Title graphic of the Moonspeaker website. Small title graphic of the Moonspeaker website.

Where some ideas are stranger than others...

FOUND SUBJECTS at the Moonspeaker

The Moonspeaker:
Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...


"Curioser and curioser!" cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). "Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!" (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). "Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I'm sure I sha'n't be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can – but I must be kind to them," thought Alice, "or perhaps they wo'n't walk the way I want to go! Let me see. I'll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas."

And she went on planning to herself how she would manage it. "They must go by the carrier," she thought; "and how funny it'll seem, sending presents to one's own feet! And how odd the directions will look!

Alice's Right Foot, Esq.


near the Fender,

(with Alice's love).

Oh dear, what nonsense I'm talking!"

Just at this moment her head struck against the roof of the hall: in fact she was now rather more than nine feet high, and she at once took up the little golden key and hurried off to the garden door.

Poor Alice! It was as much as she could do, lying down on one side, to look through into the garden with one eye; but to get through was more hopeless than ever: she sat down and began to cry again.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Alice, "a great girl like you," (she might well say this), "to go on crying in this way! Stop this moment, I tell you!" But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool round her, about four inches deep, and reaching half down the hall.

After a time she heard a little pattering of feet in the distance, and she hastily dried her eyes to see what was coming. It was the White Rabbit returning, splendidly dressed, with a pair of white kid-gloves in one hand and a large fan in the other: he came trotting along in a great hurry, muttering to himself, as he came, "Oh! The Duchess, the Duchess! Oh! Wo'n't she be savage if I've kept her waiting!" Alice felt so desperate that she was ready to ask help of anyone: so, when the Rabbit came near, she began, in a low, timid voice, "If you please, Sir –" The Rabbit started violently, dropped the white kid-gloves and the fan, and skurried away into the darkness as hard as he could go.

Alice took up the fan and gloves, and, as the hall was very hot, she kept fanning herself all the time she went on talking. "Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night! Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!" And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.

"I'm sure I'm not Ada," she said, "for her hair goes in such long ringlets, and mine doesn't go in ringlets at all; and I'm sure I ca'n't be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh, she knows such a very little! Besides, she's she, and I'm I, and – oh dear, how puzzling it all is! I'll try if I know all the things I used to know. Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is – oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate! However, the Multiplication-Table doesn't signify: let's try Geography. London is the capital of Paris, and Paris is the capital of Rome, and Rome – no that's all wrong, I'm certain! I must have been changed for Mabel! I'll try and say 'How doth the little –'," and she crossed her hands on her lap, as if she were saying lessons, and began to repeat it, but her voice sounded hoarse and strange, and the words did not come the same as they used to do: –

"How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

"How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!"

"I'm sure those are not the right words," said poor Alice, and her eyes filled with tears again as she went on, "I must be Mabel after all, and I shall have to go ad live in that poky little house, and have next to no toys to play with, and oh, ever so many lessons to learn! No, I've made up my mind about it: if I'm Mabel, I'll stay down here! It'll be no use their putting their heads down and saying 'Come up again, dear!' I shall only look up and say 'Who am I, then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I'll come up: if not, I'll stay down here till I'm somebody else' – but, oh dear!" cried Alice, with a sudden burst of tears, "I do wish they would put their heads down! I am so very tired of being all alone here!"

As she said this she looked down at her hands, and was surprised to see that she had put on one of the Rabbit's little white kid-gloves while she was talking. "How can I have done that?" she thought. "I must be growing small again." She got up and went to the table to measure herself by it, and found that, as nearly as she could guess, she was now two feet high, and was going on shrinking rapidly: she soon found that the cause of this was the fan she was holding, and she dropped it hastily, just in time to save herself from shrinking away altogether.

"That was a narrow escape!" said Alice, a good deal frightened at the sudden change, but very glad to find herself still in existence. "And now for the garden!" And she ran with all speed back to the little door; but, alas! the little door was shut again, and the little golden key was lying on the glass table as before, "and things are worse than ever," thought the poor child, "for I never was so small as this before, never! And I declare it's too bad, that it is!"

