Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

by Lewis Carroll

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Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby Liz » Mon Feb 22, 2010 1:10 pm

From Note 7 in The Lion and the Unicorn:

Taking phrases literally instead of as they are commonly understood is characteristic of the creatures behind the looking-glass, and a basis for much of Carroll’s humor. Another good example occurs in Chapter 9, when the Red Queen tells Alice that she couldn’t deny something if she tried with both hands.

One of Carroll’s most amusing hoaxes furnishes still another instance of his fondness for this variety of nonsense. In 1873, when Ella Monier-Williams (a child-friend) let him borrow her travel diary, he returned the book with the following letter:


BY DEAR ELLA,

I return your book with many thanks; you will be wondering why I kept it so long. I understand, from what you said about it, that you have no idea of publishing any of it yourself, and hope you will not be annoyed at my sending three short chapters of extracts from it, to be published in The Monthly Packet. I have not given any names in full, nor put any more definite title to it than simply “Ella’s Diary, or The Experiences of an Oxford Professor’s Daughter, during a Month of Foreign Travel.”

I will faithfully hand over to you any money I may receive on account of it, from Miss Younge, the editor of The Monthly Packet.

Your affect. Friend,
C.L. DODGSON.


Ella suspected that he was joking, but began to take him seriously when she received a second letter containing the following passage:

I grieve to tell you that every word of my letter was strictly true. I will now tell you more—that Miss Younge has not declined the MS, but she will not give more than a guinea a chapter. Will that be enough?

Carroll’s third letter cleared up the hoax:

MY DEAR ELLA,

I’m afraid I have hoaxed you too much. But it really was true. I “hoped you wouldn’t be annoyed at my etc.,” for the very good reason that I hadn’t done it. And I gave no other title than “Ella’s Diary,” nor did I give that title. Miss Younge hasn’t declined it—because she hasn’t seen it. And I need hardly explain that she hasn’t given more than three guineas!

Not for three hundred guineas would I have shown it to any one—after I had promised you I wouldn’t.

In haste,

Yours affectionately,
C.L.D.


What are your favorite examples (from both stories) of taking phrases literally?
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby gemini » Mon Feb 22, 2010 6:54 pm

What are your favorite examples (from both stories) of taking phrases literally?
Do you mean things said in sarcasm that could be taken literally? Or things meant literally but could be sarcasm?

"Off With their heads", comes to mind as said literally but not taken so.

I have read many drug references online that personally I don't think were intended by Carroll. I suppose the double meanings of "Going down the rabbit hole" as a metaphor for taking hallucinogenic drugs is something meant literally taken otherwise.
I always liked the mad hatters answer about more tea.
"You can always take more than nothing."
It is literally true and also what he meant so no double meaning.
Unfortunately I read a library loaner and don't have the book to look but I think most everything said could fit in this category.

As for Carroll's note to Ella. It seems more misleading and a prank that might be played by a youngster than a man. If I were the little girl I would have taken it literally too.
Last edited by gemini on Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:19 pm

I took it that she said she didn't intend to publish it herself. Taking that literally, Carroll than decided to tease that he would publish it (since she wasn't going to). :hypnotic: I am sorry, I have really struggled to follow some of the discussion. :dunce:

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby deppaura » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:01 pm

So, does this qualify????... "I quite agree with you", said the Dutchess,"and the moral of that is-'Be what you would seem to be'-or, if you'd like it put more simply---'Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."


WOW!!

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:27 pm

gemini, I think either way works.

A mouthful to be sure, deppaura, but it did make me laugh. There are so many nonsensical conversations in the book where the characters make everyday conversation that makes no sense to Alice, or us, seem normal.

nebraska, no worries. This one is tougher than I expected too!
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Wow! What a ride!

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby Liz » Wed Feb 24, 2010 6:35 pm

deppaura wrote:So, does this qualify????... "I quite agree with you", said the Dutchess,"and the moral of that is-'Be what you would seem to be'-or, if you'd like it put more simply---'Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."

That'll about do it. This is not the only instance in these 2 stories that brought to my mind Captain Jack's famous mind-bender about the man who did the waking. :hypnotic:

Nebraska, it's been a tough discussion for me, also. And an unexpected increase in my workload on my job has not helped. So I apologize for being around less than I would normally during a discussion. Good thing I have my trusty partner to keep an eye on things and clarify the meaning of my questions. :lilyrose:
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby nebraska » Wed Feb 24, 2010 7:24 pm

Liz wrote:Nebraska, it's been a tough discussion for me, also. And an unexpected increase in my workload on my job has not helped. So I apologize for being around less than I would normally during a discussion. Good thing I have my trusty partner to keep an eye on things and clarify the meaning of my questions. :lilyrose:[/liz]


No problem, Liz. It isn't your questions, it is my own mental block, I am afraid. I almost wish I had just read Alice and left it as a simple child's nonsense story and not gone any further with it. :-/

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby Buster » Wed Feb 24, 2010 8:11 pm

The White Knight chapter is full of jokes based on taking something literally - For example Alice says, as the White Knight is leaving, "It won't take long to see him off" - and then of course the White Knight falls off his horse.

Humpty Dumpty goes in for the same thing:
"So here's a question for you. How old did you say you were?"
Alice made a short calculation, and said "Seven years and six months."
"Wrong!" Humpty Dumpty exclaimed triumphantly. "You never said a word like it!

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Re: Alice Question #22 ~ Literally Speaking

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Feb 24, 2010 11:04 pm

There is quite a bit of that in many of the characters and situations. Carroll seemed to delight in taking everyday conventions - cultural, linguistic, political, societal - and, while not turning them completely upside down, just skewing them a bit off center. They are still familair enough to make sense but nonsensical enough to make the reader think twice and feel like he/she might just be in on an inside joke.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!


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