Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
by Gill Stoker (source of this article)
This text has been reproduced on this site with permission from the author
There are two disadvantages to any discussion of Tenniel’s Alice designs. Firstly, this most famous combination of text and illustrations stands alone without comment, and in many ways defies analysis; secondly, and ironically in view of the above, the Alice ‘phenomenon’ has been analysed and discussed so exhaustively that what is really quite a simple children’s story with pictures – the source, of course, of its attraction – has become academicised, and it is hard to regress, if that is the correct term, to a correspondingly simple discussion. The purpose here, then, is not an ambitious one: as in the case of Tenniel’s other designs, it is simply to examine the Alice books in terms of their bibliographical and illustrative history, to seek pictorial connections in Tenniel’s other work, and to discover how influential Tenniel has been on later Alice artists.
From the point of view of style, the Alice books are very much products of their period, with text and illustrations alike exhibiting a typically Victorian eclecticism. As Humphrey Carpenter comments, Tenniel’s classical draughtsmanship matches Carroll’s carefully structured story:
Alice is strikingly restrained, classical rather than romantic in its disciplined organisation. (This makes Tenniel, really a very stiff and formal artist compared to most comic draughtsmen of his day, peculiarly suitable as an illustrator.)
This is, of course, true. One aspect of Tenniel’s formality has to do with the composition of his designs, which often echo the structure of the stories by means of a symmetrical, enclosing sense of balance. This is often achieved by the placing of Alice between two other characters: the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, Tweedledum and Tweedledee in their armour, the Red and White Queens, and the Lion and the Unicorn. Tenniel’s use of bordering techniques is also interesting; most explicit here is the romanesque arch of the doorway in ‘Queen Alice’, and, more subtly still, the large padded armchair, set squarely to face the viewer, containing Alice within its outer edges – a long way, of course, from the ornate, gothic-style bordering of Undine and The Haunted Man, but the enclosing principle is exactly the same.
This formality is complemented by Tenniel’s precise, classical line, developed over years of academic study of statuary and human anatomy, and brought to perfection in his allegorical female figures for Punch. This means that his portrayal of Alice, the only truly human figure in the stories, is sometimes reminiscent of his Britannia and other females, most notably in the Hall of Tears and pack of cards episodes, and in ‘Queen Alice’.
At the same time, however, each story takes place within the framework of a seemingly illogical dream fantasy, while the events and characters reflect all the familiar romantic elements: medievalism, the grotesque, the supernatural, the fanciful, humour, cruelty, cataclysm and threat, and Tenniel’s designs reflect all of this. Indeed, Alice herself is something of a latter-day Undine, as the Pool of Tears episode suggests, and Tenniel’s portrayal of her is strongly reminiscent of the wavy-haired mermaid of 1845. Alice is, however, quite the reverse of Fouqué’s character for, rather than being a supernatural creature thrown into a harsh, everyday world, she is a real, human girl in an often cruel but essentially other-worldly setting. There are many other parallels with romantic trends of the day: military spectacle is represented in the comically inelegant battlescene in which men and horses fall over each other, followed later by the drums beating behind Alice, while the romantic sublime appears in delightful catacylsmic miniature to bring each story to a close, with the playing cards flying into the air at the end of the courtroom scene, and the shooting stars flying up when Alice pulls the tablecloth.
As mentioned elsewhere, the cult of medievalism had become a source of parody well before the mid-1860s, and this tendency is evident in both Alice books. Punch itself may well have played a part here, for Dodgson was a regular reader of the magazine, and would have been familiar with the mock-medieval designs drawn by Tenniel and his colleagues. Thus, the two-dimensional characteristics of medieval art as seen in numerous Punch designs probably influenced Dodgson in some of his own roughly-drawn illustrations to the first Alice book, and Tenniel in turn exploits this comic convention by basing his Kings, Queens and Knaves on the De La Rue playing card designs, most noticeably in the croquet-ground and courtroom scenes. In the same way the three gardeners appear in medieval-style hoods and shoes, the White Rabbit in heraldic dress, and the Duchess in medieval costume and enormous headdress. The chess pieces of the second book carry out the same function, particularly in the medievalised appearance of Kings, Queens and Knights, while the Jabberwock episode is clearly a variation on the myth of St George and the Dragon, to be found in a number of Tenniel’s Punch initials and other designs. Tweedledum and Tweedledee in their homemade, domesticated armour are a further example, as are a number of minor figures in medieval costume, namely the messenger Haigha, explicitly described by the White King as ‘an Anglo-Saxon Messenger [with] Anglo-Saxon attitudes’, and the Mad Hatter (Hatta), still wearing his Victorian top hat from the first book but incongruously clad in a medieval tunic.
