AN ALICE.

Clarence Brown, writing about Mandelstam’s early poems, says (on page 177): “One quickly becomes aware that the voice uttering these poems is quite clearly an ‘Alice,’ to use Auden’s marvelous term. It is very Alice, this fastidiousness, this dainty swoon. And yet one is just as quickly aware that the whole Alice tonality is a sort of trick; to be more precise, it is a gambit, a shrewd surrender of material in the expectation of gain. For the speaker ends his poems too often with very confident assertions of superiority…”
Google has failed me, so I turn to the Varied Reader. Are any of you familiar with this allusion? (Yes, I thought of Alice in Wonderland, but it’s not at all clear that that’s what Auden had in mind, and I’d like to know the passage Brown was so confidently alluding to a generation ago.)

Comments

  1. Gary McClellan says:

    Auden, W. H. “Today’s ‘Wonder-World’ Needs Alice.” New York Times
    Magazine 1 July 1962. Rpt. in Phillips, Robert, ed. Aspects of Alice:
    Lewis Carroll’s Dreamchild as seen Through the Critics’ Looking- Glasses,
    1865-1971. New York: Vanguard, 1971. 3-12.

  2. Aha, sounds promising! Anybody have a copy of the article/book?

  3. I sent you the article, though I think it more likely that the specific reference is to “The Dyer’s Hand,” where IIRC Auden distinguishes Alices and Mabels via the AIW quote, “I’m sure I can’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh! she knows such a very little!”

  4. “In The Dyer’s Hand, Auden divides all the great writers into Alices and Mabels, quoting Alice in Wonderland, where Alice says, ‘I know everything, and I’m not at all like Mabel, because Mabel doesn’t know anything.’”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/poetry/maxwell.htm

  5. I am much obliged for the NYT Mag article, MMcM, and having read it, I’m sure it’s not the source of the reference. It must be the Dyer’s Hand Alices/Mabels division. Thanks to both of you!

  6. MMcM gets the quote from Carroll right, the Atlantic and Chris don’t. Chris quotes the Atlantic right, Mr. Maxwell there don’t get Carroll right. But that’s ok, cause Mr. Maxwell was just sayin’.
    Maybe Mr. Auden got it right, or maybe not – ‘pends on what his point was. Mr. Hat, would you mind sending me a copy of that there article? I’m alluz innarested by false Mabels.

  7. My ex-wife and I both had grandmothers named Mabel, as did her best friend when she was married. Sounds wonderful in some sense, but neither the marriage nor the friendship survived. Put that in your book of omens.

  8. My ex-wife and I both had grandmothers named Mabel, as did her best friend when she was married. Sounds wonderful in some sense, but neither the marriage nor the friendship survived. Put that in your book of omens.

  9. I am sorry for telegraphing the first comment; I only had time to track down the Mabel reference in Carroll before running to take care of something else. I feel justified now, since as is pointed out, others have just paraphrased.
    The reference is in fact the Writing essay in the Prologue section of the book, not the title essay, as I’d misremembered.

    “Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? … But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?’ … I’m sure I’m not Ada … for her hair goes in such long ringlets, and mine doesn’t go in ringlets at all; and I’m sure I can’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh! she knows such a very little! Besides, she’s she, and I’m I, and—oh dear, how puzzling it all is! I’ll try if I know all the things I used to know. …” Her eyes filled with tears …: “I must be Mabel after all, and I shall have to go and live in that poky little house, and have next to no toys to play with, and oh!—ever so many lessons to learn! No, I’ve made up my mind about it; if I’m Mabel, I’ll stay down here!”
            (Alice in Wonderland)
    At the next peg the Queen turned again, and this time she said: “Speak in French when you can’t think of the English for a thing—turn out your toes as you walk—and remember who you are!”
            (Through the Looking Glass)
    Most writers, except the supreme masters who transcend all systems of classification are either Alices or Mabels. For example:
      Alice                   Mabel
    Montaigne            Pascal
    Marvell                Donne
    Burns                  Shelley
    Jane Austen         Dickens
    Turgenev             Dostoievski
    Valéry                 Gide
    Virginia Woolf       Joyce
    E. M. Forster        Lawrence
    Robert Graves       Yeats

  10. There are other good snippets in that essay:

    A mannered style, that of Góngora or Henry James, for example, is like eccentric clothing: very few writers can carry it off, but one is enchanted by the rare exception who can.

    Search finds this page of them, but it looks to have OCR errors and formatting anomalies.

  11. scarabaeus says:

    ‘wot’ of the Adas of the world,

  12. AJP Crown says:

    …like eccentric clothing: very few writers can carry it off, but one is enchanted by the rare exception who can.
    This from a man who wore bedroom slippers in public.
    It’s good to see so many people are so familiar with The Dyer’s Hand that they can think to quote from it. The disadvantage of living in the bush is that I never know what’s really going on in the outside world.

