a popular name I suppose, but what I am saying is that I am the Alice, in a sense, made somewhat notorious by Reverend Dodgson in his books.”

“A distinction of which you should be quite proud, I imagine.”

“Oh Mr. James, it is ever so much more complicated than it seems, to be the dubious beneficiary of so much praise and public attention, to be an immortal child. But yes, he wrote down the first story at my request. He had told such a fine story to me and my sisters on a summer day, and as children do, I demanded, good naturedly I hope, that he preserve it in writing. He did not do so right away. It was more than a year later that he presented me with the story. In the mind of a child, such a period seems an eternity. To be perfectly frank, I had forgotten my request, and even the story, in the main, during this long lapse. There had been a break between Reverend Dodgson and my family, in the time between, and I saw the Reverend not even once for most of a year. Perhaps the story was offered to my family, through me, as a reminder of better memories.”

“How can I be of assistance, Mrs. Hargreaves?”

“I know we have only just met, but please, if it is acceptable to you, call me Alice. I have heard, Mr. James, that no one understands psychology and philosophy better than you do, and my doubts and questions surround, well, the psychology of a philosopher. I would like to settle in my own mind some doubts recently preying there, unsteadying my nerves, and spoiling my happiness. I believed that you might be the only soul who can restore my health.”

“I am surely unworthy of such appraisal, and I doubt that I merit any of your optimism, but I am at your service. The philosopher in doubt is the Reverend Dodgson, then?”

“Yes, Mr. James. Although he is gone these ten years, I would gladly understand him better, if the modern science can cast any light upon such matters. He was such a dear friend to me in childhood, sort of an adoptive uncle, one might say. Apart from the break I mentioned, Reverend Dodgson was our family friend from before my memory. He was used to telling stories to my older brothers and sister, and as I came upon the right age he took a particular interest in me, although he was also very fond of my elder sister Lorina. Reverend Dodgson would take us all on excursions in the out of doors, on boating jaunts and other diversions. He was a delightful companion for all sorts of children. He was himself a child at heart, I should think. Perhaps you have seen Mr. Barrie’s play about the boy who wouldn’t grow up.”

“Yes, I did see it, quite recently in fact. Delightful.”

“Mr. Barrie’s Neverland reminds me of my childhood, as I try to remember it now, as though I were the girl, Wendy, and Reverend Dodgson was Peter Pan. I grew up, but he remained the same.”

“I understand. Perhaps ‘Lewis Carroll’ is the boy who never grew up, and Reverend Dodgson is the pirate swallowed by the ticking crocodile. I read Alice’s Adventures to my own children. Now I read the books of the American writer Baum to my grandchildren. It would seem that the books about your adventures began a fashion that continues–Wonderland, Neverland, the Land of Oz.”

“Yes, quite. . .”

“But my dear, you are sobbing. What has unsettled you? Reverend Dodgson seems to have been an ideal friend. I don’t see how I can help you understand him better than you already do.”

“I suspect, Mr. James, that I need a more general understanding than I now possess, owing to some disturbing rumors and inferences that have been growing recently, regarding my history and association with the Reverend Dodgson.”

“What rumors are these?”

“I have an acquaintance, a friend really, who has been telling me about the theories of an Austrian scientist named Dr. Freud. His books are all upon the lips of everyone who can read them, as my friend can, and she tells me that his theories offer, well, an explanation of my friendship with Reverend Dodgson. I admit that I care not at all for the theory, so far as I understand it. I do not know how seriously to treat all of these inferences and conclusions, but they are having an effect upon my social circles. I do like to play the hostess. People are whispering and I am at something of a loss to respond. And I have to admit, Mr. James, that I don’t know what to think, myself. Can you help me?”

“I see. Well, let me consider for a moment, Mrs. Hargreaves . . .”

“Please, call me Alice . . .”

“All right, Alice. Forgive me. The name is so familiar, I’m certain you understand.”

“Yes, of course.”

“It will take me some moments to sort my thoughts, and I will need a few more details. I have followed the writings of Dr. Freud for quite some time, and I met him not long ago. I cannot claim to know him well, personally, of course. If I express doubts, I want you to appreciate that my impressions regard only his theories. I have the utmost confidence in his character and in the aims he pursues with such vim and vigor.”

