Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Appropriate And Inappropriate Conversation In Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

One of the original illustrations for Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, showing Alice and the mouse swimming in the pool of tears

I wasn’t a fan of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland in general, personally (Disney influence? Time period differences? I think there’s another post lurking here…) but something I really loved and appreciated was Lewis Carroll’s look at a particular skill within the art of conversation – knowing when a particular item of information may or may not be appropriate to any one setting and/or group of people. It’s like a mini crash course in how to be polite, written in a way that’s understandable when you’re younger, and, actually, when you’re older, too. (You just pick up on it sooner when you’re older.)

This crash course is included a little in the second chapter but is most remarked upon in the third chapter. By remarked upon I mean by Carroll – he does not address it directly, does not say anything equivalent to ‘now see here, children, why Alice shouldn’t have said this to the birds’ but it is quite obvious in a subtext sort of way.

The first case comes when Alice has cried her pool of tears and finds herself, now much smaller, swimming in the pool alongside a mouse. Here she starts by saying “Où est ma chatte?” which isn’t translated in the book, presumably because the target audience would be learning French, but which we can gather regards her cat. (The translation is ‘where is my cat?’ which is a bit of an odd thing to ask in such a situation anyway but we can forgive Carroll this literary device.)

What’s interesting here is that Alice realises the offence straight away, saying, when the mouse ‘gave a sudden leap out of the water, and seemed to quiver all over with fright’ (it knows French too?) “Oh, I beg your pardon!… I quite forgot you didn’t like cats.” Of course this has a second purpose in that it informs any non-French reader as to the subject of the French sentence – so perhaps my presumption of lessons is incorrect or Carroll is simply aware of the wider, highly varied audience – but the fact of inappropriate conversation and the act of causing offence, as well as how to deal with it swiftly, is accomplished here.

Why then, in chapter three, does Carroll return to inappropriate versus appropriate and leave Alice oblivious as to the effect cat-talk has on the birds (and the mouse who has remained in her presence after a brief run-down of why cat-talk is offensive)? It’s fair to say that Carroll might be thinking it’s a good subject to look at further, to cover in depth. And, having introduced it and stated why it’s a problem, Alice’s oblivious in chapter three might be easily spotted by the attentive reader who would have a chance to feel good, triumphant, at working out the problem themselves. I reckon it’s a bit of both and I have to say as aunt to a keen learner, I love the author for it. It’s a wonderful bookish interaction that has the potential to really engage a child.

One of the original illustrations for Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, showing Alice and the animals sat listening to the mouse

Anyway, in chapter three, Alice tells the animals – the birds and mouse – how lovely her cat is and they all ruffle their fur and feathers and make to leave. Alice is confused by this because, to paraphrase, if they could only meet Dinah, the cat, she’s sure they’d love her. This time she completely misses that instinctual lasting conflict, as it were, between birds and cats. (Thinking about this, if we consider that in some cases the situation between cats and birds reverses so that the cat is the prey, we could, although it’s obvious Carroll is considering only the most usual situation of cats as the predators, say it’s just an overall conflict. Yes, I’m now in thinking too much mode…)

In this, the second instance of this lesson, Carroll keeps Alice repeating the general notion of Dinah’s loveliness, perhaps to make the lesson stand out and be stronger, and to illustrate the extreme obliviousness that might make a child laugh and note that Alice is so silly. If he told you about it that first time when Alice said beg pardon, here he’s not saying anything at all, has effectively left it all up to the reader to work out.

Interesting is the fact that in the first instance, of just the mouse, the animal returns a couple of times throughout the uncomfortable dialogue, whereas in the second instance of birds and mouse, everybody leaves. Perhaps this is a show of people giving a second chance but only so much, that people will indeed leave completely if you don’t cotton on to what you’re saying and don’t apologise; it’s also a device, the mouse teaching Alice whilst showing discomfort. And of course in that first instance, Alice redeems herself.

None of this is included in the Disney animation, which makes a lot of sense because really it’s quite dull as far as the more bizarre and fantastical parts of the story go and it’s likely the film-makers considered the lesson wouldn’t work so well on screen. It is very much a teaching moment than a good story moment (and quite a relief to get past when you’re an adult reading it for the first time!) but for its merit, it’s very much worth reading the book rather than defaulting to the film.

The teaching of inappropriate and appropriate conversation in the book was the biggest takeaway for me, partly perhaps because it’s something not well-known overall but mostly because it’s a section where Carroll’s plans and writing really shine, where you can see him really considering how he can provide a lesson and how to explain it to his target audience.

