To all you Alices out there, in your sweet blue dresses about to enter the
‘wonderland’ that is Monash University – welcome. There will be days
where you feel like the only sane one in the philosophical mind screw
that is an Arts degree. Some days your lectures will leave you feeling like
a guest at that famous tea party, listening to your Mad Hatter lecturer
pour tea in his ear and speak illegibly for hours. But for the most part,
Monash ‘wonderland’ is lovely.
Suppose Alice really did exist though, and wonderland wasn’t
actually a metaphor for university, but rather one for the murky world of
pedophilia. The real Alice wasn’t blonde with impossibly shiny hair like
her cartoon counterpart, but brunette. She was seven years old, wore her
hair short, and from photos seems rather timid.
Reverend Charles Dodgson (also known by his penname Lewis
Carroll) would tell Alice stories while on holidays with her family.
Carroll himself was “fond of children (except boys)” and was said to
have enjoyed photographing nude prepubescent girls. There has been no
concrete evidence of his pedophilia. Perhaps his photos were for the sake
of art, and his fondness for young girls was merely platonic?
However doubtful these claims may be, we are not here to argue
whether or not Carroll was a pedophile, but rather whether his life and
personality can be separated from his work. Is it necessary to know Carroll’s
fetish for young girls in order to appreciate his Alice in Wonderland?
As Oscar Wilde tells us in his The Picture of Dorian Gray preface,
“to reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim”. But surely such an aim
is impossible? Wilde himself, one of history’s greatest writers, ultimately
fails in this conquest. His work reeks of his private life, but tells his audience
that in drawing these conclusions we have committed the “unpardonable
crime of trying to confuse the artist with the subject matter”.
Great Expectations is said to be semi autobiographical, as is Joyce’s Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Man. Surely it is the writer who brings his or her
own uniqueness to literature. Had Carroll and Wilde both set out to
write the same wonderland story, surely they would come up with their
own vastly different interpretations. Perhaps Wilde’s ‘Alice’ would have
Our choices of individual words are each small reflections of us.
This therefore places the art as indistinguishable from the artist. In order
to understand art as it is intended, we must journey into the life of its
An understanding of Carroll’s life and his potential paedophilia
gives way to a far more vulnerable picture of Alice. And ‘wonderland’
becomes far murkier. Although, rest assured, Monash University is far
closer to the untarnished, paedophile-free wonderland. And remember,
at the end of your three or four or five-year course, just like the fictional
Alice, you will wake up and wonderland will be a mere memory.