“I understand, Mr. James.”

“What have you heard, Alice? What are people saying that disturbs you so?”

“I must confess that, although I grew up amongst intellectuals, I have no facility with the theoretical aspects of your profession.”

“Just explain it in whatever way you can, Alice. I have greater appreciation for common sense than for nice theories, I promise you.”

“The Reverend Dodgson spent a great deal of time around children, especially girls, you know. He once told me simply that he was fond of all children, excepting boys. I know almost nothing of his adult companions, and I exchanged not a word with him in the last twenty years of his life. But when I was a girl, he drew sketches and posed photographs of me, and of other young girls that some, including my friend who reads from Dr. Freud, now adjudge, well, improper.”

ILLUSTRATION: Charles Dodgson/a.k.a. Lewis Carroll

“I dare not ask, Alice, after what I dare not learn. But I am myself something of a sketch-maker, so I feel that I do understand the eye and its fantasies. In what way are the images improper?”

“To place the matter delicately, Mr. James, in some of these depictions I was undraped. I am sure that you remember those days, when it was all the fashion to array our persons in the manner of the ancient Greeks, to strike classic poses, to extol innocence. The fashion is now stale, even comic, but then it seemed the very height of virtue and mental elevation to while one’s hours with the Graces and Muses and Furies.”

“Yes, Alice, I remember. It was much the same in Cambridge, my Cambridge, I mean, in America.”

“Reverend Dodgson had, of course, full permission from my parents. He said that had he even the loveliest child in the world, to draw or photograph, and found in her a modest shrinking, however slight, however easily overcome, from being taken nude, he should feel it were a solemn duty owed to God simply to drop the request altogether.”

“Of course.”

“My friend, however, says that Dr. Freud takes another view, seeing Reverend Dodgson’s desires of depiction not as the love of innocence and beauty, but as the vilest lechery. She says that completely apart from what my friend may have said or done, or even confessed to himself or his Maker, there is a motive force, and unconscious desire, indirectly expressed in his requests for nude models, for controlling their posing and drapes.”

“I do know of Dr. Freud’s thinking on questions of this sort. I am not altogether in agreement with him. But let us cut to the quick, my dear. Did you notice or experience any impropriety?”

“That is just my problem Mr. James. I have no memory of anything of that kind. I was but a girl. The world of adult motivations and inhibitions was unknown to me. If only I could remember, specifically, what he may have said and done, in those hours. Alas, I cannot.”

“Memory is a mysterious companion to our days, Alice. Msr. Bergson says that the longer we live, the less we perceive what is before us, and the more what is before us becomes a reviving of the past.”

“I am sorry, Mr. James, I am afraid I don’t know what that may mean.”

“My apologies, Alice. But again, why have you traversed this not inconsiderable distance to relate these doubts to me?”

“Oh, Dr. James, can it be true that we know so little of our own motives? Is it even possible that none of us grasps his simplest desires? Is there nothing pure and decent in this wretched world of men?”

“Mrs. Hargreaves, please, do take hold of yourself. I take another view of these matters than Dr. Freud. There is something, indeed there is much, that we might call our experience but would not class as precisely conscious. I don’t favor even the use of the term conscious, so diseased is the word with needless snares for the mind. But the so-called unconscious is only a misleading name for a domain of impulses, nervous energies, instincts, and, most important I would add, we are unconscious of our habits. Dr. Freud makes a raucous hullabaloo over a rather simple matter, that as habits are repeated and the pathways of nervous energy established, they require less and less effort to enact. With the conservation of effort comes not the absence of our need for thinking through an activity, but its spreading throughout the body as a series of co√∂rdinated movements.”

“I believe I understand, but perhaps you could offer a case?”

“It would be exampled in actions as simple as buttoning your shoe, Alice. The co√∂rdinated movements are really quite complex, far too fine for a small child, unteachable even to a great ape. But by means of their repeating, these movements become, as it were, unconscious. Dr. Freud is an enthusiast of rather fixed ideas, insisting that whatever is ‘unconscious’ has been pressed to the periphery of our daily functioning, or forced into mysterious channels beneath the depths of our awareness. He makes it sound all so very ominous. I think rather that such unconscious habits have proceeded to the core of our commonsense lives, constituting a hot center of our personal energy. A part of what makes Alice Alice is her manner of buttoning her shoe. In the case of Reverend Dodgson, the inclination and ability to draw, or to take fine photographs, over many years and through much repetition, became a way of seeing the world, a habit for beauty, if you will.”

