Examining the Bleeding Body in Wonderland

Dr Jade Dillon, NTNU

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been considered a literary classic for over 150 years. Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories have attracted much attention from scholars and fans alike. Similarly, Alice herself has been the centre of many projects that range from academic scholarship to artistic creations to fashion lines. My research focuses on the visual iconography of the ‘Alice’ figure created in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, and it traces the progression of Alice’s characterisation through multimodal platforms including illustration, cinematography and fine art photography. It investigates the altering dynamic of the ‘Alice’ figure through a close reading of selected and representational visual texts.  Similarly, I examine the growth of Alice from child subject to adult woman, something that is a significant aspect of visual (re)imagining. These multimodal representations inaugurate a new sense of identity that merges with the overall idea of Alice. I consider Alice as a kind of collective and ongoing iconotext; she is an amalgam of image and narrative character that transcends her literary origins. The images allow Alice to outgrow the text and give us an Alice that is far more developed than the singular character who appears in the written form. My PhD dissertation argues that the initial conception of the ‘Alice’ figure stems from the photographic existence of Alice Liddell. Therefore, Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacrum is essential to my research; I trace the journey from the referent (Alice Liddell) to the end result of pure simulacrum (Alice as an idea that transcends her original state). The version of Alice Liddell that is captured in Carroll’s photographs is the beginning of a universal ‘Alice’ figure, and thus, becomes a referent for all other (re)creations. Hence, the ‘Alice’ figure maintains a polymorphic identity throughout her illustrative career. As she evolves, the identity of Carroll’s protagonist widens while the referential origin of Alice Liddell is inevitably altered (or completely lost) through pure simulacrum. Therefore, given that the referent of Alice is continuously echoed throughout the (re)imagined illustrative works, Jacques Derrida’s notion of hauntology is also relevant when analysing the ‘Alice’ figure. This haunting effect of being an omnipresent figure is interesting when analysing the impact of Carroll’s imagination on other illustrators. Effectively, she becomes an idea that echoes in the works of ‘Alice’ artists, decisively present and non-present all at once.

My PhD research into Alice’s identity through multimodal platforms has paved the way for my current project which examines the bleeding body in Wonderland. In my new project, ‘The Bleeding Body’, I look directly at the presence of menstrual blood in children’s literature. I analyse the form and dimensions of change that occur following the initial menstrual cycle. To form this hypothesis, I have called upon the illustrative collections of various artists who have positioned Alice in a pre pubescent or pubescent state of being. I believe that Alice is lingering on the boundary between infancy and adulthood, or more specifically between girlhood and womanhood. This is evident in Benjamin Lacombe’s edition of Alice au pays des merveilles. The images of blood and the many connotations associated with the transition of the female child into womanhood is a curious and notable departure from previous illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As Alice ponders the safety of home (childhood) and Wonderland (womanhood), it evokes the nostalgia of innocence that the child inevitably loses.

When thinking about the liminal experiences of girlhood and menstruation, I am instantly drawn to the notion of space and how the body contorts to fit that space. Oftentimes, the space between childhood and adulthood – or girlhood and womanhood – is isolating and frightening, a space between self and other.

I believe that there is a direct link between the movement of the female protagonist from one realm to another. The translocation of the body prompts the possibility that the protagonist is shifting from one form to another and is perhaps entering into puberty. Taking the example of Alice’s physical reshaping in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the body is manipulated throughout Alice’s entry into Wonderland. She is shrunk then uncontrollably stretched which can signify the sudden growth of the female body during puberty. Wonderland, then, has the potential to act as a point of transition where the female protagonist biologically expands.

This project aims to examine the representation of the menstruating body in children’s literature and illustration. It will open the conversation surrounding issues of puberty and menstruation by questioning the space in which the bleeding body is depicted.

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Dr Jade Dillon is an Associate Professor of Children’s Literature and Young Learners at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Her research interests include children’s literature, visual texts, cinematography, and gender studies. Her current research project focuses on representations of menstruation in children’s literature and artwork. She has previously published essays in volumes with Palgrave Macmillan and McFarland. Jade’s forthcoming publication is an article on (re)imagining girlhood through illustration (2022). She is also co-editing Family in Children’s and Young Adult Literature with Dr Eleanor Spencer. Jade tweets from the account @jade_dillon, and her website is www.jadedillon.com. Her contact email address is jade.dillon@ntnu.no.

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