And let’s face it, we could all do with a reminder on occasion!

Have you read this book?

Zelda Fitzgerald In Midnight In Paris

A screen shot from Midnight In Paris, of F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald

Screen shot from Midnight In Paris, copyright © 2011 Warner Brothers.

I want to explore the interpretation and portrayal of Zelda in Midnight In Paris, played by Alison Pill. (I’ve previously written about the film as a whole here.) I like comparing interpretation to reality and film adaptations are in my head at the moment as I’m writing about them for a future post. Midnight In Paris, being book-led, is one that’s often in mind. This will be a bit of a ‘facts’ post.

Zelda, together with husband Scott, was an emblem of the Jazz Age. The pair are still celebrated for it, as Scott’s books have remained in print and Zelda’s work is becoming more recognised. We’re also, now, writing about her and studying her. The Zelda and Scott of the film are sociable; it’s obvious they have many friends and are part of many circles.

Zelda disliked Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway blamed her for Scott’s declining literary output. (How much we can say about this is difficult but we know they enjoyed a busy social life.) In the film, Zelda introduces Gil to Hemingway and whilst she’s perfectly polite there’s a slight coldness, an indifference. She stays for a few minutes and then wants to head out. So we’re not told about any problems between her and Hemingway but that under-the-surface atmosphere gently simmers. It’s more a suggestion – and would you notice it if you didn’t already know about her life? – but she’s not partying with him, and he seems okay, if not particularly enthused, with the idea of talking to Gil. The film’s portrayal here is one of gentle showing. The rift isn’t something to focus on.

Zelda and Scott’s marriage was plagued by drinking, affairs, and recriminations. Zelda has been portrayed in history as the victim of an overbearing husband. Diagnosed with Schizophrenia, she was increasingly confined to clinics. The film doesn’t look at any overbearing but it does look at the drinking. Zelda gets very merry and towards the end becomes suicidal. We can assume the suicide aspect here is included to show the progression of her life within that short time frame, but it does introduce us to the affairs and arguments because film Zelda, drunk, is wanting to throw herself in the river because Scott’s been seen with another woman. If anything, in the film, Zelda is shown to be overbearing; it’s not obvious that she’s mentally ill, more that she’s in anguish over her husband’s infidelity. Her fairly neutral behaviour early on isn’t linked properly because of the film’s focus on Gil.

As a child, Zelda was spoiled by her mother. Her father was strict and remote. The family was prominent, southern. Zelda liked the outdoors and enjoyed ballet. She didn’t enjoy academics so much – she was bright but didn’t like lessons. The film puts an emphasise on her regional background, her heavy accent, and there is a nod to her education when she speaks of her own work. She vastly prefers parties, it seems.

As she got older, Zelda drank, smoked, and spent time with boys. She was a leader amongst her peers, gaining an appetite for attention, for flouting social norms. Her ruin was prevented by her father’s reputation. All said, she was in a lucky situation and very privileged. What we get from the film in this case is her privilege in the literary circle; she knows many people and, if the real Zelda was like film Zelda, she was happy to share her network. Again, most of what we can tell of Zelda from the film is shown in the characterisation, direction, and in the actor’s bearing.

I was intrigued to find the interpretation of Zelda in Midnight In Paris to be pretty accurate as far as our – admittedly lacking – knowledge is concerned. (I’ll always remember my history tutor telling us to view media and documentaries made for mass consumption, when looking for evidence and opinions, but to be sceptical of the details when we didn’t know otherwise.) Midnight In Paris gets it right. The main limitation is that a film is far shorter than a life so film Zelda does a lot more things in a shorter time. The film shows the dynamics of her relationship with Scott and we could always say the film shows later stages – how problems had started to turn into troubles.

From the film we get someone who could be irrational but also intelligent, well-connected, and friendly. The film deals with the problems openly but remains respectful. You get a good picture of who the real person was.

Which portrayals of real people have you found to be quite or particularly accurate?


Wikipedia’s article on Zelda Fitzgerald, accessed May 2016

What Affect Does Hitchcock’s Changing Of The Ending Of Rebecca Have On The Story?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier as the heroine and Max in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

You can rest assured this will be the last post on this book here for a long time, if not forever.

In the film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s book, Max does not kill Rebecca. He talks to the heroine in the boat house but doesn’t say he did it. This difference to the book was made because at the time films could not show a criminal getting away with the crime.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing the difference, I think – this sounds weird when you consider I’m all for adaptation fidelity – but what Hitchcock does is make his film as near as possible to the original as he could.

