Historical Context- Alice in Wonderland


"'That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: 'because they lessen from day to day'"

Alice in Wonderland

Victorian Era

"Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with," the Mock Turtle replied; 'and then the different branches of Arithmetic - Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision."

"What else had you to learn?"
    "-Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling - the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils."

"'Ah! then yours wasn't a really good school,' said the Mock Turtle in a tone of great relief. 'Now at ours they had at the end of the bill, "French, music, and washing- extra." -p. 116

    These are some quotes from Alice in Wonderland that quoted on the education system. Alice's encounter with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon provided insights to what was typically learned. An interesting aspect would be that the Mock Turtle emphasized on washing. If we look at what women learned during the time, which involved "laundry", then the fact that the Mock Turtle found washing to be important is not surprising. Possibly, Carroll wanted to satirize at the Victorian education system, in which a woman's education would involve a trivial lesson, such as washing. In addition, Carroll did not include traditional academics, such as math or English into the text, but instead alters them into lessons about life. Clearly, there is little emphasis towards education, at least to Victorian women at the time.
    "'-yes, that's about the right distance - but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)" -p. 13

    Clearly, Alice attempts to demonstrate her intelligence by using big words, such as Latitude and Longitude; however, she fails to understand their meanings. Again, this emphasizes on the lack of importance towards academics, but the goal of school is to "mold the student into a young Christian gentleman" (Lee, 1997). However, the illogical nature of Victorian norms in Wonderland may be Carroll's motive to fantasize upon a fluid and carefree culture, in which etiquette can be abandoned.
Men and women did not receive the same education during the Victorian era. Women that are the Upper Class (Nobility) had the opportunity in obtaining an education and these chances decreased for lower class Victorian women. Their education comprised teachings that helped women succeed in their domestic roles, and less so towards the traditional academics. A typical curriculum would involve studies in "classes in laundry, home management, and needlework". Women were considered "non-conforming" if they had an education.
    Students (men) were taught the basic 3R's- "Reading", "Riting", and "Rithmetic". A preview of the textbooks used during the time, which includes English Grammar, Mathematics, and Geography.
The timetable for a Victorian school day can be accessed here, and we can see that strict manners are enforced, the Victorian culture of proper etiquette taught at a young age.