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fbook icon 60The Amazing Mr Carroll

 Alice mad Hatter

All my life I’ve been intrigued by Lewis Carroll’s Victorian masterpieces: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. As a little girl, I found the books irresistible, even though there were parts that terrified me. Being the kind of child who liked order and stability, I couldn’t cope with a chaotic world where rules changed by the minute, if they even existed at all. Reading Alice was like watching a scary movie – you would put your hands over your eyes and then take a quick peek anyway because you couldn’t help yourself. Perhaps that’s why the storyline and characters have lived in my subconscious ever since.

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As an adult I’ve come back to Carroll’s work unencumbered by the fear factor that plagued my childhood reading of it. I’ve discovered the delightful word play and the amazing levels of meaning embedded in the text.

When I was writing the first draft of THE JADE WIDOW, it struck me that my two female protagonists were facing a similar dilemma to Carroll’s Alice - the search for identity in a changing world. For Alice, the journey is a fantastical one; for Amy and Eliza it’s a life journey with serious choices to be made. Who and what do they want to be? Which path will they choose? Where will it lead? What happens if they break the rules? Or can they change them to suit themselves?

My childhood copy of Alice in Wonderland was a 1904 edition, passed down from one generation of my mother’s family to the next and now residing with me. Although the cover is battered and a few of the colour plates have been ripped out, it’s basically intact. You can see some of the pages here.

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When I was in Year 6, our teacher announced that she was staging a musical version of Alice in Wonderland and sought candidates for the leading roles. At that point in my young life I secretly dreamed of being an actress, so naturally enough I wanted to play the heroine. Sadly it wasn’t to be. I could act reasonably well, but I was hopeless at singing and dancing. The starring role went to my best friend, who happened to be a beautiful ballet dancer. What part was I given? The Mad Hatter? The Doormouse? The Cheshire Cat? None of the above. I played a shellfish in the lobster quadrille, where I performed a very clumsy soft-shoe shuffle. 

Deborah O’Brien

November 2013