I want to look at the affect this change has on the story. Crucially, in not having Max kill Rebecca, the film does not make him in any sense a bad person, it preserves his good name entirely. Whilst it could be said that Max, in the book, in killing Rebecca is no better than her, is worse than her, the same can’t be said for Lawrence Olivier’s Max. Of course we don’t necessarily see ‘book’ Max as bad – Du Maurier presents a man deeply upset, ashamed, and if we view Rebecca as horrible a person as Du Maurier wants us to then we can say Max killed Rebecca without really thinking it through, that he was not fully competent at the time due to what Rebecca had done. And the element of jealousy makes Max not seem so bad a person. That jealousy is very pervasive, Du Maurier good at manipulation.

To get rid of the kill as Hitchcock does is to preserve Max’s name and as only the heroine, in the book, knew of the killing, we can say it is to preserve his name for us, the readers and watchers.

As far as the film goes with its difference, Max comes across as better than Rebecca. He’s clean, done nothing wrong. He’s a proper good guy, more of a hero than book Max could ever be.

What the change does, though, away from this, is that it affects the sense of jealousy and the sense of revenge in the story. Yes, it could be considered a good thing because of what I’ve said above, but in toning it down it diffuses the pressure behind the idea that Du Maurier wanted something done to Rebecca to make up for the problems. Given what we know of the real life background – Du Maurier’s jealousy of her husband’s first fiancée – we can see a want for something to happen, for Du Maurier to want to do something to change things and the way she feels. Max killing Rebecca is over the top but, given artistic license, it works. In a way, when considering the book, and the film’s change, it changes our thoughts of Du Maurier, too.

Considering Du Maurier’s worry that her book had caused Jan Ricardo’s death we could assume the film change was welcomed by her.

In a way, the change seems a small thing, especially as it doesn’t change the general outcome, but when you think it over, it does do something to the way we perceive Max and perhaps the way we view the book’s themes, too.

The Character Progression Of Far From The Madding Crowd’s Gabriel Oak

A screen shot of Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan as Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene

Screen shot from Far From The Madding Crowd, copyright © 2015 Fox Searchlight.

This will be in part a character analysis.

Whilst Bathsheba Everdene is strong-willed and against marrying… unless it involves a particular soldier, I always felt that had Gabriel Oak understood who Bathesheba was, he would have gained her hand sooner. Hardy’s plot, with its three suitors, of course stands on its own but to me part of the idea of it is that there’s time for Gabriel to learn.

Whilst Bathsheba’s own learning – her progression from someone quite selfish and thoughtless to someone who knows actions have consequences – is forefront, throughout the book Gabriel’s progression trickles along steadily in the background. Gabriel begins as a person who sees a pretty woman (and wants to give her a lamb because “I thought she might like one to rear; girls do”) and becomes someone who understands that, actually, Bathsheba is competent enough even if she requires his help. He understands that she’s equal to him, an individual. Hardy is all about women having more liberty and he places this into his plans of the progression for his male characters. Bathsheba may be selfish and frivolous, he’s saying, but she’s a person deserving respect and you men after her heart and farm should think so, too.

Gabriel is Bathsheba’s constant. He sticks around when she spurns him, pushing aside his love for her and mollifying himself with friendship. Unlike Boldwood, who becomes obsessive in his desire, Gabriel defers to Bathsheba’s decision about him and offers help and safety. Boldwood, and Troy as it so happens, offer instability.

We know from the start that Gabriel is likely to win Bathsheba over by the end due to his presence at the start of the novel and Hardy’s way of describing him. As I said a while back, we are supposed to like Gabriel Oak – Hardy writes about him in a way that ensures we do.

Gabriel meets Bathsheba, if we can call it a meeting, when she passes through his field. He sees her admiring herself in a mirror and offers to pay her passage through the gate, receiving not so much as an acknowledgement of his presence in return. He has a good head on his shoulders – whilst another employee notes her beauty, Gabriel notes her vanity.

It doesn’t stop him loving her, however. Perhaps it’s her nature that he likes the most – not the vanity but her independence. Gabriel is there when Bathsheba is riding astride the horse, there when she lays back on the animal to continue her journey in a very casual fashion. What would Boldwood have made of her then? Troy would perhaps quite like it… or he’d be indifferent. Gabriel, it seems as we continue reading, seems to see someone to admire, if not always (she does make some bad choices!) then often. Though Bathsheba may be vain and selfish and frivolous, we can see that, not unlike the case of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, she meets her match in the unlikely Gabriel.

