New Reviews

Fashioning Alice: The Career of Lewis Carroll’s Icon, 1860-1901

Fashioning Alice: The Career of Lewis Carroll’s Icon, 1860-1901. Kiera Vaclavik. Bloomsbury, 2019. 215 pages. £91.70.

In the opening pages of Fashioning Alice, Kiera Vaclavik states that her monograph ‘uses a dress-based approach in order to achieve precisely such an enhanced and revised understanding of Carroll’s enigmatic heroine, her creator(s) and the reception, transmission and circulation of the books in which she (initially) exists’ (3). Fashioning Alice is divided into two distinct sections; the first part focuses on the Carroll and Tenniel creations of Alice. A Vaclavik states, ‘Alice’s physical appearance shaped Victorian understandings of a character who has proved incredibly difficult to pin down’ (7). The second part the lifespan of Alice in media ‘to include any and all Alices in circulation […] however small-scale or short-lived’ (8).

Vaclavik notes in the first chapter, ‘Carroll, Dress and the ‘Original’ Tenniel Alice’, that ‘Carroll writes very little about Alice’s appearance’ and that ‘Tenniel did unquestionably play a vital role in the creation of the visual presentation of the character’ (11). This is an important point to consider as the visual interpretation of Alice largely depends on the accompanying images of Carroll’s Alice stories; Alice illustrations have been adapted and recreated numerous times, but John Tenniel’s illustrations lay a foundation that marks his collection as the most recognisable image of Alice. Of course, Vaclavik considers Carroll’s artistic interests and ponders how appearance is used through the Alice books. She considers Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, manuscript and the impact of these illustrations on Tenniel’s representation of Alice and her fashion. She notes the inconsistency of Carroll’s illustrations in the Under Ground manuscript by stating that ‘necklines constantly shift, sleeves shrink and grow, seams, tucks and collars appear and disappear. The bodice can be draped, but at other times appears to be buttoned’ (34). To make her point more effective, Vaclavik includes images from the manuscript to draw comparison between Carroll’s attempts at illustration and Tenniel’s published editions.

Vaclavik continues the discussion of fashion evolution in Chapter Two, ‘The Evolution of Alice’, which explores various illustrations, cartoons and sketches associated with Carroll’s Alice stories. To begin, Vaclavik examines the alterations to Alice’s clothing in Looking-Glass. She addresses the volume of the dress, the detailed and decorative features on the pinafore, the hairband and the striped stockings. She also provides a detailed analysis of Alice’s dress, pointing out that there is a possibility the ‘dress is being used to denote some kind of change in Alice’ (58). To demonstrate the evolution of Carroll’s character within Looking-Glass, Vaclavik discusses the alterations to Alice’s form once she is crowned Queen; ‘Alice’s pinafore loses its upper bodice section and is converted into an overskirt who space is replicated at the back and combined with a bustle and bow’, while Alice’s stockings ‘lose their newly acquired stripes and the black ankle-strap shoes become pale-coloured boots. The collar and button are replaced by three rows of beads’ (66). The Nursery Alice is introduced to the reader at this point to mark the alterations to Tenniel’s coloured illustrations and Alice’s dress. She discusses the introduction of pleats to Alice’s dress and the elaborate bows that adorn Alice’s hair and her apron. She notes that this is a ‘composite Alice’ (75) that stems from earlier manifestations of herself. Moving away from the Carroll-Tenniel collaboration, Vaclavik turns to a collection of Punch illustrations, postage-stamps and a sketch produced by Lewis Carroll for the frontispiece to his ‘Original Games and Puzzles’ (1897). Chapter Two provides a concise evaluation of clothing and representation across a wide collection of Alice images.

Chapter Three, ‘Alice in Other Hands’, discusses Alice’s appearance and her evolution in various contexts beyond Carroll and Tenniel. Vaclavik states that this chapter is designed to focus solely on two-dimensional versions of Alice. The initial section of this chapter considers a diverse Alice collection which includes Adelaide Claxton’s painting ‘Wonderland’ (1870), George Dunlop Leslie’s 1979 painting ‘Alice in Wonderland’, a hand-drawn programme from North London Collegiate School production of Wonderland (1878) and hand-painted ceramic tiles. For each of these items, Vaclavik discusses the ‘minor modifications as well as wholesale reimaginings’ of Alice’s form (141). This chapter also observes illustrations from textual editions of Alice, including George Munro’s version of Alice as a zombie (1885), Charles Copeland and Lewis Bridgeman’s 1893 illustrations, the first Japanese version of Alice with domesticated features (1899) and much more. Vaclavik has sourced a widespread collection of Alice creations for this chapter. She pays immense attention to the detailing and alterations of each piece, noting at every juncture the changes to Alice’s fashion and appearance.

Chapter Four, ‘Dressing as Alice’, explores ‘Alices both embedded within and separated out from the surrounding narrative’ (145). To do so, Vaclavik focuses on performances of Alice ranging from amateur to professional productions. She analyses the costumes of the performers, stating that ‘different forms of dress and performance offers important insights into nineteenth-century understandings of character in terms of her attractiveness, contemporaneity and iconicity’ (146). Interestingly, Vaclavik also examines Alice as a fancy-dress costume which was perhaps ‘genuinely popular with children themselves’ (180). This chapter shows that Alice, as a character, is a cultural icon; a character ‘who would proved infinitely […] resilient, enduring and influential’ (185).

To conclude, Vaclavik aptly notes that ‘all this variation means that Alice was never singular’ (188). Alice is a phenomenon that transcends the literary boundaries of her original text; she has evolved through fashion and appearance, illustration, and mass media. Vaclavik’s text is a wonderful addition to Alice scholarship; it provides a fascinating insight into the afterlife of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and the impact of clothing on Alice’s identity. She also demonstrates the impact of children’s and adults’ engagements with Alice across times and cultures.

Jade Dillon
University of Limerick