BY MONIQUE QUINTANA
I went to London for the first time last winter, and I stumbled upon a new kind of Alice, or rather, the Alice I never knew about. After a beautiful cafe lunch at The British Library with my sister Miranda, we decided to head over to see the many different manuscripts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that were on display. The books, entombed in glass cases, wrapped around each other whimsically like a caterpillar. Because of the small, but fervent crowd, I went through the exhibit in reverse and was stunned when I got to the end, or should I say the beginning of the Alice exhibit.
I saw the very first manuscript with sketches done by Lewis Carroll himself. I wanted so badly to take a picture of it, but of course, I couldn’t. The books in that place are sacred, and I had to respect that. I wanted to take that moment and put it in my pocket. Carroll’s Alice had a messy curtain of curly hair and dark deep-set eyes. Now that I know exactly what English cold is, I knew that this was the kind of Alice that ran through wind swept country roads and bruised her toes on dirty wet tree branches. She looked organic, like a knowing tiny woman.
Later during the same trip, we spent the day at Oxford and visited a gift shop that was full of gorgeous Alice collectibles, and I saw the Alice familiar to most lovers of the book, the Alice that was drawn by Sir John Tenniel. In comparison to Carroll’s Alice, this Alice looked more sophisticated. Her dress had fluttery sleeves and a nipped-in waist. Her petty coat popped out to perfection, shaped like a little bell. She’s had an immense influence on gothic fashion, especially that of the contemporary Lolita girl with her Mary Jane shoes, stockings, and lace.
Being in the homeland of Alice brought me to the realization that I’ve been looking for this girl everywhere. I can recall a kaleidoscope of Alice. She haunts me in all her manifestations. Here are some that I find the most captivating, gorgeous, interesting, and unnerving.
Fiona Fullerton’s portrayal of Alice in 1972’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is worth noting. While her costume appeared somewhat lackluster on-screen, Fullerton was an exciting addition to the Alice aesthetic. She has very long darkish hair and looks a lot like Kirsten Dunst did in the late 90s. Her Alice looks striking and dramatic, which does much to complicate the character as a teen burgeoning with dreams and desire.
In Jan Svankmajer'’s 1988 film, Alice, the titular character is a very young girl, but one of the most cerebral Alices aesthetically. Her golden hair is always tucked behind her bangs, and she dons a pale pink dress that looks like it came from the wardrobe of a dusty china doll you’d buy at a thrift store. Her look imbues a quiet, yet nervous energy that makes the character simultaneously enigmatic and visceral.
Camille Rose Garcia’s illustrations for the 2010 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are a delightfully profane counter-aesthetic to the Disney Alice. Like that Alice, she has butter blonde hair, yet she equipped with super skinny Clara Bowesque eyebrows, spider-leg lashes, and jet-black accessories.
I have to credit my favorite Alice aesthetic to Alice Liddell, the petite Victorian model who inspired Lewis Carroll to create his Alice in the first place. Her look is also featured in the 1985 film, Dreamchild, which is a fictionalized biopic about her recollections of her relationship with Carroll. Around the time the book was written, she had a dark brown bob parted severely in the middle with baby bangs. She was often photographed in the garden in ruffled dresses.
If you look at her pictures, you’ll understand the full gravity of the fictional Alice. Sometimes it looks like her dress is made of flower petals that grow violently along a proper landscape. She looks free and curious. She’s got the look and attitude of a woman three times her age, like she knows she’s about to shake things up, make her fantasies realized, somehow, some way.
Monique Quintana is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary blogazine, Razorhouse and the Beauty Editor at Luna Luna Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Huizache, Bordersenses, and The Acentos Review, among others. She is a Pocha/Chicana identified mother, daughter, sister, lover, and teacher from California’s Central Valley.