Curator Pick: Favorite Item from the Alice 150 Exhibit

My favorite piece in the Alice 150 collection is a sweet white booklet, titled “Useful and Instructive Poetry”, written and illustrated by Lewis Carroll at the adolescent age of 13. What I find both endearing and fascinating is that in reading it, we can see themes that pop up again in Carroll’s writings as an adult.

For example, even as a child, Carroll took the issue of punctuality quite seriously ( a little too seriously if you ask me…then again I was huffing and puffing to get to a meeting this morning, so who am I to talk? I’m sure that from wherever he is now, Carroll is tsk-tsk-tsk-ing my lack of punctuality.)

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We are all accustomed to hearing of the white rabbit, dashing to an event for which he fears he will be too late. But in this booklet Carroll illustrates what almost appears to be an early version of the white rabbit: a rather stout man rushing, and multiple versions of a grandfather clock. The charming, albeit somewhat puzzling illustration is also followed by a rather sermonizing poem on the importance of being on time for any and all occasions.

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Another motif that appears both in this volume and in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is Carroll playing around with the idea of “A Tale of a Tail.”

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I think what intrigues me most about “Useful and Instructive Poetry is that it opens a window for us to be able to view the themes and ideas that shaped Carroll as a child, so much so that they reappear in his most popular and endearing work.

What do you think about “Useful and Instructive Poetry”?

Explore this item and more works by Lewis Carroll in our Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit, now open to the public in Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland.

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Brianne Phillips is a graduate student at the University of Maryland iSchool. She graduated from Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, and loves nineteenth century literature . She currently works in Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library, as well as McKeldin Library. She is one of the Alice exhibit team interns who assisted with the creation of the ‘Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll’ exhibit.

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