Medieval chivalry is satirised in the figure of the White Knight, whose joust with his red counterpart parodies the courageous knights of old who never, or hardly ever, fell off their horses. There has been much conjecture as to Tenniel’s model for his portrayal of this character: some of his contemporaries believed it to be his colleague, Horace (nicknamed Ponny) Mayhew, but Tenniel himself has also been recognised as a valid candidate, as hinted at in Linley Sambourne’s ‘Good Sir John!’ design of 1893, not to mention Tenniel’s own self-portrait of 1889. Pictorial parallels must not be forgotten, however: Millais’ painting, Sir Isumbras at the Ford (1857), is convincingly suggested by Timothy Hilton, and would certainly have been seen by the author of Alice as well as by its illustrator; Cervantes’ Don Quixote is another likely model, especially since a large number of illustrated editions appeared during the nineteenth century.
The grotesque and the supernatural, so prevalent in Tenniel’s work, are well represented by the Jabberwock; indeed, so horrific did Dodgson regard this beast that he thought better of making it his frontispiece in case it frightened his young readers. Set against the sinister, gathering gloom of the ‘tulgey wood’, the Jabberwock is surrealistically grotesque, its ‘jaws that bite’, ‘claws that catch’ and ‘eyes of flame’ all humorously undercut by a domesticated-looking waistcoat complete with three buttons. Its facial features resemble those of Tenniel’s little goblin in ‘The Ballad of John Bull’ of 1851, itself a precursor of his gargoyle drainpipe of 1864 for Richard Harris Barham’s ‘The Tragedy’, with its protruding, beady eyes and open mouth. Equally as strange as their names are the fanciful ‘toves’, ‘borogoves’ and ‘raths’ in the ‘Jabberwocky’ poem, while Humpty Dumpty, with his spherical combination of body and face, is a perfect example of the comic grotesque. So, too, in their own individual ways, are the Duchess, the Mad Hatter, Father William and his son, the struggling White King in Alice’s hand, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee, especially the former with his angry face and bared teeth.
One particular aspect of Tenniel’s grotesque art is his use of anthropomorphism. The Alice books are famous for their many humanised creatures: the Frog and Fish Footmen, the vain Lobster, the Walrus, the decrepit, bespectacled old Lion, the smiling joint of meat (anticipated by Tenniel in his Punch cartoon ‘The English Beef, the French Wine, and the German Sausages’ of January 1864), and the orientally grotesque, hookah-smoking Caterpillar, whose conversation with Alice has the heady atmosphere of an opium dream. Marguerite Mespoulet has suggested, in her Creators of Wonderland, that Tenniel was influenced in these anthropomorphisms by the grotesque designs of the French artist, J.J. Grandville (1803-47), who is accurately described by David Bland as ‘a precursor of the surrealists’. Mespoulet identifies pictorial connections between, for example, Tenniel’s White Rabbit, Dodo, Frog Footman, Mock Turtle, Humpty Dumpty and ‘slithy toves’, and Grandville’s strange amalgams from such works as La Vie Privée et Publique des Animaux, Un Autre Monde and the French model for Punch, Le Charivari. Her arguments and examples are convincing, bearing in mind the fact that Grandville’s work had been popular in England for some time before Alice appeared, and would therefore have been familiar to Tenniel and Dodgson alike. Indeed, Dodgson’s very choice of animal characters could have been influenced by Grandville’s work, so that the pictorial parallels in his own and Tenniel’s designs would have followed on quite logically from the text.
