On Wednesday I head to Richmond for the Children’s Literature Association’s annual conference, and this post previews what I’ll be talking about.
2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland. The Lewis Carroll Society of America is hosting a series of events, including an exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York, and Harvard’s exhibition is viewable online. In the century and a half since its first publication, Carroll’s book has been adapted for television, theater, film, and even board games and soap. And of course, advertising. If you watched television in December, it was hard to miss this commercial:
Once you know the commercial is a riff on Alice, the tea party and the size-changing marshmallow fit the theme. But the Alice-ness is first established by the entry into the Target logo, the head-first dive after the White Rabbit (here replaced by Target’s canine mascot). That visual doesn’t allude to the book — Carroll doesn’t tell us the precise manner in which Alice enters Wonderland. Alice follows the rabbit and is “just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.” Then “In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.” The illustrations aren’t much help. Tenniel’s illustrations show the rabbit checking his wrist-watch, and in the next image Alice is already down the rabbit-hole, opening the curtain to reveal the tiny door.
In Disney’s 1951 adaptation, though Alice enters the rabbit-hole head first. (You can see the scene on YouTube, if the clip hasn’t been taken down). That image has entered the public consciousness, and Target counts on shoppers to recognize it.
I take the phrase in my title, “Victorian vogue,” from Dianne Sadoff, who argues that we must consider “the production, distribution, and exhibition situations of films that adapt classic novels” . In other words, the context in which an adaptation is produced matters. Understanding an adaption requires more than just comparing it with the original. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is no exception. Walt Disney’s interest in Alice started early: he produced “Alice’s Wonderland” in Kansas City, and brought it with him to Hollywood. He eventually produced 57 Alice cartoons, though they have little to do with Carroll’s story, beyond the title: mostly they’re a vehicle for the novelty of blending live action with animation. Disney also screen-tested Mary Pickford for a live-action Alice in the early 1930s, abandoning the project when he learned of Paramount’s competing film. But Disney secured the copyright for the Tenniel illustrations only after the release of Snow White in 1938 , and that’s when studio really got to work on Alice. (It’s plausible he hoped to get a film together by the 75th anniversary in 1940, though I haven’t seen anything particular to suggest that).
By the early 1940s, of course, the world had more important things to worry about. To understand the context in which Disney’s 1951 film was produced, we’d have to consider Disney’s films supporting the war effort, and how World War II changed the relationship between England and America (and consequently how an American film based on a much-loved English text would be received). And of course, we’d want to think about the role of the Alice books in American culture in the first half of the twentieth century. Sadoff adapts her title from F. R. Leavis, who felt that Victorian novels were particularly “in vogue” in the 1940s. So that’s a lot of historical pressure affecting the production and reception of Disney’s film.
But this week I will look at a smaller, parallel history: the company’s story meetings and drafts of the film. Meeting notes and research reports from the archives show Disney’s storywriters responding to public perceptions of Alice in Wonderland and even considering biographical and scholarly works. Walt Disney was supposedly mystified by “the symbolic meanings people kept finding in The Three Little Pigs,” and responded with a phrase that’s quoted in most of his biographies: “we make the pictures and then let the professors tell us what they mean” . In that statement Disney seems dismissive of academics, of whom F. R. Leavis is a fine prototype (Leavis wrote one of my favorite academic sentences: “The great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad” . Such confidence). But the archives show something different – Disney did care what “the professors” said. As I will argue this week, storywriters responded to contemporary events and the cultural reception of Carroll’s Alice books, and knowing that fact should shift how we think about Disney’s adaptations.
Abrams, M. H., editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ninth Edition edition, vol. Volume E: The Victorian Age, W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
Allan, Robin R. Walt Disney and Europe: European Influences on the Animated Feature Films of Walt Disney. John Libbey Publishing, 1999.
Almar, George. “Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress. A Drama in Three Acts.” The Victorian Plays Project
, 1938, http://victorian.worc.ac.uk/modx/index.php?id=54&play=318
Altick, Richard Daniel. The Shows of London. Harvard University Press, 1978.
Altman, Rick. “Dickens, Griffith, and Film Theory Today.” Silent Film, edited by Richard Abel, Rutgers University Press, 1996, pp. 145–62.
