Listening to the Alice Books
Journal of Victorian Culture
Despite the 'acoustic turn' providing 'a corrective to the visualist bias of much scholarship on modern and postmodern culture', the Alice books and their author have been almost exclusively seen rather than heard by critics to date. Prompted by a collaboration with composer Paul Rissmann which resulted in a concert suite performed by the London Symphony Orchestra in 2015, in this article I undertake the first detailed exploration of the sonic dimension of these texts. This merits attention not
... only because of its very emphatic foregrounding within the frame narrative of Wonderland, but also because of authorial interests and preoccupations, and the quickly established and still enduring musical afterlife of the books. Although triggered in Wonderland by the pastoral and by the sounds of the natural world, a process of translation or transformation renders a very different sonic landscape within the narrative proper. The bucolic frames an often raucous modern core, with Carroll embedding not only catchy anodyne melodies but also the sounds of the everyday and of contemporary industry, transport, and material culture. Attending to the rich and varied soundscape of Carroll's best-known works sheds new light on their widely examined images but also restores a key dimension of the texts, essential to their Victorian reception. The detailed exploration of the full range of sonic phenomena within the works, from music to noise, and spanning both sound and silence, opens up new relationships between Carroll and his Victorian contemporaries, as well as further reinforcing his status as a proto-modernist.