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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.

Curator’s Pick: Favorite Item from the Alice 150 Exhibit

I haven’t counted, but I would guess that at least 10% of people who meet me ask if I play basketball. I haven’t. But when you are almost 6′ tall, that’s a fair question. Jabberwocky1

It might seem surprising then that someone who cannot dribble to save her life might choose  Christopher Myer’s Jabberwocky, the Classic Poem from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There as her favorite item in the Alice 150 exhibit. But I have my reasons. Myers’ brilliant recreation Carroll’s most famous poem as a pick-up basketball game is visually engrossing and thought provoking and his striking illustrations pulse with energy. Myers uses his original illustrations in tandem with Carroll’s original poem to create a “Jabberwock” who is the towering king of an urban basketball court…up until now! The oversize, oddly shaped and multicolored font sprawls across the page in between large, fiery-eyed players who seem as if they are somehow inspired to repeat Carroll’s poem.

And if I had to describe why I like this seemingly strange, nonsensical interpretation of a nonsense poem, it might be for the very same reason. Though Myers’ work seems like an incongruous and nonsensical pairing of the modern and the Carrollian, I still feel like I have learned something from it. This is a work meant to be experienced and not just read. There is something inspiring about the towering figures in their poetic intensity. Their fervor could, as a New York Times reviewer concluded,”make you believe that somewhere in Mount Cemetery in Surrey, England, Lewis Carroll is attempting a graceful spin move.”

And if Lewis Carroll can, then why can’t I?  If the library thing doesn’t work out, a second career as a WNBA star/poet could be a solid plan B. Curiouser things have happened.

Visit the Alice 150 and Counting exhibit in Hornbake Library to view more curious versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or explore our online exhibit.


Edith Sandler is co-curator of the Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit in Hornbake Library and is Graduate Assistant for Instruction and Outreach at the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives. She will receive her MLS from UMD’s iSchool in May of 2016 and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles.

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Maryland Day 2016 in Special Collections

Special Collections and University Archives celebrated Maryland Day 2016 with crafting, coloring, croquet, and discovery! Among the activities we hosted in Hornbake Library were kid-friendly crafts like Color Your Own Terrapin, Color Characters from Alice in Wonderland, Perform Your Own Radio Advertisement, and Play a Game of Alice in Wonderland Croquet with flamingo mallets and hedgehogs- just like Alice!

Visitors also had an opportunity to discover more about Special Collections with activities highlighting our collections and exhibits. these included Meet the Real Testudo– the taxidermied terrapin who served as the model for the beloved statue located outside McKedlin Library, View Student Posters on UMD history, listen to the Alice in Wonderland audio book as they walked through out Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit, and explore one of our newest collections- the Filipino American Community Archives.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to make it a fun-filled day in Hornbake Library!

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Alice 150 Featured Item of the Month: May

Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz is an exhibit highlighting the timelessness of Alice in Wonderland and the life and work of Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). Each month, a new item from the exhibit will be showcased.

In May, visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view a delightful pop-up book designed by Czech architect and artist Vojtěch Kubašta (1914–1992). The cover
of this book has an oval die-cut hole in the center that gives the illusion of Alice falling
down the rabbit hole. The various characters on the inside of the first pop-up can be seen through the hole in the cover of this cleverly designed book.

View all the featured items of the month on our online exhibit Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll.

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Join us for a Labor History Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon in Hornbake Library

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Join a community interested in promoting labor history by editing the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Part celebration and part workshop, Edit-a-Thons are organized around a single topic as a means to build awareness and community. We’ll draw content from labor-related collections at the University of Maryland, including the AFL-CIO Archives. No editing experience necessary, however participants should have basic computer skills. All participants will receive complimentary issues of Labor’s Heritage journal.

Encore of ‘Alice Goes to the Movies’

Hornbake Library is excited to announce a three-part film series- Alice Goes to the Movies. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see early Alice films and learn about how they were saved from the passage of time. David H. Schaefer, longtime Lewis Carroll collector and Alice film expert, will be sharing some of the highlights of his Alice film collection and discussing the process of restoring and digitizing them.

Join us on Thursday, May 5 from 4:30-6:00pm in Hornbake Library, Room 0302J for our final film night. Dr. Schaffer will be opening the film series with a brief introduction on Fort Lee New Jersey as the film capitol of the world.  Afterward, munch on popcorn as we enjoy the 1931 film Alice in Wonderland, directed by Bud Pollard. For some animated fun, we will also show the Mickey Mouse and Popeye shorts with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

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All are welcome – even Mad Hatters and March Hares! Whether you are interested in learning about film preservation or are one of many Alice fans, you are certain to enjoy a one-of-a-kind adventure in Wonderland. Directions and parking information can be found online.

Don’t forget to visit our Alice 150 Years and Counting: Legacy of Lewis Carroll exhibit, currently on display in Hornbake Library, to explore all things Alice.

If you are a film/theater/music fan, don’t miss the exhibit Alice in the Performing Arts, now on display in the Lowens Reading Room at the Peforming Arts Library. This companion exhibit features unique Alice film items, like this book of previously unpublished Walt Disney illustrations.

Visit our online exhibit and take a look at some of the illustrations inside this and other Alice items on display

Spotlight on Wonderland: The Duchess

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With a frustrating mix of rain, wind, sunshine, pollen, and taxes, the month of April is certainly reminiscent of the volatile tempers of the Duchess. Blustery then blithe, raucous then regal, the duchess is an absolute mess of contrary and contrasting emotions.

When Alice first walks into the Duchess’ home, she notes the distinct and overwhelming aroma of peppery soup, followed by the sound of howling and sneezing. These sounds arise from the duchess and her baby sitting in the middle of the room, feeling the effects of an overzealous cook.

`There’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!’ Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing.

There was certainly too much of it in the air. Even the Duchess sneezed occasionally; and as for the baby, it was sneezing and howling alternately without a moment’s pause. The only things in the kitchen that did not sneeze, were the cook, and a large cat which was sitting on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear.

When Alice attempts to calm the cacophonous kitchen, she is rebuked. “If everybody minded their own business,” the Duchess said, in a hoarse growl, “the world wound go round a good deal faster than it does.” Not long after, the Duchess all but flings her child into Alice’s arms in her haste to get ready for the Queen of Hearts’ croquet game.

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But this is not all we see of the Duchess. Later, at the croquet game, she appears again in a completely different state of mind and attitude. It is not hard to understand why Alice feels something akin to whiplash when she is greeted again.

`You can’t think how glad I am to see you again, you dear old thing!’ said the Duchess, as she tucked her arm affectionately into Alice’s, and they walked off together.

Alice was very glad to find her in such a pleasant temper, and thought to herself that perhaps it was only the pepper that had made her so savage when they met in the kitchen.

In the dialogue that follows, the Duchess reveals that she can find a moral in absolutely anything. Inevitably, when these morals are stated, they cause the reader’s eyes to cross.

Would you rather encounter a cantankerous Duchess or a short-tempered Queen in Wonderland?

Did you Know:

  • Tenniel’s illustration of the Duchess may be based on a 14th century painting of Margaret Maultasch, Countess of Tyrol, which is titled ‘The Ugly Duchess’.
  • The Cheshire Cat belongs to the Duchess. You can see it in the background of illustrations of her kitchen. When Alice asks why her cat grins, the Duchess, in her usual huffy manner, replies “It’s a Cheshire cat…and that’s why.”

Visit the Maryland Room gallery in Hornbake Library from October 2105-July 2016 to discover more about the Duchess 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.