The Victorian Cat
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is filled with eccentric characters just waiting to be unpacked by a reader, or literary student. Lewis Carroll gave us no shortage of storyline, behavior or obscure setting within Wonderland that is packed full of meaning, and seems even fun to dissect. There is one character, however, that pops up through the novel seemingly without wonder. One character from the normal world that behaves only as one would expect, Alice’s cat, Dinah. Dinah is an ordinary housecat, and I’m left wondering what purpose this regular character provides for the story. Dinah is the only character from Alice’s life outside of Wonderland that she seems to miss at all. She encounters parental figures throughout the novel and not once does she mention her parents, she never mentions missing any friends and her sister only serves as a starting off and ending point for the novel, Alice doesn’t seem to miss her at all while she is in Wonderland. Her only concern is Dinah, the cat.
When Alice is falling down the rabbit hole she is seemingly not concerned about the fall, but is concerned about Dinah, “Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!” (Dinah was the cat.) “I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah, my dear! I wish you were here with me!”(7). Her encounters with other animals bring up an urge in her to see her cat, when she met The Mouse, for example:“…I wish I could show you our cat Dinah. I think you’d take a fancy to cats, if you could only see her. She is such a dear quiet thing…and she sits up purring so nicely by the fire, licking her paws and washing her face- she is such a nice soft thing to nurse and she’s such a capital one for catching mice”(18). Although this does bring up a humorous scene (telling a mouse about your mouse-catching cat’s adventures), it is also one of the only times throughout the novel that we are given a scenario of a character in which that character acts just as one would imagine it to.
What within a cat’s character that Alice would find so enthralling, that would cause her to have such strong ties to? Perhaps, in Alice’s real world, the cat embodies a freeness that she could only dream of. If we look at Alice through the filter of the Victorian Child, I would think that her relationship to Dinah and her longing for this cat says a lot. A house cat is allowed to behave and play just as they like, with little authority over them (unlike dogs who are trained and taught to listen to the authority of their owners), cats are allowed to do what they like, barring only making a dramatic mess of things. For example, Dinah (as Alice explains) is allowed to spend her days relaxing and playing, or hunting mice and birds. The freedom of play and lack of authority over her would be very appealing to a Victorian Child. One could try to place rules and regulations over a cat, but they generally won’t listen (or care to try to listen). Alice talks thoroughly throughout the novel about all of the rules she is forced to follow at home, and the lessons she has to take that have no sense of fun for a child within them. Wonderland embraces acting without rules or obligations and through Alice’s uneasiness we see how foreign this is to her, that her life must be filled with rules and expectations. Alice must watch her cat in awe of her ability to act however she pleases with little to no regulation. The Victorian Cat must have been almost opposite to the Victorian Child.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Toronto: Indigo Books & Music Inc., 2014. Print.