Victorian Era In Alice In Wonderland

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Not only were the organizations very influential in helping to change the attitude of society toward women, but the power of literature of the time cannot be overlooked. The Victorian Era saw the emergence of some of the best novelist of all time. The rise of popularity can probably be explained because of the new humor and character of the writing. This new style of writing is characterized mainly through the fact that it was now easily understood and modernized. Sarcasm was also used quite a bit, which had “a huge impact on the way people would think as they were reading or speaking.” (victorian-era.org)

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Lewis Carroll is only one of the author’s to come out of this time period. His most popular and successful book was Alice in Wonderland, first published in 1865. Through his artistic writing he was able to shed light on the social problems and inequalities in England during the Victorian Era. Though, at first glance the novel may just look like a quirky children’s story, it also illustrates the lifestyle of Victorian England and the mindset of the people at that time. Carroll also uses this novel to mock the kind of children’s literature that was being written at the time. The authors of this type of literature, according to Carroll, only wrote to educate children with morals and was lacking in the realm of educating children to use their real imagination. (victorian-era.org) The world that Lewis Carroll presents in Alice in Wonderland is the miniature model of the society of the Victorian age and is meant for both children and adults alike. It has a sense of absurdity mixed with a combination of the new English language and logic. Each character in this novel has a purpose. For instance, the Queen of Hearts is written in direct correlation to her counterpart, Queen Victoria. Taken beyond the obvious, she is also said to represent the average, adult woman of the time with “frequent mood swings and being emotionally unpredictable.” () The irrational and violent nature that Carroll depicts creates a character clearly unfit for a leadership role. This depiction clearly shows the author’s underlying societal message: that a woman is unfit for the throne or any other role of dominance in society outside of the household. The king in the novel is shown as a kind, gracious and forgiving king. This, set in contrast to the negative characterization of the queen, constructs an image for the children reading the story: that men belong on the throne in a leadership position as they are better capable of seeing the larger picture with positivity and clarity. The other characters in this novel: the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter, the White Rabbit, and others, that Alice encounters along her journey she finds rather absurd and not logical in their behaviors and remarks. Through these characters Lewis is illustrating the narrow-mildness’ of the Victorian society. The character of Alice herself, however, is depicted as a strong and brave and assertive character as she is shown to be very critical of her surroundings and the adults she meets. Yet, as she encounters a number of problems along the way, she tends to falter in coping with the people of Wonderland. She is a rational human being who has been placed in an unusual world and she struggles to adjust. The character of Alice, should have been a strong feminist role model but is shown at he end of the novel leaving her adventures in her dreams. Carroll alludes to the idea that society expects women shouldn’t pursue their dreams and aspirations, only dream about them.

Many critics believe that Alice in Wonderland was a vehicle for Lewis Carroll to demonstrate his true beliefs about the society he lived in. They believed he chose sarcasm as a way to attack the preachy and impersonal British education. That the adults in Wonderland were representatives of the governesses and professors of the that time; the foolish, arbitrary, cruel and mad world that the children of that time period experienced on a daily basis. In addition to the educational issues Carroll chose to show his support of the Women’s Suffrage Movement by showing how society believes that the role of women should be subservient, docile, discreet and domestic, yet Alice really holds none of those characteristics. She is a brave, active and impatient young lady who strives to make a change in the society she has fallen into.

In addition to Lewis Carroll, the Bronte sisters cause quite a stir in Victorian England. “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrong.” (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte). Emily, Anne, Elizabeth and Maria Bronte all helped pave the way for feminism in the Victorian Era. Their novels alone were driven “by sheer rage against the patriarchy”. ( ) Charlotte, in particular was considered by some to be an “uncompromising feminist trailblazer” (bbc.co.uk). There is no doubt that she was very forward thinking in her beliefs. She continuously fought for the oppressed women of her time through her writings however, was never part of any women’s suffrage organizations. She withdrew from the society that did not fully accept who she was and only felt comfortable in expressing her “stifled ideals through her words.” (victorianweb.org) The novel, Jane Eyre definitely has autobiographical elements combined with some of the romantic notions of the period. The main character, Jane, not only strongly resembles Charlotte physically but her insight into the Victorian Society double standard mirrors Charlotte’s view of her own world. It is through Jane that Charlotte is able to express her resentment toward the society who has scorned her and has left her only options of a career to a governess or a teacher. Both of which only symbolized a greater bondage to the narrow mindedness of the male counterparts of the time. All of the Bronte sisters strived to be who they wanted to be not matter what the society of the day deemed to be respectful. With this idealism, they paved the way for the female authors to follow.

The women’s suffrage movement that actually began well before the Victorian Era and spanned into the early 1900’s was met with mixed emotions throughout the fight. The movement was met with quite a few setbacks and very few accomplishments until after the First World War. The women like Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst and the men who came before them and continued to support them along the way, worked tirelessly for the rights of all women. Authors such as Lewis Carroll who satirically portrayed societies vision of women and their limited roll in society and Charlotte Bronte and her sisters who lived the lives they so desperately wanted through their characters and their characters experiences also shed light onto the problem of keeping women suppressed within the restraints of a male society. Without those who came before us, who knows what the world would look like now. 

29 April 2022

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