Curiouser and Curiouser: Down the Rabbit Hole

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Chapter 1

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and having nothing to do. Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversation?”

the white rabbit holding a pocket watch, illustrated by John Tenniel

She was roused from her sleepy contemplation when a white rabbit bounded from a hedge, and as it flashed past her, she could have sworn she had heard it say `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’. She shook her head as if to knock the silly thought away, but when the Rabbit actually TOOK A WATCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, and looked at it, before hurrying on, Alice started to her feet, for it crossed her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it. Burning with curiosity, she ran across the field, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. Without a thought she jumped in after it.

a selection of pocket-watches from the museum collections

Either the hole was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well and noticed that they were filled with watercolour paintings. There were birds and trees, buildings and flowers. There were flowers Alice had never seen, paintings of some so realistic Alice felt she could build a chain from the daisies on the page. There was even a cat that reminded her of Dinah.

Without warning the fall was over, but Alice was unhurt and seeing the rabbit round the corner ahead she hurried along after him; and turning the corner she let out a gasp. The hall she had stepped into was covered in yet more paintings; faces stared back at her from every wall. Women more beautiful than she had ever seen, lovers embracing and picnics in the park.

Alice passed by a painting of a small girl that looked a lot like her, she thought, and stopped to investigate it. The girl had on a white dress with a blue bow, her yellow hair hung down around her face, upon which was an expression Alice couldn’t quite decipher. Behind her head were more painted flowers, delicate little stars of yellow and white.

To the side of this painting was a small glass table upon which lay three objects; a key, a glass bottle bearing the words Drink me and a small glass box labelled Eat me. Alice placed the items in her pocket deciding she may need them later and continued down the hall, noting the intricate paintings as she went. At the very end of the hall was a tiny door and Alice thought of the key in her pocket, pinching the key between her fingers she fiddled with the tiny lock until the door sprang open, she peeked inside and saw a garden unlike anything she had seen. She would never fit through this door but was sure she could see something on the opposite side. She had to find it!

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Chapter 1 Featured Objects:

Pocket Watch

The first creature Alice encounters in Wonderland is a very well-dressed White Rabbit…

… but when the Rabbit actually TOOK A WATCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it…

Pocket watches have been a fashionable accessory since their invention in the 16th century, though early pocket watches were in fact worn as pendants on a chain. King Charles II is thought to have popularised the men’s fashion of wearing a watch in a pocket when he introduced the waistcoat to male court dress in 1675. Special pockets were made in the waistcoat to accommodate the pocket watch . By the 19th century, pocket watches were often secured by an ‘Albert’ watch chain – named after Prince Albert (1819-1861), who was consort to Queen Victoria (1837-1901). On one end of the chain is a small swivel clasp that attaches to a pocket watch. The swivel clasp allows the wearer to rotate the watch and keep the chain from twisting. At the other end of the chain is a T-shaped bar which loops through a buttonhole in the waistcoat for security.

Childhood, c.1875-1876
William Wise (1847–1889)
oil on board

The themes of childhood and growing up are explored through the character of Alice as she experiences many physical changes during her adventures in Wonderland.

`Curiouser and curiouser!’ 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!

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.

These themes played a key part in the development of what is sometimes called the ‘Cult of Childhood’ in the 19th century, with the idea of childhood being not only celebrated in literature, but also in the arts. William Wise was a designer at Minton’s China works and his painting of a young girl is a good example of this. He has painted white lilies in the background to symbolize the innocence and the fleeting nature of childhood.

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