  13. Zythophile says:

    So – errr – what is the difference between an Alice and a Mabel? Looking at the list I’d say Alices were measnt to be particularists or miniaturists, while Mabels were universalists or big-canvas types – but that doesn’t seem right, given what Alice says about Mabel. Or am I showing up my stupidity?

  14. I had the same reaction. I have no problem with Isaiah Berlin’s fox/hedgehog distinction, but I don’t really get this one.

  15. AJP Crown says:

    The fox & the hedgehog is a lot older than Isaiah Berlin.

  16. Anyone have a subscription to The New Yorker? If so, go to the online digital archive for the September 25, 1954 issue and find “Holding the Mirror Up to History,” a review by Auden of Berlin’s The Fox and the Hedgehog. See whether the Alice / Mabel distinction isn’t worked through there. I haven’t read it myself (yet).

  17. Fox ⇔ Hedgehog.

  18. Sorry, Language. Of course, you mean categorizing the writers.

  19. Bill Walderman says:

    Can anyone recommend a complete edition of Mandelstam’s poems in Russian that is currently in print and available?

  20. Kron, your link didn’t work.

  21. Bill Walderman says:

    “I had the same reaction. I have no problem with Isaiah Berlin’s fox/hedgehog distinction, but I don’t really get this one.”
    I wonder whether Alice/Mabel is just a sly parody of fox/hedgehog, intended to convey the thought that the fox/hedgehog distinction is an artificial, crude and maybe not very helpful way of thinking about most writers.

  22. AJP Crown says:

    Sorry, Nij. it was just to the Wiki article.
    Bill Walderman: Auden writing a parody of Isaiah Berlin doesn’t sound very likely — Irving Berlin, maybe.

  23. Can anyone recommend a complete edition of Mandelstam’s poems in Russian that is currently in print and available?
    The complete editions of Mandelstam are:
    Осип Мандельштам, Собр. соч., в четырёх томах под редакцией проф. Г.П.Струве и Б. А. Филиппова, Межд. Лит. Содружество, 1967-1981.
    Осип Мандельштам. Сочинения в 2-х тт. Том 1: Стихотворения, переводы. Сост. С. Аверинцев и П. Нерлер. Москва, Художественная литература, 1990.
    Осип Мандельштам. Собрание сочинений в 4-х тт. Сост. П. Нерлер и А. Никитаев. Москва, 1993.
    The first is classic but superseded and presumably long out of print; I have the last, which is excellent, but I don’t know about availability. (You might check with these guys.) If you only want the poems, I have this one-volume edition; again, I don’t know if it’s available.

  24. Bill Walderman says:

    Thanks for the referral. I’ve used those folks before. I didn’t find the editions you recommended, but I did order a low-priced edition, which hopefully won’t contain too many typos and won’t deteriorate before it arrives.
    Incidentally, I was amused to see that “Atlant raspravil plechi” by A. Rend is now on offer (v 3-kh tomakh) for about $60. I passed on it. I’ve never read any of that author’s works and I suspect it will be a long time before I do, either in Russian or in English.

  25. Heh. (“Atlant raspravil plechi” is Atlas Shrugged in Russian; I wouldn’t pay a dime for it in any language.)
    Rand was, of course, from Russia; she was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum (Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум).

  26. No one subscribes to The New Yorker any more? Wow, times have changed. I would, except we are already drowning in periodicals we got at the newsstand or the free swap bin at the library. Plus I found it elsewhere.
    “Holding the Mirror Up to History” (1954) is reprinted in The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Prose: Volume III, 1949-1955, just out this year. I am not 100% sure, but I don’t think it was previously. If so, then I suspect that most Auden non-experts like us would have only encountered the categories via the aphorization in The Dyer’s Hand (1962).
    It appears that the same theme was also taken up in the context of Marianne Moore. Again, I am not certain, but I think this is “Miss Marianne Moore, Bless Her!,” a review of O To Be a Dragon (1959) in the newsletter for the Auden / Barzun / Trilling effort, Mid-Century. (Going by checklists here and here.) Unless WorldCat is mistaken, it does not look like it will be as easy to track this down here. Though it will presumably be in Prose IV in a few years. (It’s not in A Company of Readers.)
    Here are some relevant portions from the New Yorker piece:

    Mr Berlin derives his two classes of men from Archilochus; I would like to suggest a classification of my own, derived from Alice in Wonderland:

    And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.

    “I’m sure I’m not Ada,” she said, “for her hair goes in such long ringlets, and mine doesn’t go in ringlets at all; and I’m sure I can’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh! she knows such a very little! … I’ll try if I know all the things I used to know.” (Alice fails to remember anything properly and starts to cry.) “I must be Mabel after all, and I shall have to go and live in that poky little house, and have next to no toys to play with, and oh, ever so many lessons to learn! No, I’ve made up my mind about it; if I’m Mabel, I’ll stay down here!”

