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Alice Rides the Victorian Railroad


In Looking-Glass world, Alice makes a short railroad journey inside the compartment of a passenger car ("carriage") filled with odd travelers, among them a man dressed in a white paper suit and paper hat, a talking goat, and tiny talking insects. In the real Victorian world of 1871, the year Looking-Glass was published, travel by rail was a popular way of getting from place to place in England. But it was not luxury travel. There was no dinning car (passengers had to bring their own food or buy food from a station's food vendors) and there were no restrooms -- passengers had to relieve themselves at stations along the way, or, if female, carry a chamber pot in a basket and ride in a car filled only with women, while a man might secretly pee into a long tube strapped to a leg and hidden beneath his pants. A traveler might also discover (too late, perhaps) that a passenger in the shared compartment might be a con artist, a pickpocket, or a violent criminal dressed as a clergyman, but the compartment seldom contained non-human passengers such as those riding in Alice's compartment. Source: Daniel Pool, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (New York, 1993).

Illustration commentary: Top: Alice and fellow carriage passengers drawn by the Illinois-born illustrator Peter Newell (1862-1924) for a 1902 American edition of Looking-Glass. The conductor looking into the compartment was called a "guard," a loan word from the vocabulary of horse-drawn passenger and mail coaches. The train is stopped and the guard is standing outside the compartment looking inside with binoculars because carriages had no corridor or passageway between compartments and a compartment's door opened directly to the outside. Newell has dressed the human male passenger in what appears to be cloth clothing, not paper, and has included the goat. (The illustration is reversed for display with color added by AWT.) Bottom: A 1946 American colored version of John Tenniel's original black-and-white illustration for Looking-Glass showing the paper-dressed man and a goat. In the artwork, Alice's hands are inside a barrel muff, a fashionable Victorian lady's hand warmer, though the book gives no information about the temperature of Looking-Glass world. Atop Alice's head is a stylish porkpie-shaped hat decorated with a white feather. The guard is holding binoculars in both illustrations because in Looking-Glass the guard observes Alice through a telescope, then a microscope, and finally opera glasses, which are theater binoculars. Sources: Michael Hancher, The Tenniel Illustrations to the "Alice" Books (Columbus OH, 1985) and AWT's illustration files.

Wood factlet: A popular wood used to make Victorian railroad carriages, such as Alice's carriage in Looking-Glass world, was teak (Tectona grandis), a tropical hardwood tree that is a durable building material and during the Victorian era was imported into England from the British Empire's tropical possessions. Source: AWT's railroad files.

Royal factlet: England's Queen Victoria (reigned 1837-1901), who the author of Looking-Glass never met in person, enjoyed traveling by railroad, probably because she rode in a private royal carriage that contained a restroom for her personal use. Source: Christopher Hibbert, Daily Life in Victorian England (New York, 1975).

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