As she said these words her foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! she was up to her chin in salt-water. Her first idea was that she had somehow fallen into the sea, "and in that case I can go back by railway," she said to herself. (Alice had been to the seaside once in her life, and had come to the general conclusion that, wherever you go on the English coast, you find a number of bathing-machines in the sea, some children digging in the sand with wooden spades, then a row of lodging-houses, and behind them a railway-station.) However, she soon made out that she was in the pool of tears which she had wept when she was nine feet high.

"I wish I hadn't cried so much!" said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. "I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day."

"Would it be of any use, now," thought Alice, "to speak to this mouse? Everything is so out-of-the-way down here, that I should think very likely it can talk: at any rate, there's no harm in trying." So she began: "O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!" (Alice thought this must be the right way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but she remembered having seen, in her brother's Latin Grammar, "A mouse – of a mouse – to a mouse – a mouse – O mouse!") The mouse looked at her rather inquisitively, and seemed to her to wink with one of its little eyes, but it said nothing.

"Perhaps it doesn't understand English," thought Alice. "I daresay it's a French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror." (For, with all her knowledge of history, Alice had no very clear notion how long ago anything had happened.) So she began again: "Où est ma chatte?" which was the first sentence in her French lesson-book. The Mouse gave a sudden leap out of the water, and seemed to quiver all over with fright. "Oh, I beg your pardon!" cried Alice hastily, afraid that she had hurt the poor animal's feelings. "I quite forgot you didn't like cats."

"Not like cats!" cried the Mouse in a shrill, passionate voice. "Would you like cats, if you were me?"

"Well, perhaps not," said Alice in a soothing tone: "don't be angry about it. And yet I wish I could show you our cat Dinah. I think you'd take a fancy to cats, if you could only see her. She is such a dear quiet thing," Alice went on, half to herself, as she swam lazily about the pool, "and she sits purring so nicely by the fire, licking her paws and washing her face – and she is such a nice soft thing to nurse – and she's such a capital one for catching mice – oh, I beg your pardon!" cried Alice again, for this time the Mouse was bristling all over, and she felt certain it must be really offended. "We wo'n't talk about her any more, if you'd rather not."

"We, indeed!" cried the Mouse, who was trembling down to the end of its tail. "As if I would talk on such a subject! Our family always hated cats: nasty, low, vulgar things! Don't let me hear the name again!"

"I wo'n't indeed!" said Alice, in a great hurry to change the subject of conversation. "Are you – are you fond – of – of dogs?" The Mouse did not answer, so Alice went on eagerly: "There is such a nice little dog, near our house, I should like to show you! A little bright-eyed terrier, you know, with oh, such long curly brown hair! And it'll fetch things when you throw them, and it'll sit up and beg for it's dinner, and all sorts of things – I ca'n't remember half of them – and it belongs to a farmer, you know, and he says it's so useful, it's worth a hundred pounds! He says it kills all the rats and – oh dear!" cried Alice in a sorrowful tone. "I'm afraid I've offended it again!" For the Mouse was swimming away from her as hard as it could go, and making quite a commotion in the pool as it went.

So she called softly after it, "Mouse, dear! Do come back again, and we wo'n't talk about cats, or dogs either, if you don't like them!" When the Mouse heard this, it turned round and swam slowly back to her: it's face was quite pale (with passion, Alice thought), and it said, in a low trembling voice, "Let us get to the shore, and then I'll tell you my history, and you'll understand why it is I hate cats and dogs."

It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore.