    If all men may be divided into hedgehogs and foxes, they may also be divided into Alices and Mabels. Examples follow:

            ALICES          MABELS
            Thucydides     Tacitus
            Horace           Juvenal
            Marvell           Donne
            Leibnitz          Schopenhauer
            Jane Austen    Richardson
            Verdi              Wagner
            Henry James   Dostoevsky
            de Tocqueville de Maistre
            Tolstoy            Joyce

    All Alices have strong nerves. When he has to describe a flogging or a lynching, Tolstoy is as coolly detached as Homer. What shocks him most about human nature is not its love of violence, its capacity for hatred, but its willful stupidity, its preference for illusions to the truth. De Maistre, on the other hand, seems to me to belong to a type that is becoming, unfortunately, commoner—the intellectual with weak nerves and a timid heart, who is so appalled at discovering that life is not sweetly and softly pretty that he takes a grotesquely tough, grotesquely “realist” attitude. He would like William Godwin to be right and man to be perfectible; if that cannot be, then man must be utterly depraved—de Maistre is much more Calvinist than Thomist—and the public executioner is the saviour of society. One cannot imagine de Maistre, the advocate of punishment, beating up a peasant with his own hands, like Pierre Bezukhov, and then humanly ashamed of himself. The “real life” led by Nicholas and Princess Mary on their country estate presupposes neither an Inquisition nor Spiritual Exercises but only obedience to the same principles, stoic but cheerful, that the Red Queen recommends to Alice:

    “Speak in French when you can’t think of the English for a thing—turn out your toes as you walk—and remember who you are!”

    (You can just make out Isaiah Berlin’s and Auden’s tables in the p. 131 & 134 thumbnails in archive, along with all those great vintage ads. It’s tempting to buy access for that look.) I think parody is too strong a word, but it is playing off Berlin’s essay.
    In unrelated minor Auden works on the net, someone has put up Night Mail on YouTube.

  27. Interpolating from Richard Davenport-Hines’s biography, I believe the Moore piece to contain:

    Alices never make a fuss. Like all human beings they suffer, but they are stoics who do not weep or lose their temper or undress in public. Though they are generally people with stout moral standards, they are neither preachers nor reformers. They can be sharp, usually in an ironical manner, and tender, but the passionate outburst is not for them. As a general rule, also, while perfectly well aware of evil and ugliness in the world, they prefer to dwell on what is good and beautiful. Alices are always in danger of over-fastidiousness, as Mabels are of vulgarity.

    And to add:

            ALICES          MABELS
            Montaigne      Pascal
            Lovelace         Rochester
            Turgenev        Dickens
            Colette            Gide
            E. M. Forster    Heidegger

  28. So you were right about its being a conscious response to Berlin’s distinction—well excavated, and many thanks!

  29. Bill Walderman says:

    Somehow this reminds me of classifying individuals by astrological signs. Stuff like “Tauruses are strong-willed and impulsive, etc.” I’m still trying to make sense of the Henry James/Dostoevsky polarity.

  30. A.J.P.von Bodelschwingh says:

    I think parody is too strong a word, but it is playing off Berlin’s essay.
    Credit is due to Bill Walderman and you for making the connection to Berlin, M, but parody isn’t too strong a word, it’s entirely the wrong word.
    I recommend Richard Davenport-Hines’s biography of Auden, as well as his other books.

  31. I’m still trying to make sense of the Henry James/Dostoevsky polarity.

    Let’s not be so po-faced, folks. Have you forgotten how much of a tease Auden could be? I wouldn’t worry about the contrast. I’ll stick to Dostoevsky. Although I do pause, head bowed and hands clasped, at The Portrait of a Lady, everything else I’ve tried to read has made me extremely impatient – along the lines of “do get on with it, for Chrissake”. A lot of people feel that way.

  32. Of course he’s playing around; but it may be going too far to say that the whole thing is a put on. Consider what James himself said of Dostoevsky. Or even of Tolstoy (who is a special case for Auden’s argument with Berlin), as against, say, Turgenev.

  33. I like the way he lumps Thackeray, Dumas, and Tolstoy.

  34. I like the way he lumps Thackeray, Dumas, and Tolstoy.

  35. A.J.P. Crown says:

    That’s a good point. Poor Thackeray.

  36. In what language did these critics read Russian novels? Constance Garnett’s English? French? Berlin in the original?

  37. Berlin was born Russian and read them in the original; I presume Auden depended on the industrious Miss Garnett.

  38. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Berlin (Isaiah) was twelve when he came to England, so it seems likely that he read them in Russian first.

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