Presenter Information

Katie Fields, University of Wyoming

Department

Department of English

First Advisor

Dr. Caroline McCracken-Flesher

Description

The 19th-century author Charles Dodgson, better known as his persona Lewis Carroll, is famous worldwide for his nonsense novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Many are aware of the second Alice book, Through the Looking Glass, but his final novel Sylvie and Bruno has received far less attention. The purpose of my study is to examine the reasons for Dodgson’s successes and failures insofar as his development of comedy in each novel is concerned. Literary and comedic theories, diaries and letters, biographies, and criticism of Dodgson’s works guide my analysis of his texts. The reception of each of Dodgson’s works indicates the appeal of nonsense to an audience. Less certainty about meaning allows for broader interpretation by a readership. This study demonstrates how the imaginative and open nature of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the uncertainty Alice experiences in her own identity creates a stronger comedy than the more motivated Through the Looking Glass and finally how the didacticism of Sylvie and Bruno ensured its obscurity. The significance of this study is its assertion that comedy’s success relies on interpretability by a broad audience and that such interpretation is shaped by the identities of character, author, and reader alike.

Comments

Oral presentation, UW Honors Program

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Of Names and Nonsense: Play and Identity in the Works of Charles Dodgson

The 19th-century author Charles Dodgson, better known as his persona Lewis Carroll, is famous worldwide for his nonsense novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Many are aware of the second Alice book, Through the Looking Glass, but his final novel Sylvie and Bruno has received far less attention. The purpose of my study is to examine the reasons for Dodgson’s successes and failures insofar as his development of comedy in each novel is concerned. Literary and comedic theories, diaries and letters, biographies, and criticism of Dodgson’s works guide my analysis of his texts. The reception of each of Dodgson’s works indicates the appeal of nonsense to an audience. Less certainty about meaning allows for broader interpretation by a readership. This study demonstrates how the imaginative and open nature of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the uncertainty Alice experiences in her own identity creates a stronger comedy than the more motivated Through the Looking Glass and finally how the didacticism of Sylvie and Bruno ensured its obscurity. The significance of this study is its assertion that comedy’s success relies on interpretability by a broad audience and that such interpretation is shaped by the identities of character, author, and reader alike.