As in all aspects of his books, Dodgson was particular over the layout of text and design, and took great pains to ensure the best possible combinations. Thus, the elongated Alice is made to occupy the full length of the left-hand side of one page, while Tenniel’s two depictions of her passage through the looking-glass appear on opposite sides of the same page so that the illusion of her transfer from one world to another is created as the page is turned (although this pagination is not always followed in later editions). As a realistic touch, as well as visual joke, Tenniel adds his initials in reverse on the second design.
All of this suggests detailed collaboration between author and artist. Few letters survive, but there has been much conjecture as to whether the relationship was an amicable one. In the absence of clear evidence either way, the experiences of later Carroll illustrators have often been quoted to support the hypothesis of friction, implicit for example in Bland’s reference to ‘Carroll’s interference with Tenniel and his meticulous scrutiny of the drawings’. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that both men were shy, and this may have led to misunderstandings and awkwardness, especially since Tenniel was Dodgson’s first illustrator. Dodgson certainly made great demands on all his artists, and suffered so much inadvertent frustration at their hands that he considered writing a pamphlet entitled ‘Authors’ Difficulties with Illustrators’; no doubt because of its controversial nature it never appeared. The illustrator Harry Furniss tells in his autobiography how trying Dodgson had been over the designs to Sylvie and Bruno (1889 and 1893); the unintentionally patronising tone of Dodgson’s letters clearly exacerbated matters: bearing in mind the author’s gentle tone of voice and hesitant speech, a more leisurely, face-to-face discussion might have been less irritating. Dodgson was well aware of his ability to be tiresome, however, and appreciated the longsuffering indulgence of his artists. This is clear from his inscription in Henry Holiday’s presentation copy of The Hunting of the Snark:
Presented to Henry Holiday, most patient of Artists, by Charles L. Dodgson, most exacting, but not most ungrateful of Authors. March 29th 1876.
A glimmer of a dispute with Tenniel is contained in one of Dodgson’s few preserved, and consequently oft-quoted, comments on his first illustrator. This was made in a letter to another of his illustrators, Gertrude Thomson who, in dutiful compliance with his wishes, had made use of child models for her designs to his book of ‘Fairy-Fancies’, Three Sunsets and Other Poems (1898). Dodgson commented to her that:
Mr. Tenniel is the only artist, who has drawn for me, who resolutely refused to use a model, and declared he no more needed one than I should need a multiplication-table to work a mathematical problem!
Tenniel had clearly beaten him at his own game here, and Dodgson had not forgotten it. However, there is little evidence of coldness or awkwardness between them: the few surviving letters bear a general tone of goodwill, and Dodgson was one of many who wrote in friendly terms in 1893 to congratulate Tenniel on his knighthood. Having said all this, though, one feels that Tenniel was more at ease with some of his brasher, less self-conscious Punch colleagues such as Mark Lemon, Shirley Brooks and Tom Taylor.
In fact it was through Taylor as a mutual acquaintance that Dodgson gained an introduction to Tenniel in January 1864, having already expressed an interest in him as a potential illustrator: ‘of all artists on wood,’ he wrote, ‘I should prefer Mr. Tenniel’. Following their meeting Dodgson wrote in his diary that the artist ‘was very friendly, and seemed to think favourably of undertaking the pictures’. By April, Tenniel had agreed to do the work, the plan being to publish for Christmas 1864; by the middle of December, however, he had sent Dodgson only the first twelve proofs, the death of his mother in November having contributed to a delay. The book finally appeared in time for Christmas 1865, and was widely reviewed in the press, Dodgson listing nineteen separate reviews that appeared between November 1865 and October 1866.
