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Alice, Freud and Dalì in Wonderland


Alice Liddell was almost five years old when she first met the mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll. She lived at Christ Church College at the University of Oxford, where her father was the Dean and Dodgson was a maths tutor. With Dodgson's study adjoining the Liddells' lodgings, he soon became friend, photographer and storyteller to the Liddell family. Below: Alice Liddell photographed by Lewis Carroll in 1858.

The Alice stories were first created one legendary 'golden afternoon' on 4 July 1862. While entertaining the three Liddell sisters, Alice, Lorina and Edith, during a boating trip, Dodgson improvised the story that would become Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The main character, Alice, shared many characteristics with Alice Liddell, being stubborn, precocious and curious.

The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him some time to write out the tale - in a tiny, neat hand - and complete the 37 illustrations. Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated to 'a dear child, in memory of a summer day', a Christmas gift in 1864. Urged by friends to publish the story, Dodgson re-wrote and enlarged it, removing some of the private family references and adding two new chapters. The published version was illustrated by the artist John Tenniel.

Many years later, Alice was forced to sell her precious manuscript. It was bought by an American collector, but returned to England in 1948 when a group of American benefactors presented it to the British Library in appreciation of the British people's role in the Second World War.


Part 1 - Listening

Part 2 - Reading

“That path leads to the Mad Hatter. The other way leads to -Lae March Hare,” said a voice. Alice turned to find a smiling Cheshire Cat in a tree. “I’ll see you later at the Queen’s croquet game,” he said before disappearing.

Alice walked down a path, “How lovely! A tea party,” she thought.”There’s no room for you!” shouted the Mad Hatter, “You may stay if you answer my riddle.” Alice smiled. She loved riddles. After several riddles, Alice became confused. “Every time I answer, you ask a question,” she told the Mad Hatter.

“We don’t know any answers,” he giggled. “This is a waste of time,” scolded Alice. The others ignored her. They were trying to wake the Dormouse.

Alice continued her walk. She found herself in the middle of a field where the Queen of Hearts was playing croquet. Her guards and gardeners were shaped like cards. One gardener had planted white roses by mistake and then painted them red, “Off with their heads!” shrieked the Queen. “I hate white roses!” “Have you ever played croquet?” the Queen asked Alice.

“Yes,” Alice timidly answered. “But I’ve never used a flamingo or a hedgehog.” “Play with me!” ordered the Queen.”And let me win or I’ll have your head!” Alice tried her best to play well, but she had trouble with her flamingo. “Off with her head!” cried the Queen. Just then a trumpet sounded at the distance calling court to session.

Everyone rushed into the courtroom. “Court is now in session,” announced the White Rabbit, “Will Alice please come to the stand?” Alice took the stand and looked at the jury box, where the March Hare and the Mad Hatter were making noise. The Dormouse slept and the Cheshire Cat smiled at her. “What’s going on?” asked Alice.

“You are guilty of stealing the delicious heart-shaped tarts!” accused the Queen, “And now you must be punished. Off with her head. Off with her head!” yelled the Queen.

“How silly,” replied Alice. “I did not have the slightest idea what you were talking about! I was only playing croquet.”

Alice felt someone touch her shoulder, “Wake up. You’ve been sleeping for too long,” said her sister softly.

“I had a strange dream,” said Alice. She told her sister about the White Rabbit, the mad tea party, the Queen of Hearts and the trial. But her sister wasn’t paying attention. “You’re reading again,” mumbled Alice. As she stretched, Alice saw a little White Rabbit with pink eyes scurry behind a tree.


The characters in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” are symbolic, and each represents a different aspect of Alice’s coming of age.

THE WHITE RABBIT (Time). The white rabbit symbolizes the passage of time. Just as the rabbit is hurried, time moves at a fast pace. There is not a moment lost: away goes Alice like the wind, and is just in time to hear it say, as it turned a corner: “Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”

By stating how late it’s getting, the rabbit is actually noticing how old Alice is growing. Since the rabbit is once again speeding along, it insinuates that Alice doesn’t have much time left before she grows into an adult. Alice is never able to catch up to the rabbit (time) as it is often running away from her. Alice is unprepared for adulthood because she is frantically chasing after more time.

THE CAUCUS ANIMALS (Adult Life). Adult, still being a child, doesn’t understand the things that adults do. “What I was going to say was that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race”, says the Dodo in an offended tone. “However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’” Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she didn’t dare to laugh.

The caucus race makes no sense to Alice. She doesn’t understand why they would need to run a race in order to dry themselves. This is an example of how adult logic escapes Alice. Alice is a child that will soon mature and be thrust into the adult world. The caucus animals represent Alice’s struggle to make sense of adult actions and logic.