“Oh, blessed thought. Mr. James, that is a wonderful suggestion, but how is one to judge? Surely there are men in the world whose gentle actions and soft words would be indistinguishable from Reverend Dodgson’s, but whose motives were baser.”

“Yes, that is impossible to deny, Alice. . . .”

“Mr. James, are you well?”

“It is nothing, my dear. I shall recover myself in a moment. I do begin to tire, and I must save some of myself and my strength to tend my brother who is unwell, as you know. I think that Henry and I must take turns being one another’s keepers.”

“I am so grateful for the interview, but Mr. James, so many questions remain to me.”

“You had taken a room in town. Are you able to stay and come ’round again tomorrow, say, at eleven?”

“Yes, Mr. James. I will call again then, and thank you ever so much.”

“Good day to you, Alice.”

*

William James to Theodore Flournoy
Lamb House, Rye, Sussex , April 26, 1910

Dearest Flournoy,
Yours of the 18th arrived several days hence, but I’ve found little opportunity of writing in recent days. Now the cruelties of April draw exorably to a close. H. is in a better spirit and Mrs. J. dotes upon him fitly enough to make me jealous. I leave in a few days for the ministrations of Moutier at Thiers, and then on to Nauheim to see what improvement I might enjoy from a good bath. I hope to make a stop at your station soon after.
You’ve caught on the wind some news of the unhappy Baldwin affr. You might save yourself some effort wondering over it. As I have the matter from one you know in Balt., I wld. imagine the suppt. of friends (even were the HonorableWilson himself to join their rank), will make small diff. to the outcome. The man had better sail for France with estimable haste. 
On that head, to-day I’ve had an unusual entreaty, from one Mrs. Rgnld. Hargreaves, the former Alice Liddell, and inspirer of the ‘Lewis Carroll’ Alice books, all filled with nonsense and logical puzzles, that we have several times discussed. She called at the house, all in a state of agitation having learnt abt. Freud’s wilder notions–motivations and clandestine energies forming their nefarious pacts in the dark unconscious. Why she believed I’d dispel her devils I don’t know, but a single interview did not satisfy her doubts, so I have invited her call again in the morning. I have resolved I shall place her under neuro-hypnosis–I know this will bring a smile, dear Theo. We left such business behind long since, didn’t we? I will be glad to give you a report on the result when next I see you. Love to Mrs. F., Believe me, etc.
WJ



*

“Good day, Mr. James. Your hospitality is deeply felt. May I inquire after your brother’s condition?”

“There has been an improvement, Mrs. Hargreaves. I believe he will be fit for punting in no time at all.”

“Curious.”

“Why curious?”

“Oh, that I had thought to mention the way Revernd Dodgson would take us punting on the Cherwall or the Isis. We would usually board at the Magdalen Bridge. Either we would hire a punt or Reverend Duckworth would steer his own boat.”

“Lovely outing, I should think.”

“It was, Mr. James. Simply divine. On one such day Reverend Dodgson regaled us with the stories he later wrote down for me. I was, I think, about eight years old. I wish I could remember it better than I do. I have the manuscript he gave me so much later, but I cannot now recall how the story there recorded may depart from what happened on that day. ”

“How so?”

“It seems to me that later events lend an order to earlier events that the latter may never have possessed, until, well, until the portents had been made manifest in the course of time. Do you not find this to be a character of your own memory, Mr. James?”

“Very much so, Alice.”

“Then, how can we trust our memories, in such a light?”

“Well, Alice, I have given some long thought to this matter, and among my conclusions are that the difference between my personal memory and yours may not be either as great or as absolute as the difference dividing our separate thoughts at this moment. When we remember, we may do so together.”

“How can that be, Mr. James?”

“I think, and I have observed, that forming memories is something more vigorous in the company of others and weaker in moments of solitude. There must be something in our registering of events that draws already upon the shared or common experience.”

“I see. And is memory altered by the presence of one companion in lieu of another?”

