Everything Stops For Tea*

*song featured in Jack Buchanan’s 1935 comedy film, “Come Out Of The Pantry”

(Goodhart / Hoffman / Sigler)

Lex publishes on their Hopes and Whispers blog an essay they wrote in their “third year of English Literature”, Alice in Wonderland, Conservative or Progressive?:

“…The Alice books pair up and parallel its characters to represent the struggle of conformity.

In her essay ‘Escape into the Garden’, Florence Becker Lennon organises the characters into pairs. She describes these pairings as being “double exposure[s]” and indicates ways that characters, such as the Cheshire Cat and Dinah, can be linked together (Lennon, 2006).

While it may not be possible to form a strong argument based on the assertion that one character from every pair conforms more to Victorian standards of behaviour than their counterpart, it is possible to discern a divide in some pairs between Victorian conventionality and Wonderland eccentricity.

This argument lends itself particularly well to the pairing of the Rabbit and the March Hare. Despite being a similar species of animals, the two characters perform different functions within the narrative and have two very distinct personalities.

The Rabbit closely resembles a conventional image of the Victorian civilian in his dress and manner. He is depicted in both the text and its illustrations as wearing a waistcoat. Moreover, his compliance to Wonderland’s faintly Victorian class structure is evident in the way that he is always conscious of offending those of a higher class status to himself, as well as revealing in Alice in Wonderland’s fourth chapter that he has a “housemaid” of his own (Carroll, pg. 26).

In contrast, the March Hare appears to counteract the Rabbit’s orderliness with his association with Wonderland’s most eccentric features. He is introduced in a scene which overturns any conventionality that a tea-party in a Victorian narrative could have. In a chapter accurately named “a mad tea-party” (Carroll, pg. 52), the guests engage in a discussion entirely comprised of word games, unanswerable riddles and absurd anecdotes. The setting is made further strange by the way it challenges the laws of time through it being “always six o’clock” (Carroll, pg. 56).

As singular characters, both the Rabbit and the Hare possess the simplistic and unrealistic personalities of stock characters in fairy tales. However, when they are compared against one another, the conflicting traits of their characters can be said to externally represent the difficulty in conforming to strict codes of behaviour expected within Victorian society…”

From the website of the British Library:

“…Personified Time, according to the Hatter, is whimsical and impulsive: ‘suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner’ (Wonderland, p. 75). But it emerges that the Hatter and Time have fallen out so that, as the Hatter explains, ‘it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles’ (Wonderland, p. 77).

Taking tea is a ‘while’, or a pause. It was an important ritual in Victorian Britain and regarded as a mark of civilised society. But in Tenniel’s illustration, the Hatter has risen out of his chair, has his hands firmly on the table and leans over the tea things. The Hare, although clothed, has a crown of straw. Both are squashed up against the sleeping Dormouse. Dream-world tea, with its offers of non-existent wine, personal remarks, sleeping rodents and upset milk, is a caricature of dull reality. At the end of the book, when Alice’s sister says ‘run in to your tea; it’s getting late’, the normal routine returns and does away with ‘curious’ dream time (Wonderland, p. 130)…

…There are also various doubled characters (like doubled pieces): the White and Red Knights, Kings and Queens, the King’s two messengers (one to come and one to go).

Two reflections that come not from chess, but from nursery rhymes, are Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The Tweedles are, according to Martin Gardner, ‘enantiomorphs’ or mirror images of each other. They are not identical, but asymmetrical (like hands and feet). Tenniel’s picture shows the twins, standing in matching postures, wearing identical outfits. Only the names Dum and Dee, seen on their collars, tell them apart. The twins’ speech is also mirrored. Tweedledee’s favourite word, ‘contrariwise’, flips or, as in a mirror, inverts the conversation. Tweedledee usually addresses the other side of whatever Tweedledum has just said.

The Tweedles, then, are constantly repeating themselves – not just in words, or outfits, but also in action. As nursery rhyme characters, they are stuck in the same story, in the dark wood, forever repeating the battle over a rattle…”

From Wikipedia:

In a 1921 letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, the writer James Joyce uses the twins “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” to characterize Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung and their conflict.”

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