Louis Zukofsky

Lewis Carroll
THE RUSSIAN JOURNAL and other selections from the works of Lewis Carroll.
Edited and with an Introduction by John Francis McDermott. E. P. Dutton & Co. $3.00.

When asked whether “The Hunting of the Snark” was a political satire, Caroll had but one answer “I don’t know.” As for the genesis of writing, in an essay “Alice on the Stage” (1887), he distinguished between times when the Muse had to say something and times when she had something to say. Of the genesis of Alice and the Looking-Glass, he said they “were made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, songle ideas which came of themselves.” and he desired no higher praise to be written of him than “He gave the people of his best; the worst he kept.”

The dream world of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderlandand and Through the Looking-Glass has never offended predatory interests, because they are ever too callous or too stupid to notice that the guilelessness of his nonsense exists on a tangent departing at some point on the periphery of sense. Carroll ultimately refused to commit himself as to whether his nonsense had any overt meaning. But the nonsense recorded its own testimony.

When the insistence of the Queen of Hearts that the sentence be given before the verdict makes Alice’s dream too terrible to go on, the entire fantastic court — a pack of cards — rises into the air and Alice as defendant — not witness — wakes. The Hatter who kept hats to sell, but had none of his own — “what with the bread-and-butter getting so thin” — is also remembered.

And in this excellent collection of Carrolliana, till now inaccessible, are to be
found: “… Plato makes his characters display at once their blind acquiescence in their instructor’s opinions, and their utter inability to express themselves grammatically. But the writer … proceeds from questions to demands, ‘give me (of) the bread’; and here the conversation abruptly ceases, but the moral of the whole is pointed in the narrative: ‘she gave him a box on the ear’. This is not the philosophy of one individual or nation, the sentiment is, if I may so say, European; and I am borne out in this theory by the fact that the book has evidently been printed in three parallel columns, English, French and German.” (A Broken Spell, 1856).

“Next we went to the Treasury and saw thrones, crowns and jewels — until one began to think that those three articles were rather more common than blackberries. On some of the thrones,&c. the pearls were literally showered like rain.”

“. . . . Königsberg. On our way to the station, we came across the grandest instance of “Mahesty of Justice” that I have ever witnessed — A little boy was being taken to the magistrate, or to prison (probably for picking a pocket). The achievement of this feat had been entrusted to two soldiers in full uniform, who were solemnly marching, one in front of the poor little creature, and one behind; with bayonets fixed of course, to be ready to charge in case he should attempt an escape …”

“Ten and one-half P.M. Hearing a squeaking noise in the street, I have just looked out, and observed a policeman (or a being of that kind) on his beat.” (The last three quotations from Journal of a Tour in Russia in 1867.)

And so on, for pages.

Louis Zukofsky
“Review of Lewis Carroll, Russian Journal,” The New Masses (1935-10-08)


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