By Layla Eplett | October 29, 2015
Maybe Alice was mad to be in Wonderland but she was really mad when she left the Mad Tea Party. Leaving the party, she vowed never to return and declared, “It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!” Manners were paramount when Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published 150 years ago. In Lewis Carroll’s subversive take on the British culture, authority, social convention, and conformity were all subject to parody and the Mad Tea Party was no exception. In it, everything–including fundamental Victorian norms like etiquette–went topsy turvy.
Edward Wakeling is the author of Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle, an appraisal of Carroll resulting from forty years of research. “Carroll was well aware of etiquette,” he tells me. In 1855, ten years prior to writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Carroll published Hints for Etiquette: or Dining Out Made Easy. It parodied the strict and stuffy rules characteristic of the notoriously formal and strait-laced Victorian era. Class was particularly pronounced during this period–manners could be a form of social signifier and depth of knowledge regarding etiquette could contribute to acceptance or dismissal from fashionable social circles.
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