  1. Based on John Tenniel's illustration at left, different parts of Alice's body do seem to be growing at different rates. The largest telescope in existence in Lewis Carroll's time was the 1.8 metre reflecting telescope built by William Parsons on his estate in Ireland in 1845. It remained the largest telescope until 1917. Needless to say, if Alice took after the Parson reflector, she still wasn't getting in that garden.
  2. "Sha'n't" is short for "shall not." The difference between 'shall not' and 'will not' is that if you will not, you have a choice in the matter, but if you shall not, you don't. This is why legal documents refer to what a person shall or shall not do, not what they will or will not do. Nowadays 'shall' has almost dropped out of normal use, leaving english speakers to differentiate 'will with a choice' from 'will with no choice' by means of pitch.
  3. Literally, a carrier is of course someone who carries something, usually applied to the person who delivers the mail. Admirably gender-neutral though the term is, for awhile the word almost vanished in favour of terms like 'postman.' The ultimately failed push to empty english of gender-neutral terms for people began in the 1700s, and reached its apogee in the 1980s. It has fallen back since then and looks likely to remain moribund in general.
  4. It is rather a puzzle why Alice doesn't keep this key in her hand or her pocket. But then again, since whatever changes her size also seems to change the size of her clothes, perhaps it's just as well, for fear of altering the size of the key.
  5. For those keeping track, a british imperial gallon is 4.55 litres. In real life, even if a person weeps for an extended sitting because of trauma or grief, the likelihood that they will produce more than a tablespoon or two of tears is small. This is because tears overflow our eyes and flow out of our noses, but it doesn't take long before our noses are too plugged for much drainage to happen. On average, an adult body contains 37 litres or about 8 gallons of water. 8 gallons of water is about 2 500 tablespoons.
  6. Four inches being about ten centimetres. The floor is evidently far from level, but it isn't sloping downward too seriously either, so it seems the floor is packed earth, consistent with it being part of a rabbit hole.
  7. 'Kid gloves' are gloves made of fine, very soft leather from young goats, young goats being referred to as 'kids', although not so much today. Stereotypical images of butlers and southern belles are shown wearing fine, white gloves that just cover the wrist, and these would usually be kid gloves. Such gloves would be rather fragile and difficult to keep clean, hence expressions like 'handle with kid gloves' meaning to handle very carefully.
  8. A duchess is of course, a female duke or the wife of a male duke. In terms of meaning, the title of duke or duchess is part of the arcane system of ranks and titles developed in england partly in response to how often it was invaded and suffered the installation of yet another set of 'nobles'. The titles can still be given, and have been available for purchase as well as inherited in families. Ironically, charging for minor titles like knighthoods was an important means of taxing the somewhat rich or upper middle class until there were so many knighthoods given out that their value collapsed. Now there is a system of honourary versus 'true' knighthoods, and you could, if you felt very brave (or some other less complimentary word), purchase one from any number of internet purveyors.
  9. Why Alice should be nervous of the White Rabbit isn't exactly clear, and it is even less clear why she opts for another example of muddled pronouns, calling the Rabbit 'sir.' She is after all, the same size or bigger than the White Rabbit at this point.
  10. Usually spelled with a 'c' rather than a 'k', 'skurry' is generally referred to as moving around hurriedly in an undignified way. In my experience this term is not applied to people at all, referring instead to the way small animals flee when startled, especially mice.
  11. The irony here is that all of us are a little different every day, even if only in the sense that we are older than we were yesterday. From here we can get into an all manner of philosophical debates into what it means to be different from what we were before. A famous extreme version of the question, inspired by the transporter in Star Trek is the question of whether a person would actually still be the same person after Scotty beams them up.
  12. Alice will forget who she is again during her adventures through the looking-glass. Admittedly, this could be why she runs at the beck and call of all and sundry for the next chapter or so; in the victorian period, knowing who you were and your social level told you how to behave with everyone else. Not having that information could be deeply disorienting.
  13. Ringlets are a sort of loose corkscrew curl in long hair that may be imposed on straight hair with great effort, be natural to a person, or turn out to be a side effect of regularly keeping hair in braids. If you have seen MGM's film version of 'The Wizard of Oz', when Dorothy and her friends finally get to see the wizard, what the Oz gussying up crew put in her hair is ringlets.
  14. The key to this particular puzzle is to know that Lewis Carroll worked a day job as a mathematician, which means that these equations are actually correct. The reason they look wrong at first glance is because we assume that they are being carried out in base 10 notation, since that is the sort of number notation we use all the time. Most of us first struggled with changing numerical bases in elementary school, and it was hell, because we didn't get to learn exponents until at least the next grade, if not the one after that. Changing numerical bases is actually rather simple once you understand exponents. Here's a quick illustration to show how these multiplication examples are actually right, using exponents:
    * In Base 10, 4 x 5 = 20, that is: 2(101) + 0(100)
    * In Base 18, 4 x 5 = 12, that is: 1(181) + 2(180)
    * In Base 10, 4 x 6 = 24, that is: 2(101) + 4(100)
    * In Base 21, 4 x 6 = 13, that is: 1(211) + 3(210)
    * In Base 10, 4 x 7 = 28, that is: 2(101) + 8(100)
    * And if we assume the next base will be 24, 4 x 7 = 14, that is: 1(211) + 3(210)
  15. This is pretty much what happens should you have the ill-fortune of not realizing that your match the capitals to the countries exercise has two columns.
  16. According to Wikipedia, this is a parody of a poem by Isaac Watts, "Against Idleness and Mischief", which runs as follows:

    How doth the little busy bee
    Improve each shining hour,
    And gather honey all the day
    From every opening flower!