“Quite possibly. An old friend of my family was used to speaking of this social memory as a World Soul or an Oversoul. My new acquaintance Dr. Jung has suggested to me the term collective unconscious. I don’t favor the word, but I find sympathy in the idea that our memories are active and social and beyond our merely private affections.”

“Mr. James, I have wanted to understand a special philosopher, a logician really, most ardently, for many years now.”

“I would gladly help.”

“I wish to remember what I cannot. I cannot recall even the least impropriety in the manner or presentation of Reverend Dodgson, but I also cannot settle upon the conclusion that none existed. What can I do? Does your Dr. Jung have any help to give?”

“I had thought, last evening, Alice, that I might offer hypnosis to facilitate your memory. Have you ever undergone hypnosis, Alice?”

“I have seen it, in public performance, Mr. James, but I have not myself been subject.”

“It is a mysterious business, and no one knows precisely what, beyond the social power of suggestion, a state of hypnosis is. Further, you must be forewarned that what presents itself in the garment of fact, in such a state, may be made of the fabric of possibility, cut and stitched and rejoin’d.”

“I am willing to bear that in mind, Mr. James. Please do proceed.”

“I will need you to uncover your head and loosen your shoes, Alice, and to find an entirely relaxed posture of body and mind here on this couch.”

“As you direct, Mr. James.”

“I want you to close your eyes, Alice, and as far as possible, think only of vacancy. In a few minutes you will go off to a peaceful kind of sleep. Sit here quietly and think of nothing until I return . . .”

“. . . now Alice, I will make some suggestions, and you will describe what you are seeing. You remember the quadrangle at Christ Church. Can you see it now?”

“Yes.”

“What is the weather?”

“It is dreary, cold.”

“Who is there, Alice?”

“Mother, Ina, Edith, Harry, Jim, and I. We are walking to chapel.”

“Why to chapel?”

“Someone has died, an important man. I don’t know his name. Father must officiate.”

“Is Reverend Dodgson with you?”

“He is approaching from another way. He sees us, sees me. He has not visited in such a long time.”

“How does that make you feel, Alice?”

“I am quite upset, angry with him.”

“For neglecting you?”

“Yes.”

“What is he doing now?”

“We have gone into the cathedral. Father is addressing all the people. Reverend Dodgson is with us in our stall. He smiles at me, takes my hand and squeezes. I take my hand away.”

ILLUSTRATION: John Tenniel

“Why, Alice?”

“He broke his promise.”

“What promise?”

“He said it was our secret, but he told Ina, and she told Mother.”

“What was the secret, Alice?”

“About the Queen of Hearts.”

“Yes?”

“If I tell you, it won’t be a secret.”

“Then do not tell me Alice. Tell Reverend Dodgson why you took your hand away.”

“Reverend Dodgson doesn’t know. He can’t know.”

“He doesn’t know the secret?”

“No, and we mustn’t tell him.”

“Who knows the secret Alice?”

“Now Ina and Mother know it.”

“Who else?”

“I know it.”

“And who else?”

“Well, him, of course.”

“Who?”

“The boy who wouldn’t grow up, my secret friend.”

“Does your secret friend know Reverend Dodgson?”

“No, he has to hide from the Queen of Hearts, or she’ll cut off his head. I have to help him, to keep him ever so hidden.”

“Do you know where to find your secret friend?”

“Third star from the right and straight on ’til morning.”

“Can you fly there now, Alice?”

“Not Alice. Wendy. I have forgotten how to fly, until he comes again in the spring.”

“Alright Wendy, did you forget how to fly because you grew up?”

“I never wanted to grow up. I knew he would never visit and he would forget about me if I grew up.”

“And that is what happened?”

“No.”

“Then what happened, Wendy?”

“The Witch.”

“The Witch?”

“She is as dry as the desert and she has an eye that can see everywhere and she tells the Queen of Hearts.”

“What did she tell the Queen of Hearts?”

“The secret.”

“What was the secret?”

“What she saw.”

“What did she see, Wendy?”

“Not Wendy, Dorothy.”

“Alright Dorothy, what did the Witch tell the Queen of Hearts?”

“It was a riddle.”

“How did the riddle go, Dorothy?”