Does Gabriel test the waters a bit? To go back to that lamb incident, after having seen her on the horse, he still takes her a lamb on that ‘girls do’ premise. At this point, with his knowledge, it seems almost ingenious of him to offer her a lamb but perhaps in this he’s appealing to the vain woman, the frivolous Bathsheba who likes pretty things. Maybe she’ll like the lamb as much as she likes herself.

Gabriel also, we can assume, looses out to other men because of his weakness and silly idea – it’s okay if Bathsheba doesn’t love him, he says, as long as he loves her. He is in many ways like Bathsheba herself when she falls for Troy.

Whilst Boldwood sees Bathsheba’s frivolity, and Troy her strength but all too quickly her weakness also, Gabriel knows what lies beneath all that. Perhaps he can see the future, perhaps it’s just that Hardy’s intimating the future to us and therefore we can ascribe that notion to Gabriel, but it certainly can seem as though Gabriel is just biding his time.

Gabriel ‘lets’ Boldwood continue his own passion; he doesn’t get jealous. He also ‘lets’ Bathsheba fall in love with Troy without too much opposition; his active opposition only occurs when Bathsheba goes to find Troy in her scared-she’ll-loose-him state. Gabriel has seen through Troy and tries to stop her going but she is too far gone in her anxiety to listen to him and, like Boldwood, somewhat obsessed. What if Troy finds someone else? she’s thinking. In becoming a worrier, Bathsheba becomes someone Troy dislikes.

“I want someone to tame me; I am too independent and you would never be able to, I know,” Bathsheba had said to Gabriel. This section, near the beginning and again bringing to mind the later Scarlett O’Hara, can be seen as illustrative of what Gabriel later aspires to be. It’s never said, Hardy only ever shows it, but in becoming more protective and proactive on the farm, Gabriel becomes this tamer of Bathsheba. He likely won’t tame Bathsheba as much as she suggested – we see in her submission to Troy her weakness, a sort of wish fulfilment; Bathsheba becomes tameable to Troy and thus boring to him. By the time she accepts Gabriel, she has, we can assume, come to see the relative power in equality and Gabriel’s new proactive and strict-whilst-protective nature is now more relevant. He’ll ‘tame’ her, as she wants, but without her having to submit herself as she did to Troy – we can assume that after the book ends, Gabriel’s presence, guidance, will limit her frivolity without changing her nature too much. Hardy suggests it’s Bathsheba’s frivolity that’s the problem, not her independence, and indeed her statement was more a reflection of her knowledge of social norms, and perhaps a bit sexually suggestive, too.

After not listening to Gabriel, going after Troy, and marrying the man, Bathsheba’s farm is at stake – a storm’s on its way and Troy has persuaded all the farmhands to get drunk. This, the beginning of the action in the book, that latter section which I personally think fantastic, starts with Gabriel’s literal battening down of the hatches all by himself. He can see the storm coming and, not taken in by Troy and being stronger in character than the rest of the men, is sober and working to out-wit the winds. He manages it; somewhat surprisingly there is no commotion later, Hardy doesn’t choose to create a quarrel and Bathsheba, still a little in love with her husband, helps Gabriel but says nothing to Troy. This is the start of the game changer – Bathsheba and Gabriel working together to save the produce, Gabriel being there when Troy isn’t, confirming her need for him. She had always needed him, always asked him to stay on as an employee whenever he said he was leaving, but here she starts to see the problems with her husband in context – there’s an immediate contrast between him and Gabriel.

Gabriel is there when Troy fakes his death and there to see the man return. Boldwood destroys himself, not that there was any chance he’d gain Bathsheba’s hand, and again there’s Gabriel, now in a position to propose a second time with real knowledge of the woman he loves. Could we say Gabriel changed for Bathsheba? I think we could to some extent. He changed in his attitude towards her, but not in his overall baring. Bathsheba hadn’t noticed many of Gabriel’s good traits and time needed to continue for her, too, to start to see him. They both changed. Love at first sight doesn’t always work, says Hardy; look at Troy and then Gabriel. But he continues: love will conquer if it’s true. Love has to be based in reality. No ‘taming’ when you want independence, no running after someone who isn’t interested (no matter what other books say), no catching someone before they go off with an old flame. Reality, respect, time.

Gabriel does what Boldwood won’t – he waits, properly. And his waiting, full of proactive work instead of looking at the phone, so to speak, pays off. But it only does so because Bathsheba wants it too.

Should We Assume Rebecca Is Horrible?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier as the heroine and Max in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

When I was researching my post on jealousy, there was a sentence in an interview with Kit Browning, Daphne Du Maurier’s son, that gave me pause. He said that it’s only Max who gives us the idea that Rebecca was a horrible person.

