Curiouser and curiouser: Law in the alice books

Catherine Siemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In my analysis of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), I demonstrate that the law is all-pervasive in Victorian culture, even in such unexpected places as children's literature. The distortions in time, space, and logic in the two imaginary countries through which Alice travels echo the anachronisms and specialized reasoning of the legal system. In Wonderland, Alice negotiates her way through a random and chaotic world, where the rule of law is represented by the harsh ancien régime justice of the Queen of Hearts. The book ends with a trial, where legal procedure is twisted to the ends of absolute power, but Alice's increasingly confident logic is able to disrupt its Wonderland counterpart completely. The chessboard world of the Looking-Glass country, on the other hand, is a totally rule-bound reflection of bourgeois society, where, as J. S. Mill has famously contended, laws and social strictures have combined together to eliminate individuality. Instead, there is all-pervasive order. In this world, Alice plays by the rules in the forlorn hope that the social mobility afforded by the game, which will reward her by making her a Queen if she succeeds, will also help her to make sense of the world in which she has found herself. But in the panoptical world of the Looking-Glass legal system, justice operates backward, and crimes are punished before they are committed. She can gain no vantage of understanding and thus no ultimate triumph.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-455
Number of pages26
JournalLaw and Literature
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


  • British legal history
  • British literature
  • Children's literature
  • English legal history
  • Fictional trials
  • The fantastic


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