There’s trumpets e’er the King to greet
And crumpets for the Queen to eat
And Strumpets for the Prince to meet
And all are in the castle

And the winery’s in the cellar
And the finery’s in the hall
And the bindery’s in the library
But no one reads the books at all

There’s a trellis for the gardener
Who is jealous of his partner
Who does sell us bread on Sunday
Just outside the castle wall

And the sky is clouding over
And the land is going under
Oh I wonder if the thunder
Does shake the walls asunder

At the castle on the hilltop
Above the sleepy valley
Where the restless river flows
Until it falls into the sea.”

A shed in the New Forest, Lynhurst, England
PHOTO: Ian Parkes

“And do you know the answer to the riddle, Dorothy?”

“Not Dorothy. Now it’s Alice, you silly kitten. You don’t know the game. You don’t know the secret.”

“I . . . I am afraid you are right, my dear.”

“You are just like Reverend Dodgson. You stammer just like him. You are not my friend.”

“I could be your friend, if you will tell me the secret, Alice.”

“You must promise not to tell, not even Mother.”

“I promise. I shan’t breathe a word.”

“Oh, all right. It’s the Queen of Hearts. You know she is really the Barber.”

“The Barber?”

“The Barber of Seville. She shaves everyone in Seville except herself.”

“I see. And who shaves her?”

“She doesn’t have to shave. She is a woman.”

“I never heard of a woman Barber, Alice.”

“And you never will. That’s why it’s a secret.”

“I believe I do understand. Alice, when I count three you will awaken, feeling happy and refresht, and you will remember nothing we said while you were asleep. One . . .two . . . three, and now you are awake.”

“Mr. James?”

“Yes, Alice?”

“I am so sorry. I cannot remember a thing. Have I been sitting here very long?”

“Only a short while, my dear.”

“Have you learnt anything that might settle my mind?”

“Alice, once you had a good friend who filled your days and your dreams with delightful nonsense. The imaginative powers wane as the powers of habit and reason, and the passage of time, set upon them. In later life none of us can quite believe what was so very real to us as children. There is no battle for your unconscious soul that I can discover, only a lost child puzzling at the habits of a responsible wife and mother. Reverend Dodgson never took a wife, I think, and never had a child. He was less a mystery to himself than those of us who married.”

“I see.”

“Alice, the friend you mentioned, the one who told you of Dr. Freud’s theories . . .”

“Yes?”

“Is it anyone I might know?”

“I do not think so, but she is a great admirer of your brother’s novels. The daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen.”

“No, I suppose I do not know her, but please do tell her this, since she has sent you to me. One who seeks  the causes of our happiness and misery beyond or below the exertions of the will, truly wants neither happiness nor misery, nor one at the other’s sacrifice, but only a numb automation. It is better to attend to the stream of our present consciousness than to the submerged stones roiling its surface.”

“I do not fully understand your meaning, Mr. James, but I can remember the words.”

“It has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance Alice. Please write to me when you think of it.”

“I shall, and thank you, Mr. James.”


Editor’s Afterword

Here the manuscript ends. I will not offer any commentary or analysis, since any reader can decide what does or does not strike home in it. But I did run across an interesting (and appropriate) comment from Martin Gardner, the great annotator of the Alice books. He is commenting upon the incessant incantation of the Queen of Hearts, “off with his head!” Gardner quotes Lewis Carroll saying “I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion –a blind and aimless Fury.” Then, recognizing the Freudian struggle of the Id and its censors, Gardner says:

Her constant orders for beheadings are shocking to those modern critics of children’s literature who feel that juvenile fiction should be free of all violence and especially violence with Freudian undertones. Even the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, so singularly free of the horrors to be found in Grimm and Andersen, contain many scenes of decapitation. As far as I know, there have been no empirical studies of how children react to such scenes and what harm, if any is done to their psyche. My guess is that the normal child finds it all very amusing and is not damaged in the least, but that books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz should not be allowed to circulate indiscriminately among adults who are undergoing analysis.* [*Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition. Intro. and notes by Martin Gardner (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1990), 82n.]

Henry James
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Gardner’s view would not be agreed to by the majority these days, but remembering that the typescript above, depicting as it seems to, a world in which Freud was not the platform operating system of the mind, leaves us with some choice as to whether our own age is any less repressed or pathological than the unenviable world of our Victorian foreparents. Perhaps each age is insane in its own way, and glimpsing Lewis Carroll from the point of the transition, from his world into our world, is valuable in itself.



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