Alice in Wonderland | Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

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Alice in Wonderland | Chapter 10 : The Lobster-Quadrille | Summary

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Summary

Though the Mock Turtle is crying almost too hard to talk, it manages to sob out that Alice has probably never heard of a Lobster Quadrille. When she agrees that she has not, the Mock Turtle becomes a vortex of energy. He and the Gryphon scream out instructions while "capering wildly about." With equal suddenness, they collapse and look mournfully at Alice. Then they dance solemnly around her, singing.

The dancing over, they ask Alice to recite some lessons for them. She obediently does so, getting the words wrong. Then the Mock Turtle begins to weep out a song about turtle soup. In mid-song, someone calls, "The trial is starting!" The Gryphon takes Alice's hand and rushes her away.

Analysis

Like many well-educated 19th-century Englishmen, Lewis Carroll knew a great deal about natural science and incorporated it into the book. This is the case with the Mock Turtle. When they are on land, sea turtles appear to shed tears, which is actually their way of discharging excess salt from their bodies. The Mock Turtle is traditionally illustrated as a tortoise with a calf's head, reflecting the use of veal in an English dish called mock turtle soup.

From a critical standpoint, this chapter is weakened by its reliance on parodies; there's no action except for the quadrille demonstration. Fortunately, the manic instructions from the Gryphon and Mock Turtle make that scene very funny. The actual ballroom dance known as the quadrille is complicated and hard to learn; Alice Liddell and her siblings learned it from a tutor. The song "Beautiful Soup" is based on a real song called "Star of the Evening." In an 1862 diary entry, Carroll writes that Alice Liddell and her sisters performed it for him. The song's chorus—"Beautiful star, / Beautiful star, / Star of the evening, beautiful star"—prove that it was certainly well worth a parody.

It is clear in this chapter that Alice has learned from her gaffe in Chapter 2, when she terrified the Mouse by talking of her cat's mousing prowess. She is about to tell the Mock Turtle that she has eaten whiting (a type of fish) but stops herself, and the Mock Turtle continues talking, oblivious to her true association with the little fish.

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