THE BLUE CATERPILLAR (Sexuality). Both the caterpillar’s slender body and the mushroom that it sits upon have a phallic structure. These images help to emphasize the theme of a sexual threat. Alice is a young girl that is on the cusp of sexual maturity (as defined in victorian times) while the caterpillar will also soon reach sexual maturity through its transformation into a butterfly. “Who are YOU?” Says the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alices replies, rather shyly: “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present-at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then”. This displays how sexually confused Alice is. She is having trouble understanding puberty and what she is going through. “Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away in the grass, merely remarking as it went. ‘One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter’”. In order to understand her sexual role and what her body is going through, Alice must consume the mushroom (remember the symbolism!). She must overcome sexual experiences and situations in order to find her place.

THE CHESHIRE CAT (Guidance). It’s the guidance that Alice receives during her adolescence. The cat acts a role model to Alice, offering her the advice that helps her understand Wonderland. “But I don’t want to go among mad people”, Alice remarks “Oh, you can’t help that”, says the cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad”.

THE MAD HATTER AND MARCH HARE (Challenges to intelligence). Both characters challenge Alice’s intelligence with riddles and statements that cause Alice to question what she really knows. Over the course of the conversations, Alice realizes that she doesn’t know quite as much as she thought that she did. The Hatter/Hare consistently convey to her that she is wrong. This resembles how an adolescent feels after they enter the adult world. They find that the knowledge hat they had as a child is either incorrect, or no longer applicable. The Hatter/Hare help exemplify the frustration that Alice feels as her intelligence is challenged as she ages.

THE QUEEN OF HEARTS (Victorian Expectations). The queen can be seen as the heart of Alice’s struggles growing up. She is a singular force of fear and is symbolic of the victorian expectations of women. Under victorian times women were expected to marry by 25, restrain their emotions, and accept their duties as housekeepers and property. These expectations would certainly frighten a young girl that would soon have to meet them. Alice is initially frightened by the Queen’s (expectations) overbearing presence in Wonderland (her life). After the Gryphon informs Alice that the Queen doesn’t actually behead anyone, Alice learns that the Queen’s only threat is in her rhetoric. This gives Alice the courage to stand up to the queen and the expectations demanded of her.

THE DUCHESS (Life Lessons). “You’re thinking about something, my dear, and that makes you forget to talk. I can’t tell you just now what the moral of that is, but I shall remember it in a bit”.

“Perhaps it hasn’t one” Alice ventured to remark.

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it”, says the Duchess.

The Duchess represents the life lessons/morals that Alice will learn as she ages. Over the course of chapter IX, the Duchess tells Alice about several different morals. The morals sound absurd and pointless to Alice, but that is because she is a child and can’t comprehend their meaning. As Alice continues to grow, she will be able to make sense out of the events around her and discerne their associated morals.

THE MOCK TURTLE AND GRYPHON (Sources of Strength). Thy are the only characters in the book that Alice feels she can relate to. The creatures have had lives that bear similarities to Alice’s. For example, Alice is able to relate to and understand the Mock Turtle’s schooling . The Gryphon deflates the Queen’s authority, whom is the enemy of Alice. Through this defamation, the Gryphon displays his support for Alice. In the end, Alice is able to converse with them on peaceable terms and they become the closest thing that Alice has to friends in Wonderland. They also form a base of support for Alice in the hazardous and strange Wonderland. They represent the friends and support in Alice’s life as she matures into adulthood.


“I am not crazy, my reality is just different from yours”- Cheshire Cat

Alice begins her adventures, where she tries to understand the logic of Wonderland but in the novel, we can see that the major driver of the story is Alice’s attempt to understand who she really - in wonderland or in reality - may be.

It’s common knowledge that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a man of many complex layers, and his children’s story is no exception.

A deacon, photographer and mathematician, with a habit of making ‘child-friends,’ Carroll’s behaviour has come into question over the years, and his mindset has been scrutinised through his writings, the most famous of which is, of course, the surreal Alice in Wonderland.

Psychosexual Alice

Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole could be a route to the unconscious, particularly when we bear in mind that she seems to be dreaming throughout the story.

More psychosexual imagery emerges when Alice lands – the line up of doors with their locks and keyholes, and the curtain, symbolic of clothing, which Alice must move out of the way, are all potentially telling of the author’s mindset.

‘Every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own or, rather, he arranges the things of his world in a new way,’ Freud.

