On Re-Reading Alice and Other Books

Lisa “You’re reading Gravity’s Rainbow?”

Two books on re-reading are reviewed in the TLS, and one of them looks at the classics of childhood reading.  What fascinated me about the review, among other things, was the invocation of an essay by Dickens (“Where We Stopped Growing”)  that celebrates the durability of childhood memories about books. Since the reviewer paraphrased rather than quoted, I went back to the original and rediscovered the passage in which Dickens reminds us that certain “nurse’s tales” can have a traumatic effect.

But, when I was in Dullborough one day, revisiting the associations of my childhood as recorded in previous pages of these notes, my experience in this wise was made quite inconsiderable and of no account, by the quantity of places and people utterly impossible places and people, but none the less alarmingly real that I found I had been introduced to by my nurse before I was six years old, and used to be forced to go back to at night without at all wanting to go. If we all knew our own minds (in a more enlarged sense than the popular acceptation of that phrase), I suspect we should find our nurses responsible for most of the dark corners we are forced to go back to, against our wills.

Here’s the link to the review of books by Patrician Meyer Spacks and Jonathan Yardley, and, below it, Spacks on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


“To see Alice as a Cartesian heroine may encourage us to discover her unexpected resemblance to some other figure from the works accumulated in that miscellaneous collection in our heads. To think of her as having identity problems makes her suddenly, comically congruent with a host of modern and postmodern characters. In other words, talking about such matters as pragmatism and identity in connection with a children’s book can heighten the reader’s consciousness, and to heighten consciousness enlarges the inlets of pleasure. The more I think about Alice, the more interesting she becomes to me. A book’s propensity to provoke thought, for me, stands high among its virtues.”