    How skilfully she builds her cell!
    How neat she spreads the wax!
    And labours hard to store it well
    With the sweet food she makes.

    In works of labour or of skill,
    I would be busy too;
    For Satan finds some mischief still
    For idle hands to do.

    In books, or work, or healthful play,
    Let my first years be passed,
    That I may give for every day
    Some good account at last.

    You do have to wonder about a poet who would effectively obligate victorian children to repeat a poem that attempted to rhyme 'wax' with 'makes', probably one of the most agonizingly forced rhymes I've ever seen.

    Today some English teachers still include memorizing and reciting one or more poems before the class as part of their schedule of lessons. At one time it was probably seen as a good way to instil moral teachings, but whether it is of much use in developing skill in public speaking is another question.

  17. The irony of this passage is that the circumstances Alice attributes to Mabel, assuming Mabel is in fact not up to speed in her classes, would look very similar to those of a child considered exceptional in her classes. In both cases, being 'other than average' is often considered reason to curtail a child's access to toys and time for undirected play.
  18. An idea that could be seen in all sorts of ways, not the least of which being as a cry against the strictures of victorian convention that had a place for everyone and everyone in their place, regardless of what they may have actually been interested in.
  19. 'Till' and 'until' are the same word, with 'till' being the older. Both refer to going on up until the time specified. I have found several definitions that state 'until' is to be preferred at the beginning of a sentence, but in my experience 'until' is used more in formal writing or as a more emphatic form of 'till' in speech.
  20. As we will see, it's hard to say whether Alice does better with or without company. A number of critiques of 'Alice in Wonderland' have taken issue with the inconsistencies of Alice's character in this book and its sequel, and they become especially glaring when we contrast Alice's thoughtfulness at one point with her boorishness at the next, especially in the context of her conversations with the animals she meets in this chapter and the next. But, if we take up the idea that she is a victorian person who has lost her sense of what her social status and role is, then this inconsistency is no surprise.
  21. It's a bit of a puzzle how the fan can be the problem here, since it seems like it should take more than just having air moving relative to Alice for it to become a means to change her size. However, when fans were most in vogue, one of their most important uses was to provide a defence against nasty smells, and to this end they were perfumed. It is certainly true that you can intoxicate yourself by smelling something as well as by eating or drinking something.
  22. Alice has come a bit closer to 'going out like a candle' than she might have liked.
  23. Considering that the pool Alice is about to fall into is only about ten centimetres deep and it is deep enough to force her to swim in it, Alice must be somewhere around 5 centimetres or two inches tall.
  24. This is one of the english language's many strange phrases ready for use whenever we don't want to admit we weren't watching where we were going and so tripped over our own feet. That said, considering that at the beginning of this chapter Alice was worried about being so far away from her feet that she would have to treat them kindly so that they would walk where she wanted, the phrase is quite ironic.
  25. For all the victorian declamations of the benefits and efficiencies of 'progress' in the form of industrialization, the victorians were among the first to build an industry out of escaping from it. By then england was already stripped of what even now would be called 'wilderness' as such, and what land approached such a state was the exclusive preserve of the rich. And so everyone else resorted to what we would now call 'the beach.' People fled to the seaside in their thousands whenever time and funds allowed, and the joys of being a beach-bum were extolled in the music halls. (In fact, it you'd like to hear a snatch of one of those old songs, have a listen to 'Seven Seas of Rye' by Queen.) To learn more about this phenomenon, it's well worth spending some time reading the articles on The Victorian Web.
  26. id="bathingmachine"A 'bathing machine' is one or more change rooms on wheels. Victorian bathers would change into their swimming gear inside the machine, which would be rolled to the shore proper, if not right into the water, as this passage suggests. By this means, bathers would be able to avoid being seen in 'improper attire' and social (and legal) demands that males and females be kept strictly segregated when in such clothing were met.

