A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Sunday Drolleries
Sunday, September 20, 2009

I must admit now that I have never read any books by either Margaret Drabble or Joyce Carol Oates. Having read a few good reviews of the former’s latest, The Pattern in the Carpet - A Personal History with Jigsaws I might just succumb and correct my omission. But I don’t think I will read anything by Joyce Carol Oates quite yet.

Before the internet and search engines I was flummoxed consistently by people (that it happened more than once is outrageously unique) who asked me the name of Sancho Panza’s donkey. I finally bit the bullet and read the famous work by Miguel Cervantes Saavedra to find out. Not having read Don Quijote was much more grievous an omission than than ignoring Joyce Carol Oates’s works. To my surprise and disappointment I learned that Sancho never gave his ass a name. He called it rucio which is Spanish means dappled gray as he did not want to call him ass.

If there is any purpose in the above it has all to do with the reading of classics and its apparent infrequency as the 21st century “progresses”.

In yesterday’s blog I wrote of the idyllic day it was and how it ended with a terrific film based on a memoir by Gerald Durrell. I must add here that I took out two films. The first one was the Jonathan Miller 1966 film for the BBC, Alice in Wonderland. The BBC had begun a series called The Wednesday Play in 1964 which gave directors lots of latitude and freedom. This film, in stark b+w and a most serious Alice was as strange to my family as was my first viewing of Orson Welles’s 1962 The Trial based on the Kafka story. This Alice in Wonderland was unsettling and when I saw my little girls stare at me I stopped play.

But today I saw it on my own and enjoyed it, although I must agree with the critics who said there were many moments of pure boredom in spite of performances by Peter Sellers, Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, John Gielgud, Malcolm Muggeridge and Peter Cook as the mad hatter. Rebecca and Hilary argued that the dialogue was not familiar. I checked with my Oxford University Press edition and verified that the film was only condensed but dialogue was not changed.

The film put me into thought for the rest of the afternoon and I gave Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a new read. It was far easier than El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. I came to the conclusion that most film adaptations (and children’s books) of Lewis Carroll’s story have been dumbed down, softened and made into the cartoons they mostly are.

As I read the introduction I thought of Saturday's expedition to VanDusen with Rosemary, Rebecca and Lauren. In that introduction there is is an account by Charles Ludwidge Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll) friend Robinson Duckworth, Fellow of Trinity on their trip up the Thames from Oxford to Godstow with the three Liddell sisters, Edith, 8, Alice, 10 and Lorina, 3.

The story was actually composed and spoken over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell. [He rowed stroke and Dodgson rowed bow]. I remember turning round and saying: ‘Dodgson, is this an extemporary romance of yours?’ And he replied: ‘Yes, I am inventing as we go along.’ I also remember how, when we had conducted the three children back to the Deanery, Alice said, as she bade us good-night, ‘Oh, Mr. Dodgson, I wish you would write out Alice’s Adventures for me! He said he would try, and he afterwards told me the he sat up nearly the whole night, committing to a manuscript his recollections of the drolleries with which he had enlivened the afternoon.

Suddenly while going to VanDusen was certainly not going up the Thames Rebecca and Lauren plus my wife Rosemary became the three girls I entertained.

As I watched the sun go down on our fall garden today I recalled the last two pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

So Alice got up and ran off thinking while she ran, as well as she might, what a wonderful dream it had been. But her sister sat still just as she left her, leaning her head on her hand, watching the setting sun, and thinking of little Alice and all her wonderful Adventures, till she, too began dreaming after a fashion, and this was her dream:-

…Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their
simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.


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