It was all very well to say "Drink me," but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. "No, I'll look first," she said, "and see whether it's marked 'poison' or not. (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Ch. 1)
A real-life Victorian child, especially if poor, would have been likely exposed to noxious foreign substances and additives in her food; one reformer of the period likened the average ingredients in food of the time to "the stock list of some mad and malevolent chemist." The real-life Alice, not having been born poor, would have had a better chance at being served healthy foods, but she (like most children today) would certainly have been exposed to hazardous elements in what she ate.
In her trip to Wonderland, food and drink acquire powers over the human body at once far more drastic and more benign than those in Alice's real world. What she eats and drinks in the magic country makes her grow and shrink. Since it is a children's story, and one written for a beloved child, Carroll takes care that these extremely strange consumables have no lasting ill effect on our heroine. She learns to work with them, to control their powers to her own advantage (though not without some difficulties).
In Victorian England, as in our own, a drink not labeled "poison" could certainly be anything but beneficial. In Wonderland, however, while its effect may be strange, to eat and to drink are necessary steps in becoming odd and warped enough to fit through the appropriate doors of an odd, warped land.
Last modified December 1995