The forty-two designs to this book made it Tenniel’s fourth largest commission to date, most of his other work being smaller numbers of contributions to jointly-illustrated volumes, and despite Alice’s great success it cannot be denied that the work must have been time-consuming and probably exhausting for Tenniel. It is understandable therefore that when Dodgson asked him in April 1868 to illustrate Through the Looking-Glass he refused. It is not clear whether Dodgson let Tenniel see an outline of the book on this occasion: if he did, the artist’s decision may have been influenced by an impression that it was less well conceived than the first. At any rate, it was no doubt the thought of another heavy commitment, coming so soon after the first, that made Tenniel excuse himself on the grounds of other work, despite the fact that he had no large projects on hand at the time. Dodgson was disappointed, but persisted in his attempt to find a suitable illustrator. He considered Richard Doyle and Arthur Hughes, but did not feel that they were quite suitable, while Noel Paton was unwell and insisted that ‘Tenniel is the man’. Dodgson finally wrote to Tenniel in June 1868, and this time obtained a reluctant agreement to do the work in spare moments, with a tentative publication date of Christmas 1869.
As before, the illustrations came slowly, and the situation was aggravated by Tenniel’s refusal to depict some of Carroll’s subjects: he claimed for example that ‘A wasp in a wig … is altogether beyond the appliances of art’. (Dodgson succeeded better with Harry Furniss, who in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded portrayed a spider weeping at the retreat of Miss Muffet.) As an article in the Smithsonian for December 1977 demonstrates, some writers have naively taken Tenniel’s statement at face value and assumed inability on his part, whereas he was surely offering tactful criticism of a rather weak episode and thereby succeeded in persuading Dodgson to remove it without giving offence. If further proof is needed of this, Tenniel’s cartoon ‘The Turf Spider and the Flies’ (July 1868), in which he depicts a large spider wearing saddle, bridle and jockey’s cap, is enough to dispel any imaginary shortcomings in his treatment of humanised insects, not to mention his three looking-glass insects in the second Alice book.
Christmas 1869 came and went, and the illustrations had still not been completed. In February 1870 Dodgson wrote to his friend Margaret Gatty that ‘Mr. Tenniel has gone to work at the pictures “with a will,” and is getting on capitally’, but the delays continued, so that it was not until Christmas 1871 that the book appeared, and both author and artist no doubt breathed sighs of relief.
Tenniel clearly saw the fifty illustrations to this second Alice book as his final piece of work for Dodgson. As the latter stated in a letter of January 1878 to the illustrator A.B. Frost, ‘Tenniel … (I am sorry to say) will not now undertake woodcuts’, while Dodgson’s nephew and biographer quotes from a letter from Tenniel himself:
It is a curious fact … that with ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ the faculty of making drawings for book illustration departed from me, and, notwithstanding all sorts of tempting inducements, I have done nothing in that direction since.
Whether this claim to loss of ability was truth or tact, or a mixture of the two, is anyone’s guess; the fact remains that Tenniel produced only two more book illustrations after 1871, for S.C. Hall’s temperance books of 1873 and 1876.
But Tenniel had still not entirely finished with Alice: indeed, he was playing an active role in its production as late as 1896 when he examined proofs for the two-volume People’s Edition. Earlier than this he had agreed to do a frontispiece to an Alice’s Puzzle-Book, but nothing materialised; instead he had a hand in the production of The Nursery “Alice” of 1890, a delightful quarto edition with simplified text for very young children; this had a coloured front cover designed by Gertrude Thomson, while Tenniel himself coloured twenty enlargements of his own original illustrations. Dodgson’s letter of 1881 to a friend, Helen Feilden, shows how a Dutch Alice, published independently in Nijmegen in around 1875, had given him the idea for this volume:
Shall I send you a Dutch version of Alice with about 8 of the pictures done large in colours! It would do well to show to little children. I think of trying a coloured Alice myself – a “nursery edition.” What do you think of it?
