Commentary on Lewis Carroll

When asked to transform a literary piece of writing into a whole different form, many things came to mind. I aimed to turn a great piece of literature into something imaginative, interesting yet original. So I sought something that is not seen very frequently- transforming a fairly modern piece of text into something very dated and old. And hence the inspiration to transform ‘Alice in wonderland’ into an epistolary form, and the text that enthused this was Tobias Smollett’s famous novel ‘Humphrey Clinker’, which I shall be using as a style model. The text I’ll be focusing on is a letter written by Matthew Bramble, ‘To Dr Lewis’ about the city Bath, where he goes for treatment. A study of the discourse for my style model helped me to determine the characteristics of the genre. Referred to as satirical writing it is highly critical and minutely disapproving. This contrast to Lewis Carroll’s hilarity appealed to me as an interesting genre of change.

Lewis Carroll employs certain conventions so the conveyance of meaning through language is full of silly nonsense whilst Tobias Smollett wrote his letter in utter seriousness. It has a tone of authority, aristocracy and gravity. But Alice in wonderland on the other hand is full of silly anecdotes and a plot filled with clever wordplay and a highly amusing read for ages big and small. The age gap of each piece is also significant, Alice in Wonderland was written in the 20th century whilst the Humphrey Clinker dates back to the 18th century, thus in turn attitudes and values differ raising different issues.

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This transformation proved to be a challenge as I had to adapt to Tobias Smollet’s style of writing. An identical graphology is built so that when one looks at my transformation it looks identical to that of Tobias Smollet’s letter. The chapter heading ‘Dear Dr. Lewis’ is replaced by ‘Dear Lorina’- the supposed sister’s name and the date ‘4th May’ acquired through careful study of ‘Alice in wonderland’: ‘”and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad.”‘ “‘What day of the month is it?…Alice considered a little, and then said ‘the forth’.”

In the greeting the relation of ‘sister’ is used to in a similar way to how ‘Dear Doctor’ is used. Although the sister’s name is not actually in the book, a study shows that Alice’s character was based on ‘a real girl, Alice Liddell, who was the author’s child-friend…The older brother and sister were Harry (1848) and Lorina (1849).’1

The font was also made the same as that used in the novel: Book Antique, so the graphology of my transformation looks dated and old. This helps maintain realistic idea of old English literacy. So at glance a reader can identify it as such. This is important in keeping the piece convincing. Other graphological features include compressed, lengthy, block form paragraphs discerned by small indents conventional of prose texts at that time.

The transformation required me to deconstruct my style model, so that I was enable to look at lexical choices, sentence structures and content. I then employed a similar stance in my transformation, giving Alice the authorial voice to relate to the view of an 18th century critic. This provided the scope to explore Alice’s character further and give the audience an alternative view of what Alice’s character might really be thinking.

My style model consisted of long, elaborate and detailed syntax structure “…You must know I find nothing but disappointment at Bath; which is so altered, that I can scarce believe it is the same place I frequented” involving many descriptive clauses connected by conjunctions “and, in my opinion”, dashes “on this subject- I was impatient to see”, or commas “call me so, if I stay much longer”. A similar attitude was taken in my transformation “I shall… on this subject- upon arriving in the atrium of this strange place, …and a confusing amount of doors placed in a disorderly fashion in no particular order.” to recreate the effects of an 18th century letter and reinforce my objective in changing the era of my piece.

Thus using some aspects from the main texts, so as not to deviate from it, I elaborated it to convey and add deeper meanings to what is thought to being implied, the main text says “it would be of very little use without the shoulders” which I further explain “If one did try, in the depths of despair, for which I have no doubt one might, it’d be long before anyone found their failed attempts and most possibly their injured body, to heal the damages”, giving the original text a sinister feel that such attempts would be possible due to “despair”. This provided me with further scope to create my own interpretations and maintaining originality.

The use of commas after a conjunction is an important grammatical feature of the text “and, perhaps,”. It is not seen in modern texts but is frequent in ‘Humphry clinker’ in showing pauses within writing, so as to create an imagery of speaking directly to the reader. The commas implicate a tone in the writing connected to the pragmatics, and because it is a letter an impression of direct speech is trying to be conveyed. By using this I impersonate M. Brambles tone in my writing, so Alice comes across as a thoughtful and educated individual.

I used an arboreous metaphor to describe the place as a “jungle of craziness”, giving it an implication of chaos and mess. The metaphor is extended through words drawn from the semantic field associated with wilderness “parasites, barbarians, savage cannonade by a feathered fiend, vermin, caterpillars swamped in the dense forestry, heathen”, giving the quality of unruliness and feral insinuations.

Due to the passage being from a dated era I used my research2 to find archaic terms “bellicose, asseverate, cant, connive”, which I incorporated into the text in an attempt to give it an outdated feel and the reader can relate to the date of the text through the lexis being used.

My deconstruction shows that the discourse of the letter is extremely judgemental and negative. Using techniques mentioned afore I applied these attitudes and values throughout the whole letter to portray a very pessimistic outlook. Turning humorous aspects of ‘Alice in wonderland’ into a thoroughly negative context, scrutinising everything in an ‘M. Bramble’ style disapproval. Where Alice, although she finds it bizarre she tries to be polite and helpful, is directly criticising everything ‘I hate to write in such negative context.’ This is further seen in the semantic field of my piece; where a constant lexical choice of pessimism is used ‘tedious, disheartening, boredom, grieving, unfortunate, distaste, vulgar’

Tobias Smolletts extract criticises the appearance of the city and the growing love for wealth, which he focuses on as the force for corruption. However in my transformation I concentrate on the absurdity of the place and people as my focal point of criticism, thus changing her attitudes towards wonderland, in a negative context, by using vocabulary drawn from a lexical field of insanity I create this derogatory attitude “silly madness, confusing, “.

Bramble also values high class people when he criticises the ‘nouveu riche’, this high class snobbery is found in both plot lines as the central characters struggle to maintain a level of intelligence that apparently sets them apart from the people they criticise, “can’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh! She knows such a very little!”. I develop this idea throughout the my text by condemning the creatures of wonderland and calling them “Uncultured, primitive and discourteous”. This gives Alice the impression of snobbish ideals.

Further development of this character is seen through how she addresses her sister, she says “for I daresay a civil individual such as yourself”, which implies that the “civil ” such as herself would find it hard to comprehend the madness she has come across, giving a feel of over exaggerated views. This parody is consistent throughout the text and helps shape meanings of the original text, transforming it to give an alternative view of what Alice’s personal feelings were.

The text was written in the form of a letter so the structure had to stay true to this style of writing, ending in “Dear Lorina, With Alice’s love.” Hear I incorporate both texts, “dear Lorina” from Humphry Clinker, and “with Alice’s love” from my base text, where she is talking about sending her feet presents and mentions that she’d address she’d send it too would be “Alice’s Right Foot, Esq. Hearthrug, Near the Fender, (with Alice’s love).” By directly quoting from the main text helps keep a realistic idea of the base texts so as not to stray from the piece.

Many things were altered in the drafting process, I had initially begun by just lightly commenting about each event, but later realised the depth Tobias Smollett uses in his letter to thoroughly criticise every aspect of bath. So I included more scenes from the novel, and carried on in the usual style to criticise these events. For example when she first arrives there she immediately begins to comment on the “long, narrow, bare and garish walls”, this immediate approach develops her value for sophisticated d�cor, thus in turn creating a conservative attitude for Alice.

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