Posts Tagged ‘Alice in Wonderland’
In early 20th-century, in St. Louis, Pearl Curran claimed to have conjured a long-dead New England puritan named Patience Worth through a Ouija board. Although mostly unknown today, the resulting books, poems, and plays that Worth “dictated” to Curran earned great praise in their day. Ed Simon tells the story of the curious and nearly forgotten literary fruits of a “ghost” and her ghostwriter, and ponders their significance.
… there is much literary merit in Curran’s work – so why then this neglect? The bizarre origin of the writings shouldn’t be an impediment to a reasoned study of their structural qualities. After all, William Butler Yeats attributed several of his lyrics to a spirit named Leo Africanus whom he encountered through the use of a Ouija board while a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Without suggesting that the writings of Curran and Yeats are of similar artistic value, it would seem that dismissing them entirely on the grounds that there is a connection to the occult is unfair if a similar standard isn’t applied to Yeats. In both of these cases it might be helpful to think of the mediated personalities as being complex heteronyms of a type exemplified by the Portuguese modernist poet Fernando Pessoa (a contemporary of Curran and one also fascinated by automatic writing and the occult). A heteronym is a particularly complicated pen-name; in addition to a false name there is an entirely false identity, a fictional writer where literariness is extratextual to the poem or book itself. These concepts, of the heteronym and the muse, inspiration and authorship raise interesting questions about the epistemology and ontology of literature. Where does literature ultimately come from? What is legitimate as an object of reading and study? Can a literary hoax still be read as literature?
The Patience Worth case complicates questions of authorship. While it seems clear that Curran is the literal author, the fictionality surrounding the very productions of authorship helps to complicate our conceptions of creation and interpretation. Since the French philosopher Roland Barthe’s 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” both formalists and historicists have become increasingly comfortable with the idea that authorship itself is a sort of fiction. Patience Worth/Pearl Curran makes this fictionality all the more obvious. As such, it seems that she is more than overdue for a critical rediscovery.
In the long view of cultural history, her place becomes even more interesting. Biography and history become compressed and the relationship between who is a real person and who is a fictional person becomes more ontologically uncertain. I’m going to break any sort of pose of objectivity and say emphatically that I do not believe that Patience Worth was anything more than a full-bodied creation of Pearl Curran. It’s worth pointing out that there are no records of any actual Patience Worth having lived either in New England, or Dorsetshire where Curran claimed the poet was born. Yet, imagine someone reading Curran a millennium from now. Would such distinctions as whether Worth is “real” or not matter to this imagined reader? For classicists there are arguments about the “reality” of an author named Homer, ones that scholars working on much later periods don’t have to consider in the same way. Philosophically, if a heteronym’s words seem as full and real as an actual person, why can’t they be treated as such? The fullness of the fictionality of Patience Worth is that it is a fictionality which imposes itself on the real world, and that in itself is a fascinating act of literary creation.
Read the whole story at “Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth.”
* Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
As we agonize over authenticity, we might recall that this was the date, in 1864, that Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson– aka Lewis Carroll– delivered a handwritten and illustrated manuscript called “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” to 10-year-old Alice Liddell.
Special July 4th Edition: “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop”*…
July 4 is, of course, a very special anniversary…
On this date in 1862, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a young Oxford mathematics don, took the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College– Alice Liddell and her sisters– on a boating picnic on the River Thames in Oxford. To amuse the children he told them the story of a little girl, bored by a riverbank, whose adventure begins when she tumbles down a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world called “Wonderland.” The story so captivated the 10-year-old Alice that she begged him to write it down. The result was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 under the pen name “Lewis Carroll,” with illustrations by John Tenniel.
Readers in or around Oxford can join the celebration.
[The Tenniel illustration above, via]
* Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
It’s the anniversary of the date in 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill that officially established the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. But we got a jump on things this year; the leftovers are already gone… So it’s appropriate that we turn our attention to another cuisine, one for which we should surely give thanks– and one over which we must be watchful, lest it go extinct…
In 1936, the WPA Survey estimated that there were 5,000 delis and 36 appetizing stores in New York City. Today, there are only a handful of each left. For more on the plight of the Kosher Deli, see here, here, and here.
As we pick up a pickle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that (then 18-year-old) Arlo Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins were arrested by Stockbridge, MA police officer William “Obie” Obanhein for illegally dumping a bag a garbage after eating Thanksgiving dinner at Alice’s Restaurant. Guthrie and Robbins pled guilty, were fined $50 dollars each, and sentenced to pick up their garbage. Guthrie went on, of course, to memorialize the incident in “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” which he first performed live on WBAI radio (a listener-supported station in New York); the song was so popular that the station would play it only after a listener made a substantial donation. Since then, as some readers will know, it’s become traditional for many classic rock radio stations to play the song each Thanksgiving.
And speaking of Alices, we might also recall that this was the date, in 1864, that Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson– aka Lewis Carroll– delivered a handwritten and illustrated manuscript called “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” to 10-year-old Alice Liddell.
Prohibited prose has been a continuing theme here at (R)D: c.f., e.g., “And the ban played on…,” “Fahrenheit 451…,” “Got you covered…,” “If we do not meet with agreeable things, we shall at least meet with something new…,” et. al.
Well it’s that time again; it’s National Banned Books Week. What better time to dip into a taboo title?
Lord knows, the options are plentiful: Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Obedience, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland… Indeed, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. (See the American Library Association’s list of Challenged Classics here.) For an even longer (and older) list, consult the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), the list of publications prohibited by the Catholic Church (from 1559 until the practice was halted in 1969).
Many, many of them are available via Project Gutenberg and/or as free downloads through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, et al.
Ladies and Gentlemen, to your easy chairs!
As we turn the page, we might recall that it was on this date in 1892 that Joshua Pusey patented the “flexible match”; he then sold his patent to the Diamond Match Trust (which he joined, as patent attorney)– and his design became the first mass-produced paper matchbook.
Best reason to go adventuring in Wonderland:
Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.
- the last line of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
19 other conclusive gems at Flavorwire’s “Famous Last Words: Our 20 Favorite Final Lines in Literature.”
And for a complementary collection of such wonders as…
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
—the opening line of Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
…visit the American Book Review’s “100 Best First Lines from Novels.”
As we reach for our library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1910 that Alice B. Toklas moved in permanently with Gertrude Stein. The two women turned their Paris home (22 rue de Fleurus) into an artistic and literary salon, where they hosted Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and many others– several of whom appear, with Ms. Stein herself, in the lists above.
Cecil Beaton’s photo of Stein and Toklas at home (source)
From Geekosystem, “The Ten Greatest Alignment Charts of All Time“:
… we can tell you definitively that alignment charts seem to be blowing up all over the place lately… For those not familiar with them, alignment charts draw from classic Dungeons and Dragons, breaking characters down by two axes: Law-Chaos (lawful, neutral and chaotic) and Good-Evil (good, evil, and neutral). An alignment chart in meme terms, then, is a 3×3 grid comprised of nine characters from a given movie, game, or other pop culture happening.
See them all– from The Big Lebowski and The Office to Technology Pioneers and Dr. Who– here.
As we consider our own places in the scheme of things, we might recall that it was on this date in 1907 that Pike Place Market, the longest continuously-running public farmers market in the US, opened in Seattle. It currently serves roughly 10 million visitors per year.