Carroll’s amended text interacts quite specifically with the illustrations, which suggests a certain amount of collaboration between artist and author. For example, he explains that the Mock Turtle has a calf’s head because that is what mock turtle soup is made from, and makes numerous references to colour: the White Rabbit’s pink eyes and ears, brown coat, red pocket handkerchief, blue necktie and yellow waistcoat, and the Gryphon’s red head and claws and green scales; similarly, the ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’ chapter he renames ‘The Blue Caterpillar’. The colour medium lends itself effectively to a number of scenes, particularly that in which the gardeners paint the roses red, with the resultant angry, red face of the Queen of Hearts. Tenniel made some subtle changes for this edition: the guard at the top right of the frontispiece has changed his allegiance from black clubs to red hearts, while the dark shading has gone from the plate of tarts and from the jury animals’ slates in order for them to be coloured respectively red and dark green. One addition throughout is the ribbon in Alice’s hair – in 1865 her hair was loose – while to accommodate a change in fashion Tenniel gives her a broad blue bustle-like sash with a large bow at the back.
By the date of this four-shilling Nursery version, Alice had sold in enormous numbers. The 1865 and 1871 editions, at six shillings each, had reached their eighty-second and fifty-ninth thousands respectively, while the 1887 People’s Editions, at two shillings and sixpence each, were in their fourteenth and ninth thousands. Macmillans had also published translations: French and German in 1869 and Italian in 1872, also at six shillings each. These were followed in 1886 by a four-shilling facsimile edition of Carroll’s original manuscript containing thirty-seven of his own illustrations, which he himself modestly but accurately described as ‘horrid’. A Pall Mall Gazette survey of children’s books in July 1898 found Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the top seller, with Through the Looking-Glass within the first twenty; according to Collingwood, the first was in its eighty-sixth thousand, the second in its sixty-first, and the Nursery edition had reached its eleventh thousand.
Bearing in mind the immediate and lasting success of Alice, it is not surprising that, as in the case of some of Tenniel’s other book illustrations, numerous parallels, and even anticipations, appeared in Punch. His 1864 title page design predates Alice’s first literary appearance by one year, while in ‘”Hoity-Toity!!!”‘ (February 1868) she is Cousin Columbia, her horizontally striped dress (to suggest the American flag) giving a foretaste of her 1871 costume. Other Alice characters and situations appear too, some again predating their literary counterparts: Tenniel’s bespectacled medieval king of 1852 (Vol. 22) is a precursor to his King of Hearts, while the White Queen reappears as Mrs Pope in ‘A November Cracker’ (November 1874), in the same tightly-wrapped shawl and down-at-heel slippers, and with the same unruly crinoline frame visible below her skirts. Similarly, his waistcoated frog of 1852 is the prototype of his frog footman of the first book and frog gardener of the second, while in Punch a similar frog appears with a Humpty Dumpty lookalike in ‘The Gigantic Gooseberry’ (July 1871) to provide entertainment during the uneventful ‘silly season’. And finally, Mr Punch adopts the White Rabbit’s medievalised heraldic uniform, fanfare trumpet and stance to greet the New Year in ‘”Le Roi est Mort! Vive le Roi!”‘ (January 1884).
Some allusions are more extended. When the German Kaiser reached the age of ninety the inevitable ‘”Father William”‘ (March 1887) congratulated him. Gladstone’s turn came later, in a cartoon of the same name which comments on his adherence to the issue of Irish Home Rule (July 1893): his pose and clothing are explicitly close to those of his Carroll predecessor, even down to the position of his hat on the ground. The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle appear frequently as representatives of the City of London, the gryphon being an ancient heraldic symbol for the City, while the Turtle’s more comic connection was with the soup traditionally served at sumptuous civic banquets. ‘Alice in Blunderland’ (October 1880) is a comment on traffic congestion caused at St Clement’s Danes by the installation of a gryphon statue. Almost twenty years later, ‘Alice in Bumbleland’ (March 1899) shows Alice in the rather unlikely character of Arthur Balfour in a satire on his confused reading of the London Government Bill, with the inevitable words: ‘It’s by far the most confusing thing I ever heard!’ from the Mock Turtle. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are popular too: their number is comically increased to three in ‘April Showers; or, a Spoilt Easter Holiday’ (April 1892), in which the ‘triplet’ MPs Goschen, Salisbury and Balfour, who have been gathering primroses (the late Benjamin Disraeli’s favourite flower), shelter from the rain of threatened dissolution, with no umbrella in sight.
