Peter and Wendy, Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass are well revered children’s books that on the surface represent adventure and innocence that entertain children and adults alike. However, if they are analysed through a Lacanian lens they are revealed to have a darker undertone. Victorian fantasy literature was aimed at both children and adults and varied across different sub genres such as nonsense, sensationalist and crime. Lecercle in his book ‘Philosophy of nonsense: the intuitions of Victorian nonsense literature’ explores the motivation for nonsense literature
The deep-seated need for meaning, which nonsense texts deliberately frustrate in order to whet it, will be accounted for in terms of the non-transparency of language, of the incapacity of natural languages reasonably to fulfil their allotted task of expression and communication’ (Lecercle, 2012: 3).
Alice and Peter inhabit fantasy worlds that follow the genre of nonsense Victorian children’s literature. Nonsense literature was and still is extremely popular proven with the publications of new editions and film adaptations of the texts being looked at in this paper. These three novels explicitly tackle how turning into an adult is inevitable but at the same time something negative which should be prevented for as long as possible. They attempt to preserve childhood in a place that will exist forever and will avoid the conventions of time and meaning. The desire to prevent adulthood can be linked to French philosopher Jacques Lacan’s theory on development.
Lacan is a philosopher that has often been overlooked and excluded when critics engage with critical theory. This defines most of his psychoanalytical career where without going in to too much detail, Lacan often found himself on the outside of popular groups of psychoanalytical theory, being denied professional recognition by the International Psychoanalytical Association for example, because of his seductive influence over his students. Most of his teachings were in the form of seminars and very little of his work is first hand apart from Ecrits A Selection; his only notable published work. However, most of his seminars have been published over the years giving an insight into his theory. Influenced by many philosophers such as Claude-Levi Strauss who worked on the theory of structuralism, Andre Breton, the founder of structuralism, and Ferdinand de Saussure who investigated semiotics, Lacan is perhaps most overshadowed by his predecessor and arguably biggest influence, Sigmund Freud, the leading philosopher in psychoanalysis. Many children’s literature including Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Peter and Wendy have been analysed using Freud but there a fewer instances of a Lacanian interpretation mainly because of Freud’s popularity. This paper will therefore explore the following statement:
‘The authors of Peter and Wendy and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass attempt to prevent Jacques Lacan’s theory of development with an overall intention to avoid adulthood.’
This statement requires an introduction to some Lacanian theory. The mirror stage is the first part of Lacanian development. This is where the subject first becomes aware of identification and that they are themselves rather than something else. This realisation comes from a series of reflections in mirror objects but originally occurs as a reflection from the mother’s gaze. The child originally sees itself as a fragmented image that has something missing. However, after bonding with the mother, the child begins to love the self-image encouraging a type of narcissism and feels whole after developing what is perceived as an unbreakable union with the mother. Lacan ‘regards the function of the mirror-stage as a particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality’ (1977: 4). This initial phase is to introduce the subject to the world and make them aware that they exist and that society exists.
The relationship between mother and child is whole at this point and looks set to remain that way. However, before the child, the mother was dictated to by the Other and this reoccurs eventually after the child is born. The bond then becomes broken and the child becomes aware that the Other has something that it does not; otherwise known as the phallic symbol. This is known as castration. The child goes in search for the lack, or the manqué as referred to by Lacan, in an attempt to re-establish the bond between itself and the mother and this is where the concept of desire is introduced. Lemaire, in her book ‘Jacques Lacan’ enforces this point as she says ‘desire is the successor to the essential lack lived by the child separated from its mother’ (1977: 162). Lacan states this in Ecrits ‘If the desire of the mother is the phallus, the child wishes to be the phallus in order to satisfy that desire’ (Lacan, 1977: 289). After searching for the phallus, which the child believes will restore the unity between themselves and their parent, they discover that the missing piece does not exist and that everyone has a lack including the Other. They become attracted to the Other and finally become inducted into the Symbolic. The Symbolic, ‘the order which gives man his grandeur and his supremacy over the animal’ (Lemaire, 1977: 176), is the final destination for the Subject where the grasping of language and societal laws lies which then become the dictator of the individual.
In chapter one, there will be a comparison of the two female protagonists, Wendy and Alice, and their journey from the Imaginary to the Symbolic through their respective fantasy worlds. Both seemingly have a desire to reach the Other in order to locate their sought after phallic symbol which then turns into a desire to become a part of the Other after they discover the lack does not exist. Wonderland, Neverland and Through the Looking Glass all challenge Wendy and Alice in their quest to reach the symbolic. Neverland and the Lost Boys that inhabit it try to keep Wendy there forever to be their mother, Wonderland tries to discourage Alice from seeking development by introducing her to and sometimes exaggerating the possible effects of growing up and The Looking Glass tries to distract Alice to stop her reaching her goal of the Symbolic. Peter’s refusal to entertain Lacanian development, how he does this and whether remaining in the Imaginary is possible without it being detrimental to the Subject will be looked at in chapter two. The final chapter looks more closely at and compares how language creates order in society and disorder in Carroll’s fantasy worlds. He uses nonsensical phrases to show how meaning can never be a universal certainty and instead is dependent on the individual which leads to the breakdown and misrecognition of conversations. The chapter will also look at how power in Wonderland and Looking Glass is dependent on the ability to control language.