Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Alice in Wonderland: The Disgust of A Woman's Hunger

Alice in Wonderland wouldn't be the story as we know it without the huge amount of references to food. In particular,what I find interesting is the relationship between women, hunger and appetite. This trio interplays to produce some disturbing results.

Lewis Carroll had eccentric eating habits. For example, in Carina Garland's essay "Curious Appetites," she outlines how Carroll "often only ate a biscuit and some sherry for his main meal and never ate lunch." (25) Child guests in his company would have "meticulously planned times and quantities of food" with treats like coca, jam and sweets. (26) We can look at this behaviour as relevant to his attitudes of Alice's eating habits, and furthermore, because Alice was a character based upon a real-life 9 year old that Carroll was transfixed upon, Carroll's own habits permeate through his writing.
           If, as Garland argues, "Little girls were idealized by Carroll whereas appetites and eating disgusted him," then "the immature female and appetites are opposite in Carroll's world" (28) and one would become the figure of idealization and the other one of disgust.
Throughout Alice in Wonderland there is a clear male authoritativeness and this renders Alice as a passive object of Carroll's desire: the only point which we explicitly see Alice's hunger is during the trial of the stealing of the tarts. Even then, she is denied the pleasure of actually eating them:

"a large dish of tarts: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them - "I wish they'd get the trial done," she thought, "and hand round the refreshments!" (110)


Looking at both the EAT ME and DRINK ME cake and potion, Alice eats neither of them with the intention of satisfying craving. With the drink, "she found a little bottle ... and tied round the neck was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed in large letters ... wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry ... However, this bottle was not marked 'poison,' so Alice ventured to taste it" (20-1) 
          Similarly, she finds a "very small cake, on which the words 'EAT ME' were beautifully marked in currants. In much the same way as the previous potion, Alice responds in a way where she has no real input to the outcome: Carroll has forcefully directed her to consume items with no hunger or thirst.


Hunger can be representative of desire and so, when expressed by young girls, "made them impure and undesirable by [Carroll's] perspective." (28)

In the novel, food and hunger is used as a catalyst for the Queen of Heart's anger, who is a total inversion of Alice. She is mad, like everybody else in Wonderland, but Garland demonstrates how this extent does not reach full capacity until her tarts are stolen; "Her lack of food (and the subsequent presumed presence of hunger) turns her into a monstrous being." (31) 
          It is this disgusting desire which lays at the heart of Carroll's novel, and he consciously preserves Alice's innocence. At the one point that Alice displays hunger (and therefore sexual desire) she does not become an untamed sexual beast such as the Queen of Hearts, but instead "began looking at everything about her to pass away the time." (110) 

We want and need Alice to stay as the passive and cute girl, otherwise our whole conception of the Alice books and her young naivety would be disrupted. The most effective way that Carroll has maintained this image is through Alice's distance from food.

Helen Bonham-Carter acting as the Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton's adaptation of the book: http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100214002643/villains/images/0/0b/Alice-in-wonderland-helena-bonham-carter-queen-of-hearts.jpg


Garland, Carina. "Curious Appetites: Food, Desire, Gender and Subjectivity in Lewis Carroll's Alice Texts." The Lion and the Unicorn 32.1 (2008): 22-39. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Toronto: Airmont Publishing Company Inc., 1965. Print.


  1. After talking to you the other day about Victorian poetry, and after reading this post I thought you might like to know about The Perch. Recently, during a research visit to Oxford for my dissertation, I endeavoured to find the tiny Hamlet of Binsey. It was February 20th, and as the taxi driver agreed to take my fare he cautioned that only a few days previously, Binsey had been cut off by flood water. As we drove along the long, windy and narrow road to Binsey, the fields on either side were completely covered with water, so that to all intents and purposes Binsey appeared to be an island Hamlet surrounded by lakes. Aside from locating the site where Gerard Manley Hopkins had chanced upon a row of felled Poplar trees (which inspired his poem Binsey Poplars), the helpful taxi driver felt it was incumbent upon him to point out other salient features of the Hamlet, one of which was a pub called The Perch. Made famous by John Thaw, who liked to take a pint there when filming Inspector Morse; it was also a favourite local with Lewis Carroll.
    Legend has it that he used to entertain the locals by reciting passages from his latest manuscript, about a little girl called, Alice. Alice Pleasance Liddell. born May 4th 1852, was the daughter of Dean Henry George Liddell, Vice Chancellor of Oxford University. Alice had a governess, called Mary Prickett, who lived in a nearby farmhouse, and is buried in the churchyard of Binsey's St. Margaret's church. Mary Prickett was Carroll's inspiration for The Red Queen. Enjoyed your post, thank you.

    1. That information on the Red Queen is extremely interesting and something I didn't know. It's encouraged me to do more research on Carroll and his motives for Alice and the characters. Thanks for sharing this and good luck with your own blog! :)