Spotlight on Wonderland: The Dormouse

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Feeling sleepy? You must be channeling the Dormouse, the drowsiest guest at the Mad Tea Party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice first encounters the Dormouse napping at the table, with the March Hare and Hatter using it as a cushion.  It initially sparks her sympathy as she approaches the scene:

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and the talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

Sympathy soon turns to frustration as Alice tries to keep up with the never ending nonsense of the March Hare’s tea party.  Throughout the mayhem, the Dormouse occasionally wakes up to assure the group that he wasn’t sleeping. He also tells a rather perplexing tale about three sisters who lived in a treacle-well.

`They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; `and they drew all manner of things–everything that begins with an M–‘

`Why with an M?’ said Alice.

`Why not?’ said the March Hare.

Alice was silent.

The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `–that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness– you know you say things are “much of a muchness”–did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’

`Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, `I don’t think–‘

`Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.

As Alice abruptly leaves the tea party out of frustration, the Dormouse falls asleep again as the March Hare and Hatter try to stuff him into a teapot. Poor little guy!

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Alice later crosses path with the Dormouse at the trials of the Knave of Hearts. He briefly wakes from his slumber to state the Queen’s tarts were made of treacle. His claim outrages the Queen, who calls for him to be collared and suppressed. It seems this slumberous creature can’t catch a break!

The Dormouse is staple in illustrations of the Mad Tea Party, often flanked on either side by the March Hare and Hatter. Since Tenniel’s original illustrations, artists have provided their own interpretation of this sleepy tea party guest. Many have singled out the Dormouse in their illustrations, shining a spotlight on a character so closely connected to (and perhaps overshadowed by) two of Wonderland’s maddest inhabitants.

Is the drowsy Dormouse your favorite Mad Tea Party guest?

Did you know?

  • Dormice were a popular pet in Victorian England. They are nocturnal, squirrel-like (and adorable) animals, small enough to be kept in teapots with a bit of hay.
  • Dormice are nocturnal animals, known for long periods of hibernation. The Latin word “dormire” means to sleep.
  • Treacle is a sugary, molasses syrup popular in Britain.

Visit the Maryland Room gallery in Hornbake Library from October 2105-July 2016 to explore the Hatter and the rest of the Wonderland cast of characters in the exhibit Alice 150 Years and County…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz.

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One thought on “Spotlight on Wonderland: The Dormouse

  1. Pingback: A Look Back at 2016 | Special Collections and University Archives at UMD

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