Education plays a large role in the Alice books, contributing both to Carroll's characterization of Alice and to our perceptions of Victorian England. Throughout the Alice books, as in this passage, Alice refers to her lessons and her education, usually very proud of the learning that she has acquired. It seems, however, that the information that she remembers from her lessons is usually either completely useless or wrong. For example, although she can remember the how many miles down until the center of the earth, she mistakenly believes that everything will be upside down when she passes through to the other side.

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? "I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?" she said aloud. "I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think —" (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school-room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) — yes, that's about the right distance — but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?" (Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but she thought they were nice grand words to say.) [76] Alice in Wonderland (Norton Critical Edition)

The information in the Victorian Web about education indicates that traditional public schools emphasized Greek and Latin, house systems, school spirit, improving character, and that the goal of education was to mold the student into a young Christian gentleman. This approach can be seen in Alice, since her knowledge seems to consist mainly of maxims and morals about obedience and safety. Carroll seems to feel amusement at best, and utter contempt at worst, for this typically Victorian penchant, especially in his satirical characterization of the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it" (70), says the Duchess. Alice's experience with her, however, makes the reader laugh at the absurdity of such a character. Kathy Szoke, in her discussion of the Victorian audience, explains how authors make their audiences think about issues relative to their own lives. Carroll certainly made a conscious decision to make morals and tales of obedience, a large part of Victorian upbringing, nonsensical. This rejection of typical Victorian manners and education of children supports one of the themes in his Alice books, the idea that a child's imagination has value.


Victorian Web Overview Lewis Carroll

Last modified December 1995