It’s somewhat true; the only person (almost – more on this later) who actually says anything that could make us think badly of her is Max, but we’d been thinking badly of her for a long while beforehand; our opinion of Rebecca is shaped by the heroine’s feelings and our thoughts of Mrs Danvers. And it’s wrong, really. Rebecca isn’t Mrs Danvers and the heroine had nothing to do with the first wife.

It’s the haunted atmosphere that first forms in us an opinion. As much as we can’t attribute the heroine’s feelings to Rebecca herself, at minimum we feel she haunts the place. And haunting is seen as a negative thing thus we feel worried, even if we don’t notice we do. We get glimpses of who Rebecca was: a person supposedly good at running a house, at playing host, at fancy dress, and these glimpses affect our opinion of her.

It’s Mrs Danvers who takes it up a step. Mrs Danvers’ obsession, her manipulation of the heroine, the subtle threats, the hint that throwing oneself out of the window is the right thing to do – all these seem to reflect Rebecca because whilst we don’t know for sure how Rebecca felt, we assume Mrs Danvers’ love was reciprocated. And in the absence of Rebecca herself, Mrs Danvers becomes her substitute, her stand in. That Max later says Rebecca was horrible only seems to back it up.

Should we consider Mrs Danvers’ mental state? Either she’s suffering from her loss of Rebecca so much it has caused her to become a supposed monster or she has some evil in her – that fire does not speak of a stable mind but as other stories and real life shows, a person can do something extreme because they are lost, hurt, and in need of help. Yes, this paragraph does smell of trying to make amends for bad things, like people are trying to say now that Henry VIII was bad because of this, that, and the other, but in Mrs Danvers’ case we know she was close to Rebecca.

Beatrice isn’t nasty about Rebecca, but she doesn’t seem enthralled, is instead quite blaïse and therefore we don’t really consider her thoughts once we’re further along. Jack, appearing shifty, does what Mrs Danvers does – infers a horrible person by association, though at least in this case Max’s revelation has more in it that applies directly to the person. Frank likes the heroine, does so from the start, which may signal a distaste for Rebecca – certainly the contrast between him, Max’s friend, and Mrs Danvers, Rebecca’s friend, seems a bit of a literary decision, a balancing of the scales.

But then there’s Ben, who tells the heroine Rebecca threatened to place him in an asylum if he told anyone that he’d seen her doing… well, we’re not sure, but it was something she obviously shouldn’t have been doing. The potential problem with Ben is that he’s presented as unreliable, but considering we already know about Mrs Danvers, we might consider him more reliable than the heroine herself might. We don’t know much else about Ben, so perhaps we shouldn’t believe him, but then there’s also no reason not to. Ben is a minor character, so perhaps Kit Browning forgot him, or perhaps the whole idea that Ben is unreliable, unstable, was enough to make him irrelevant in this respect – should we trust Du Maurier’s son’s omission as a sign Ben is unreliable?

As for the book itself, Du Maurier ensures we are spooked and considering she wants us to dislike Rebecca, that the book is about jealousy, we don’t really have much chance to feel differently unless we make a decision to read in a different way than we ‘should’ do, disbelieving the author herself at every turn. Rebecca’s written as controlling, promiscuous, horrible; there’s the hint that she was as nasty as Mrs Danvers – perhaps it was that her place in society meant she had cause to hide it.

Rebecca never really had a hope; Kit may be right insofar as the book’s concerned, that it’s only Max who gives us the idea, but his (Kit’s) mother wanted us to think that anyway so it could well be said Du Maurier gives us the idea herself. Just think of that ‘R’ – the text is written to make us dislike Rebecca.

Should we be thinking anything about Rebecca, characters and author aside? Society and common sense would tell us to listen to what people say but to also meet the person… at least meet her as much as we could. In worldly terms we should be thinking twice about befriending her but holding off on a final judgement. Perhaps it’s due to this conflict of advice that Du Maurier is able to grip us so well.

The commonly accepted idea is that we should read a book without letting our views of the author and our knowledge of the author’s life play a role, but in this book it’s a bit different. It’s not simply that Du Maurier’s feelings are included, as it is Charlotte Brontë’s in Villette, or the plethora of writers whose works have been panned because their views are offensive – Du Maurier’s book revolves around her thoughts in a different way that’s hard to explain. I don’t think she’d mind if we chose not to listen to the gossip she writes and to push aside any manipulation, but to like Rebecca would be to miss the point of the book.

Your thoughts?


Older Entries Newer Entries