The Jabberwock has been perhaps the most enduring of Alice images: an early prototype with the same characteristically curling tail is Tenniel’s initial S of 1852 (Vol. 22). There may also be a parallel in George du Maurier’s Punch design, ‘A Little Christmas Dream’ (December 1868), with its comic allusion to the evolution debate and the discovery of fossilised remains. This depicts a little boy in a snowy, lamplit street staring up at an enormous mammoth-like creature; the positioning of the child is similar in both designs, as is the threatening aspect of the creature’s open mouth. However, while du Maurier’s creature is basically a large elephant with fanciful additions, Tenniel’s monster is totally imaginary.
Only three months after the appearance of ‘Jabberwocky’ in December 1871, Tenniel adapted it for ‘”The Monster Slain”‘ (March 1872), an elaborate comment on the conclusion of the lengthy Tichborne case in which Arthur Orton, a butcher from Wagga Wagga in Australia, had made claim to the estate of Roger Tichborne, lost at sea in 1854. The caption makes explicit reference to Carroll’s poem:
And hast thou slain the Wagga-Wock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
the latter represented by a victorious lawyer. Tenniel’s cartoon is explicitly close to the original illustration, with Mr Punch standing in the place of the young boy; the only major difference is in the monster’s bulky, human head and fallen position. There is the same background of tall, gloomy trees, with the same exposed roots on the right, and the monster has the same long, trailing tail, pointed dragon’s wings and scaly body, with even a hint of a waistcoat. One further cartoon of this kind is the medievally-entitled ‘The “Laidly Worm” of London – and Young County Council’ (November 1890), which shows the recently-formed London County Council attempting to impose Sanitary Reform upon the terrifying beast of Landlordism and Vested Interest, who exudes the fumes of disease and death. Here again are the familiar wings and scaly body; the young assailant stands in similar juxtaposition to the monster, although Tenniel places him on the left instead of on the right, while his struggle with the too-heavy sword contrasts comically with the plucky young boy of the original illustration.
Dodgson’s own relationship with Punch was a tenuous one. Despite his acquaintance with Tenniel and Taylor, and his occasional sending in of suggestions, he was quick to complain if his real name was mentioned in connection with Alice – something which Shirley Brooks enjoyed doing on purpose to provoke him. The obituary verses which appeared in the magazine in January 1898, two weeks after Dodgson’s death, are, in fact, less of a lament for Dodgson than a compliment to Tenniel:
… remembering well
How he, our comrade, with his pencil lent
Your fancy’s speech a firmer spell.
Master of rare woodcraft, by sympathy’s
Sure touch he caught your visionary gleams,
And made your fame, the dreamer’s, one with his,
The wise interpreter of dreams.
Tenniel was not, of course, the last artist to illustrate Alice: when the copyright of the first book expired in 1907 (followed by the second in 1913) there was a flurry of activity in illustrated editions. This in itself led to a satirical cartoon in Punch, appearing nearly seven years after Tenniel’s retirement as political cartoonist, entitled ‘Tenniel’s “Alice” Reigns Supreme’ (December 1907). Drawn by one of Tenniel’s successors, E.T. Reed, this shows the ‘real’ Alice seated on a throne, surrounded by the Mad Hatter, The Ugly Duchess and others; they are looking indignantly down at a procession of odd-looking counterparts represented in a style parodic of Arthur Rackham, one of the new Alice illustrators. There are no fewer than four assorted Alices in the cartoon, three of them much smaller than the ‘real’ Alice, and all of them looking rather self-conscious.