    Agatha Christie gives an excellent description of bathing machines and what they were like in her Autobiography (on page 142 in the 2010 Harper edition):

    "...The beach was a steeply sloping one, and on it were eight bathing machines in the charge of an ancient man, of somewhat irascible temper, whose non-stop job was to let the machine up and down in the water. You entered your bathing machine – a gaily-painted striped affair – saw that both doors were safely bolted, and began to undress with a certain amount of caution, because at any moment the elderly man might decide it was your turn to be let down into the water. A that moment there would be a frantic rocking, and the bathing machine would grind its way slowly over the loose stones, flinging you about from side to side....

    The bathing machine would stop as suddenly as it had started. You then proceeded with your undressing and got into your bathing-dress.... Once fully attired, you unbolted the door on the water side. If the old man had been kind to you, the top step was practically level with the water. You descended and there you were, decorously up to your waist. You then proceeded to swim."

  27. A 'lodging-house' being what we would now call a 'resort' or, if we were in a less charitable mood, a 'tourist trap.'
  28. Spelling 'to-day' with a hyphen is rare now, and comes from when the spoken language in england was 'old english', which looks and sounds much more obviously germanic than modern english. In Old english, the words for 'at or on this day' were 'to daeg'. After several hundred years, it became rarer and rarer to see the word 'to' used by itself in this way, and the standard written form for 'to daeg' became hyphenated.
  29. It has been pointed out that latin has six noun cases, whereas only five variations are listed here, which is consistent with ancient greek. The Wikipedia article detailing this point states that considering this, 'the reference is apparently not to [Latin] as some have supposed.' Well, as we can see, no one supposed it so much as they took Lewis Carroll's word for it – or rather, Alice's muddled memory of what she saw for it. The case Alice is trying to address the mouse in is called the vocative, meaning simply the case you use when you shout at someone. Ancient greek grammars and textbooks do indeed give vocative case forms as 'O so-and-so.' In English we would probably never preface calling to someone in this way.
  30. This seems an unusual starting sentence for a french lesson-book compared to today's examples, which tend to start from the idea that you need to know how to say hello and give your name.
  31. There hardly seems to be room for 'perhaps' in the area of mouse-cat relations, but then again it's no easy thing to simply agree you're wrong while trying to rescue a conversation you've started badly.
  32. It doesn't occur to Alice that the mouse might be offended for awhile yet.
  33. Chances are good that we have all been caught in a 'conversation' with someone who insists on talking at length about a subject we find offensive even after we have made it clear that we're offended. It's a remarkable demonstration of obliviousness, and at this point in the story it's rather tragic, because Alice has just been wishing she wasn't alone, only to act practically as if she were alone anyway.
  34. The verb 'nurse' is being used oddly here from a modern perspective. The word is made on the same root as 'nurture' where nurture means to care for, especially to feed and hold a baby. Dinah is a full grown cat, so Alice is probably actually referring to holding Dinah on her lap or in her arms.
  35. Since the mouse's fur is apparently standing on end, things seem to have gone well beyond being offended.
  36. Never mind that Alice hasn't been involved in a conversation yet, and a safer topic of conversation would surely have been the weather!
  37. At this point, as an adult reader, going on to dogs seems utterly gratuitous, especially since it adds only another paragraph or so, and shows up Alice at her boorish worst. Unless the idea is to get the mouse swimming faster to the end of the pool opposite to the one Alice fell in at. For my part, I would have resorted to something along the lines of, 'tired of booring conversation at last, Alice began following the mouse, who was heading for shore as fast as he could go.'
  38. The extinct bird of this name is often held up as the first example of a species driven extinct by humans within written european records. Its place in the story as been connected to Lewis Carroll's rendition of his actual last name due to a slight stutter.
  39. The lory is a species of small parrot in australia.
  40. An eaglet is of course, a young eagle, especially one that has not yet learned to fly.
  41. Then as now, swimmers typically swim in groups, although as noted above, victorian era groups were originally segregated by sex. When 'Alice in Wonderland' was first published, co-ed swimming was still illegal, so it is rather interesting that Alice is out swimming with such a mixed group of creatures.
Copyright © C. Osborne 2024
Last Modified: Monday, January 01, 2024 01:26:00