Alice's Adventures in Sunderland (1879) is a seminal cautionary Realist novel written by the English author Earl Edward Henry Hardwicke III under the pseudonym Carol Lewis. It is generally considered to be the pinnacle of the so-called Purification Movement, which typically offset virtuous upper-class Victorians against their smelly, dimwitted working class counterparts through a series of unsavoury and unhygienic encounters, in the process exposing the ungodly ways of the Northern proletariat.
Lewis' tale - which set the blueprint for the genre - tells the timeless tale of a young girl named Alice who by some horrific accident of fate wakes up in an abandoned dockyard in Sunderland, a macabre world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. The remainder of the novel (proceeding directly from this realisation) recounts the heroine's courageous attempts to escape the Macken hellhole without being talked to, touched, or breathed upon by any of the hideous inhabitants.
Alice was written in 1879, the year Northern men were granted the same civil rights as the other great apes. Outraged by this development, Lewis resolved to write a work of fiction to show the filthy creatures as they really were, and subsequently planned a tour of what he called Britannia Inferior in order to do some research for this lofty task.
On the course of his tour, Lewis visited many different towns and villages in preparation, his notes from the era indicate that he frequented many notable buldings of the day. Historians consider the author's notes to be unreliable however, as he seemed unable to distinguish taverns from homeless shelters, or schools from prisons. Lewis generally referred to all of them as 'bellyflops' a characteristically clever play on the colloquial term 'dive'.
Part of the author's travels included sailing up the River Wear in a boat, accompanied by three young girls who were friends of the family. The locals took a liking to the girls, especially little Alice, who was the middle child. As Lewis recalls:
|Alice, being the silly and carefree child she is, thought it would be a good idea to engage one of the vulgar little halflings. Imagine her shock when one of them yelled back asking to see her 'rabbit hole' of all things. She was shocked and confused, and I was naturally appauled. However it was this moment that I was inspired, and the novel first manifested itself in my head.|
Following this incident, the author created the fictitious world of Sunderland,, taking inspiration from both his travels through The North and his own nightmares. He began writing Alice in Sunderland that very night, and at this early stage he had already decided to dedicate the book to the real-life Alice, who had died of shock on the way home to London.
Cheshire Man: The man from Cheshire is one of the most iconic characters from the novel. He appears before Alice in a dark alleyway, and as such, the only visible part of him is his pearly grin, illuminated in the moonlight. Alice remarks at this point that she's seen a man without a smile, but never a smile without a man, and speculates that he must be very poor indeed not to be able to afford a physical form. They later share the memorable exhange:
Alice: "I loathe this place. Everything here's so Northern."
Cheshire Man: "Why yes, we're all Northern here, even I am."
Alice: "Well I'm not."
Cheshire Man: "But of course you are, or why else would you be here?"
Alice: "How dare you."
The Cook and the Baby: The Cook is described as an old, foul-smelling woman with a pig under her arms. When Alice meets her, she is making soup from dripping, brown water and gin. Alice is asked to hold the pig, which then turns into a baby before her eyes. She asks the cook what happened to her pig, and the woman responds; "Eh, what you saying like? That's me little girl". Alice is unable to understand the woman's nonsensical and seemingly made-up language, so she runs away.
The Queen: Alice purues the Queen throughout the novel, determining that as the richest, most upper-class person in the world, Her Majesty is the only one who can save her. The novel ends with them playing a nice game of croquet.
Although the novel's status has since become legendary, not all the reviews were positive. Many critics for instance disliked the episodic nature of the plot. One said; "the book is little more than a series of isolated encounters, it has no tension and no pay-offs". Lewis responded by saying that this reflects life in the North. Another review described it as "a long and monotonous blur that lacks any kind of direction". Again, Lewis pointed out that this is very much like Northern life.
- And particularly smart dolphins.
- Scholars have speculated that the writer thought 'dive' had too many connotations of gracefulness to be used in this context.
- Not before thoroughly bathing, however.
- Lewis had a knack for languages, and created the entire Mackem language while writing the novel.