Despite this criticism of new interpretations, there was a large market for such books, many of which contain colour plates as well as black-and-white designs. The most successful artists combine Tenniel’s iconography with originality of treatment, one of the first of these being Rackham, with plates in dusky pastels of predominantly grey-green, brown and pink, as well as black-and-white designs. Well aware of the hold which Tenniel’s own illustrations had on the public imagination, Austin Dobson quips rather inappropriately in his Proem to this edition:
Enchanting ALICE! Black-and-white
Has made your deeds perennial;
And naught save “Chaos and old Night”
Can part you now from TENNIEL …
Rackham does, in fact, echo Tenniel compositionally, but his modern, rather eerie style is a sign of his individuality. Charles Heath Robinson’s eight brightly-coloured plates and more than one hundred black-and-white illustrations are notable too; his White Rabbit falling into the cucumber frame is one example of compositional influence, combined with an innovative and attractive New-Era style. Similarly, W.H. Walker’s eight coloured and forty-two black-and-white designs are a successful combination of tradition and originality; his colourful court scene, viewed from the side rather than head-on, amalgamates Tenniel’s frontispiece with his Mad Hatter in the witness box.
Of Alice Ross’ five delicate watercolour plates, her ‘Pig and Pepper’ is perhaps the best, conflating Tenniel designs from both books. Bessie Pease Gutmann’s designs of 1908 are detracted from by a fussy, decorative border to every page and, illogically, her playing-card figures look as if the Queen of Hearts has already succeeded in having them beheaded; more successful is her colourful variation on Tenniel’s frog and pig footmen.
Since these early years there has been a steady flow of illustrated editions, every set of designs adding to an increasingly complex and varied Alice iconography. While the task of identifying influences in the midst of so much activity becomes more and more difficult, it is at least possible to trace some recurring motifs, such as the footmen of Ross and Gutmann noted above, from one edition to another. George Soper in 1911 is one of many artists to depict the pack of cards curving over Alice’s head, while Margaret W. Tarrant’s falling White Rabbit of 1916 is as close to Robinson’s of 1907 as it is to Tenniel’s of 1865. The turbulent kitchen scene, complete with medieval Duchess, has also been popular, two excellent examples being Alice B. Woodward’s of 1913 and Gwynned M. Hudson’s of 1922. A much later artist, Mervyn Peake in 1954, centres his attention entirely on the Duchess, turning her into a typical fifties dowager.
As some of these designs show, the ‘real’ human figure of Alice changes, sometimes quite markedly, with the fashions and tastes of the time, while the more imaginary characters remain basically the same. A twentieth-century Punch editor, Malcolm Muggeridge, in his Foreword to the Peake edition, identifies this process as a specifically historical phenomenon:
Great masterpieces like Alice … need to be constantly re-illustrated to relate them to our changing circumstances. Each generation gets, not only the government, but the … Alice it deserves. Thus Tenniel’s Alice is as self-assured, even as arrogant, as Queen Victoria, whereas Mr. Peake’s is a bit of a dead-end kid.
Between Tenniel’s Alice and Peake’s Alice, according to Muggeridge, there exist more than sixty incarnations, but just two or three examples will suffice here to illustrate his point. Hudson’s Alice of 1922 has the same Tenniel simplicity and amused deference, but her tall slimness and refined features make her unusually elegant, in striking contrast to the familiarly ugly Duchess. Far less recognisable is A.L. Bowley’s doll-like Alice of 1932: while she bears little relation to the Tenniel original, the caterpillar has hardly changed. Finally, there is Henry Morin’s typically Parisian Alice of 1934, with her smart pink dress and bobbed ginger hair; paradoxically, her neatly folded hands make her seem more Victorian than even Tenniel’s Alice. Morin is one of the few Through the Looking-Glass artists to have done more than repeat Tenniel’s motifs. Another exception in this respect is Leonard Weisgard in an American edition of 1949, which contains some extravert, brightly-coloured plates and smaller black-and-white designs; his depiction of Alice passing through the looking-glass is particularly effective.
New illustrations to Alice have never stopped appearing, but it is significant that these have failed to supersede Tenniel’s own designs, which have never been out of print. While his other illustrations to literature, excellent as most of them are, have not survived in the popular imagination, it is in Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books that Tenniel’s name will live on, not only through their magical combination of fantasy and design, but also through the constant source of inspiration the story and its iconography have afforded, and are still affording, to later artists. It is still possible to assert the fact that, in the words of the 1907 Punch cartoon, ‘Tenniel’s “Alice” Reigns Supreme’.