Gillian Beer on Alice in Space
Leigh Chambers interviewed Gillian about her new book, Alice in Space, on Radio Cambridge 105, 11 February 2017. The interview starts 10 mins 30 seconds into the programme:
In her introduction to Alice in Space, Gillian Beer writes:
The Alice books present not so much the carnivalesque 'world upside-down' as the world sideways-on, an egalitarian zone in which everything becomes possible and nothing is unlikely because all forms of being have presence and can argue: doors, Time, eggs, queens, caterpillars, cats and hatters, oysters, gnats, and little girls – all have their say. Alice herself is the radical principle of the books: she represents infinite readiness. She is always curious, always enquiring, and always able to reason her way through the predicaments she finds herself in. [...]
Adamant Alice, no respecter of persons, also has to ask herself persistently who she is. Identity is no settled matter for her. Yet she is the reader’s pellucid guide through the maze. Henry James in the preface to What Maisie Knew (1897) says that 'Maisie to the end … treats her friends to the rich little spectacle of objects embalmed in her wonder. She wonders, in other words, to the end, to the death – the death of her childhood, properly speaking.' Alice is a more energetic wonderer, and objects more often escape her reach than become fixed:
'Things flow about so here! she said at last in a plaintive tone, after she had spent a minute or so in vainly pursuing a large bright thing, that looked sometimes like a doll and sometimes like a work-box, and was always in the shelf next above the one she was looking at. (176)
Alice endures metamorphoses rather than death or embalming, though death is the haunting alternative to change and growth:
'I never ask advice about growing,' Alice said indignantly.
'Too proud?' the other enquired.
Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. 'I mean,' she said, 'that one ca’n’t help growing older.'
'One ca’n’t, perhaps,' said Humpty Dumpty; 'but two can. With proper assistance you might have left off at seven.' (184)
Growing – growing-up, growing old, growing apart – is a generative dread that drives the narrative in the Alice books: Hilary Schor [in Curious Subjects] observes that 'storytelling is always tinged with mortality, that mortality ("growing up" and then "going out like a candle") is always at the heart of fiction.' And growing is the universal experience undergone and forgotten by us all. But Alice herself is resilient. She seems to emerge from the resilience of shared childhood.
From Gillian Beer, Introduction to Alice in Space: the Sideways Victorian World of Lewis Carroll (University of Chicago Press, 2016), pp. 5-6.