Anderson, Sam. “The World of Charles Dickens, Complete With Pizza Hut.” The New York Times
, 7 Feb. 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/magazine/dickens-world.html
Andrews, Malcolm. Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Arnold, Matthew. “Culture and Anarchy.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by M. H. Abrams, Ninth Edition edition, vol. Volume E: The Victorian Age, W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
Arreola, Veronica I. “Women’s History Month: Why I Love Ariel & Belle.” Viva La Feminista
, 9 Mar. 2010, http://www.vivalafeminista.com/2010/03/womens-history-month-why-i-love-ariel.html
Barnett, Charles Zachary. Oliver Twist, Or, the Parish Boys Progress: A Domestic Drama in Three Acts. J. Duncombe & Company, 1838.
Barreca, Regina. “‘The Mimic Life of Theatre’: The 1838 Adaptation of Oliver Twist.” Dramatic Dickens, edited by Carol Hanbery MacKay, St. Martin’s Press, 1989, pp. 87–95.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser, University of Michigan Press, 1994.
Bauerlein, Mark. “Teaching Writing Through Personal Reflection: Bad Idea.” The Conversation
, 7 Feb. 2013, http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/02/07/teaching-writing-through-personal-reflection-bad-idea/
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 2 Nov. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 7 Nov. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 1 Dec. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 7 Dec. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 1 Nov. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 23 Nov. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 28 Nov. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 9 Dec. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Blank, Dorothy Ann. Research Report for Peter Pan. Walt Disney Archives. 20 Oct. 1938. Walt Disney Company Archives.
Booth, Alison. “Time Travel in Dickens’ World.” Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture, edited by Nicola J. Watson, Palgrave, 2009, pp. 150–63.
Bratton, Jacky. The Making of the West End Stage: Marriage, Management and the Mapping of Gender in London, 1830–1870. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Brigante, Ricky. “Walt Disney World Officially Grand Opens New Fantasyland with Star-Studded Princess Performance and Ribbon Cutting.” Inside the Magic
, Dec. 2012, http://www.insidethemagic.net/2012/12/walt-disney-world-officially-grand-opens-new-fantasyland-with-star-studded-princess-performance-and-ribbon-cutting/
Center for History and New Media. Zotero Quick Start Guide
Chmielewski, Dawn C., and Claudia Eller. “Disney Animation Is Closing the Book on Fairy Tales.” Los Angeles Times
, 21 Nov. 2010, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-1121-tangled-20101121,0,7895261.story
Healy, Christopher. “A Nation of Little Princesses.” Salon
, 24 Nov. 2004, http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2004/11/24/princesses/index1.html
Clark, Beverly Lyon. Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Clayton, Jay. “The Future of Victorian Literature.” The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature, edited by Kate Flint, 1 edition, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 712–29.
Coldwell, Will. “TripAdvisor: A History of Complaints.” The Guardian
. Accessed 16 June 2015.
Coughlan, Sean. “Jimmy Wales: Boring University Lectures ‘Are Doomed.’” BBC News
, 1 May 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-22160988
Davis, Paul. “Retelling A Christmas Carol: Text and Culture-Text.” The American Scholar
, vol. 59, no. 1, 1990, pp. 109–15, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41211762
Dickens, Charles. Martin Chuzzlewit. Edited by Margaret Cardwell, Oxford, 2009.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Edited by Fred Kaplan, W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.
Easley, Alexis. Literary Celebrity, Gender, and Victorian Authorship, 1850–1914. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.
Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke University Press, 2004.
Eisenstein, Sergei. “Dickens, Griffith, and Film Today.” Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, translated by Jay Leyda, Harcourt Brace, 1949, pp. 195–255.
Eisner, Michael D. Work in Progress: Risking Failure, Surviving Success. Hyperion, 2011.
Eliot, Simon. “The Business of Victorian Publishing.” The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel
, edited by Deirdre David, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 37–60, http://universitypublishingonline.org/ref/id/companions/CBO9781139000093A006
Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Epstein, Edward J. “Did Success Ruin Michael Eisner?” Slate
, 27 Sept. 2005, http://www.slate.com/id/2116794/
Fleming, Patrick C. Eye Rolls, Corporatization, and Wikipedia
. 16 Sept. 2015, http://www.pcfleming.com/2015/09/16/eye-rolls-corporatization-and-wikipedia/
Flood, Alison. “Wikipedia Bumps Women from ‘American Novelists’ Category.” The Guardian
, 25 Apr. 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/25/wikipedia-women-american-novelists
Fong, Ryan. Uncommercial Travels in Dullborough Town, or My Journey to Dickens World and Dickens’s World. Dickens World, Santa Cruz, CA.
Ford, Richard. “Review of Oliver Twist. Quarterly Review 1839.” Oliver Twist, edited by Fred Kaplan, 1st edition, W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.
Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens: 1812-1842. Chapman and Hall, 1872.