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Peter Hunt, ed. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

Sabine Requier-Ulrich
p. 239-242
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Peter Hunt, ed. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. By Lewis Carroll. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, OUP, 2009. 278 p. ISBN 978-0-19-955829-2.

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1Today, Carroll’s Alice books are experiencing a renewed success all around the world and many editions have been recently released after Tim Burton’s adaptation. But Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have been successful since they were written respectively in 1865 and in 1872. They have been translated into many different languages, have had an overwhelming influence on both general and children’s literatures and have even been parodied or adapted for almost a century and a half. Among the numerous editions, The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner (2001 for the definitive version) has been considered as the best-documented, bringing forth new research fields and revolutionizing criticism. OUP proposed a first edition of the Alice books in 1982 in the Oxford World’s Classics collection and released a new, well-documented one in 2009, enriched with an introduction by Peter Hunt, the famous and revered critic and scholar in children’s literature, a select bibliography, a chronology of Dodgson/Carroll and explanatory endnotes. A chapter entitled “The Wasp in a Wig”, which was initially in Through the Looking-Glass and was suppressed by the author on the advice of his illustrator Sir John Tenniel, has also been added. Several prefaces to different editions as well as an advertisement for the sixtieth thousand issue have been included in order to give the reader the most complete and precise view of the author and his work. This new edition is 297 pages long and it associates all the original illustrations designed by Sir John Tenniel which are inseparable from the text since they not only fit the etymology of the word illustration, but also bring forth some deeper meaning.

2Forty pages of explanatory endnotes have been included in the end of the volume. The notes are signaled in the text with an asterisk and referred to, in the endnotes, with the page numbers. They bring compositional, sociological, historical and even contextual information and are often based on Martin Gardner’s edition, which is often quoted.

3But the most interesting element is undoubtedly Hunt’s 42-page introduction which is divided into five well-defined parts. It begins by assessing the role of the Alice books as literary monuments both in Great-Britain and in the whole world. Indeed, Hunt starts by emphasizing the worldwide and lasting influence of Carroll’s Alices, underlining their adaptability and defining them as great pieces of popular culture. The interest these novels aroused has resulted in a curiosity about Dodgson himself whose biography as well as letters and diaries, as Hunt explains, have been closely studied and have brought about several publications or even fictions.

4He centres his analysis on the nature of the two books, insisting on the fact that they initially belonged to the category of children’s literature, which accounts, according to him, for the fascination they have given birth to everywhere around the world. He induces the reader to revise his opinion on what children’s literature consists in and the subjects it develops, coming into agreement with Carroll himself whose goal was definitely to criticize and renew a literary category which was then still polluted with moral and pious values. Hunt underlines that the question of what could and should be presented to child readers is still valid and central today.

5In the second part of his introduction, Hunt proposes a brief but detailed biography of Charles Dodgson, evoking his passion for photography which started in 1856, his role of pioneer in this field, his interest in theater and the numerous quite conservative pamphlets he published on author’s account. Hunt mentions and analyzes the contemporary questions about Dodgson’s relationship to young girls and replaces it in its Victorian context before briefly underlining the manna Carroll’s Alices have been for psychologist and psychological critics.

6The third part of the introduction is entitled “The Books” and consists in 12 pages which propose a very precise and documented analysis of the books’ context of creation, of their drafts, the revision and printing of the Alices, notably by mentioning the famous chapter “The Wasp in a Wig” which was suppressed from the galley proofs of Through the Looking-Glass on the advice of Sir John Tenniel.

7The next part is devoted to the position of the two Alices in children’s literature and it underlines the two fundamental and mistakenly taken as exclusive from each other-objectives of this literary category: delight and moral instruction. Hunt mentions some well-known “deathbed scenes” from didactic works such as Mrs Sherwood, which Jean-Jacques Lecercle so vividly described in his unpublished dissertation. Hunt reminds the history of children’s literature which was, at first, until the 1830s, totally devoted to moral and religious education and which considered delight as superfluous or even dangerous. From that time, a great evolution took place in this literary category, sustained by a renewed belief in the Romantic vision of children and works like C. Sinclair’s Holiday House (1839), E. Lear’s A Book of Nonsense (1846), H.Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter (translated in 1848), L. M. Alcott’s Little Women (1868-69) and, of course, R. L. Stevenson Treasure Island (1884).

8According to Hunt, Carroll’s greatest achievement is not his use of parody but his ability to close “the gap between writer and reader” (xxxii) and his choice to let children express their own ideas freed from the control of adults. Finally, the critic gives some examples of imitations which have multiplied since the 1930s: they have created what he calls the “Alice mythos”. He insists on the true legacy of Dodgson/Carroll whose main characteristic is to acknowledge and trust in the intelligence of young readers and which can be found in several modern authors from E. Nesbit to J.K. Rowling.

  • 1 Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Le Nonsense: genre, histoire, mythe, thèse d’état, Université Paris VII, 198 (...)

9To conclude his introduction, Hunt devotes a few pages to reading directions. However, he surprisingly confines them to the personal, political or historical contexts of the works’ creation justifying this choice with the increasingly contemporary trend to anchor the Alices in the Victorian period. Even if he admits that there are several layers of meaning within the two books, he completely ignores and even explicitly negates the nonsensical nature of the books which has been emphasized by most critics for more than a century and which was without doubt a characteristic of the end of the nineteenth century. In fact, the problem with Hunt’s vision of nonsense resides in his definition of this concept. For him, “nonsense is defined as occurring when the mind is unable to make an association”(xxxvi). But other critics have given a much more and satisfactory definition of the term which shows a surprisingly and revealing light on Carroll’s work: “Nonsense arises from the confrontation of two universes which reflect in a mirror and from the subtle differences between them” (my translation)1 and as Lecercle puts it, it is defined by the dialectic of lack and excess. What Hunt calls nonsense might be associated to a lack of meaning; in fact, even though the Alice books seem deprived of meaning, they are, on the contrary, full of it.

10Nevertheless, Hunt’s introduction is very interesting and rich since it gives, in a few pages, the essential elements and the central reading directions necessary to understand and even study Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It is interspersed with references to and quotations from the most famous critics who have worked, for more than a century, on these two fascinating books. This enriched edition by OUP presents a very interesting complement to Gardner’s Annotated Alice and provides an ideal initiation to the Alice books.

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1 Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Le Nonsense: genre, histoire, mythe, thèse d’état, Université Paris VII, 1981, 29.

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Référence papier

Sabine Requier-Ulrich, « Peter Hunt, ed. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 73 Printemps | 2011, 239-242.

Référence électronique

Sabine Requier-Ulrich, « Peter Hunt, ed. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 73 Printemps | 2011, mis en ligne le 05 octobre 2015, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL :

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Sabine Requier-Ulrich


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