When Alice finally finds the garden she has been so determined to reach, it transpires to be a nightmare of dictatorship and a scene of gory massacre. Could this be a comment from Carroll, a Church deacon, about the Garden of Eden and its falsehoods?

‘Who are you?’ - Losing identity in Wonderland

Psychoanalysis is all about identity and uncovering the true self. Alice severely lacks any concept of self-identification. Her time in Wonderland includes dysmorphic periods, (she is either too big or too small;) confusion over her very nature, (she is accused of being both a flower and a serpent and will not be heard when she insists that she is, in fact, a ‘little girl;’) and desperation to find her way home.

Most telling is Alice’s conversation with the Caterpillar, who repeatedly asks, ‘who are you?’ To which she replies, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, also known as Todd’s syndrome, is a disorienting neurological condition that affects human perception. People experience micropsia, macropsia, pelopsia, teleopsia, or size distortion of other sensory modalities.


Look at this illustration below, from the Helbling Reader. Can you see the roses in the upper left corner? What is strange about them?

Fought between the houses of Lancasterand York for the English throne, the wars were named many years afterward from the supposed badges of the contending parties: the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster.

Both houses claimed the throne through descent from the sons of Edward III. Since the Lancastrians had occupied the throne from 1399, the Yorkists might never have pressed a claim but for the near anarchy prevailing in the mid-15th century. After the death of Henry V in 1422 the country was subject to the long and factious minority of Henry VI (August 1422–November 1437), during which the English kingdom was managed by the king’s council, a predominantly aristocratic body. That arrangement, which probably did not accord with Henry V’s last wishes, was not maintained without difficulty. Like Richard II before him, Henry VI had powerful relatives eager to grasp after power and to place themselves at the head of factions in the state. The council soon became their battleground.

In 1483 Richard III, overriding the claims of his nephew, the young Edward V, alienated many Yorkists, who then turned to the last hope of the Lancastrians, Henry Tudor (later Henry VII). With the help of the French and of Yorkist defectors, Henry defeated and killed Richard at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, bringing the wars to a close. By his marriage to Edward IV’sdaughter Elizabeth of York in 1486, Henry united the Yorkist and Lancastrian claims. Henry defeated a Yorkist rising supporting the pretender Lambert Simnel on June 16, 1487, a date which some historians prefer over the traditional 1485 for the termination of the wars.


A modern master of the surreal arts, Salvador Dali’s works continually challenged convention by questioning the antithesis of surrealism: our normal sense of the “real."

Dali’s Surrealist adventures began in 1929 when he painted his first Surrealist painting, The Lugubrious Game. Inspired by psychoanalytical writings of Sigmund Freud, Dali believed that his detailed illusionism was instrumental in the exploration of the dream imagery and the subconscious that he painted.

Dali’s incredible illustrations for Alice in Wonderland have caused it to become one of the rarest and most sought-after Dali suites. The suite contains 12 heliogravures - one for each chapter of the book, plus 1 for the frontispiece.

1. Alice Frontispiece

2. Down the Rabbit Hole

3. The Pool of Tears

4. A Caucus Race and a Long Tale

5. The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

6. Advice From a Caterpillar

7. Pig and Pepper

8. Mad Tea Party

9. The Queen's Croquet Ground

10. The Mock Turtle's Story

11. The Lobster's Quadrille

12. Who Stole the Tarts?

13. Alice's Evidence

This collaboration brings together arguably Freud and Dali, two of the most creative minds in Western culture, as both are considered ultimate explorers of dreams and imagination.

Alice in Wonderland is one of Dalí’s most recognizable images, interpreted both in graphic and sculptural form. The girl with the skipping rope in a dreamlike landscape, an enigmatic icon found throughout Dalí’s oeuvre. Here, Dalí portrays Alice’s innocence and naivety, he created Alice’s silhouette holding a skipping rope frozen in motion above her head, her hands and hair blossoming into roses, symbolizing feminine beauty and eternal youth. The crutch symbolizes stability, it gives her emotional support, acting as a link back to reality.


by Jefferson Airplane - Album: Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

One pill makes you larger And one pill makes you small And the ones that mother gives you Don't do anything at all Go ask Alice When she's ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits And you know you're going to fall Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar Has given you the call Call Alice When she was just small

When the men on the chessboard Get up and tell you where to go And you've just had some kind of mushroom And your mind is moving low Go ask Alice I think she'll know

When logic and proportion Have fallen sloppy dead And the White Knight is talking backwards And the Red Queen's off with her head Remember what the dormouse said Feed your head Feed your head

Riccardo Zambon, 18 February 2023

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