A religious studies professor is bringing Victorian England and the whimsical world of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Kenyon in a new exhibit commemorating the beloved book’s 150th anniversary.
“Curiouser and Curiouser: 150 Years of Alice in Wonderland” is open weekdays 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. from Oct. 6 through Nov. 13 in the reading room at the Greenslade Special Collections and Archives in Olin Library.
Curator Royal Rhodes, the Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies, will give a talk to start the exhibit at 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, in the reading room.
Rhodes, who recruited help executing his vision from Special Collections Librarian Elizabeth Williams-Clymer and Claire Berman ’16, an Archives student manager, answered some questions about the display.
What will people see when they visit the exhibit?
Visitors will see books, artwork, photographs and other items celebrating the life and times of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known by his pen name of Lewis Carroll.
Several glass display cases will show Carroll's world of Victorian Oxford and the real-life persons he immortalized in 1865 in this enduring tale of a white rabbit, a Mad Hatter, a vanishing cat and playing-card gardeners interacting with a little girl, Alice Liddell, for whose amusement Carroll, a clergyman, mathematician, punster and amateur photographer, spun this story.
Some reproductions of the famous original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel will decorate the walls, and a selection of more modern artistic renderings can be seen in books on display. A standing bookcase contains more whimsical items: a replica of the Mad Hatter's hat, a pink flamingo and a copy of the white rabbit’s giant pocket watch.
How does a religious studies professor become interested enough in Alice in Wonderland to curate an exhibit about it?
Religious studies encompasses much more than people usually think, including in its scope: history, the arts, science and even mathematics. Other colleagues in religious studies at Kenyon regularly use materials in their classes from the arts, literature, music, film and drama — for example, the music of Bob Marley, the work of Israeli poets, Buddhist art and the poetry of 13th century mystic Rumi.
I like to say that the Department of Religious Studies should be called "The Department of Reality," since nothing in human experience is alien to religious perspectives and interpretations.
My own dissertation brought together interests in Victorian religion, history and literature, later edited into my book, The Lion and the Cross (OSU Press). Lewis Carroll lived and wrote during a turbulent time in England, and his background in Oxford with its "dreaming spires” and “impossible loyalties" (as poet Matthew Arnold described it) always has fascinated me.
What makes Alice timeless and appealing to a modern audience?
I think as humans we are hard-wired to enjoy stories, especially those that push the listener/reader to the edges of waking life and logic, through riddles, puns, and playful language and imagery. I think that the same factors that draw us to ancient myths and sacred stories, "magic realism," and the landscape of the surreal found in science fiction will continue to lure us — sometimes to follow Alice down that rabbit hole!
– India Amos ’17