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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Retold in words of one syllable

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll
Retold by Mrs J. C. Gorham.

First edition, 2010. Illustrations by John Tenniel. Cathair na Mart: Evertype. ISBN 978-1-904808-44-2 (paperback), price: €9.95, £7.95, $11.95.

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Mrs. Gorham   Lewis Carroll
“Do you like your size now?” asked the Cat-er-pil-lar.   “Are you content now?” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, I’m not quite so large as I would like to be,” said Al-ice; “three inch-es is such a wretch-ed height to be.”   “Well, I should like to be a little larger, Sir, if you wouldn’t mind,” said Alice: “three inches is such a wretched height to be.”
“It is a good height, in-deed!” said the Cat-er-pil-lar, and reared it-self up straight as it spoke (it was just three inch-es high).   “It is a very good height indeed!” said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high).
“But I’m not used to it!” plead-ed poor Al-ice. And she thought, “I wish the things would-n’t be so ea-sy to get mad!”   “But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought to herself “I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!”
“You’ll get used to it in time,” the Cat-er-pil-lar said, and put the pipe to its mouth.   “You’ll get used to it in time,” said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again.
Al-ice wait-ed till it should choose to speak. At last it took the pipe from its mouth, yawned once or twice, then got down from its perch and crawled off in the grass. As it went it said, “One side will make you tall, and one side will make you small.”   This time Alice waited patiently until it chose to speak again. In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and yawned once or twice, and shook itself. Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away into the grass, merely remarking as it went, “One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”
“One side of what?” thought Al-ice to her-self.   “One side of what? The other side of what?” thought Alice to her-self.
“Of the mush-room,” said the Cat-er-pil-lar, just as if it had heard her speak; soon it was out of sight.   “Of the mushroom,” said the Caterpillar, just as if she asked it aloud; and in another moment it was out of sight.

Mrs J. C. Gorham, alas, is known to us only by her married name—and this means, by the usual practice of the time, that her husband was named J. C. Nevertheless, Mrs Gorham is notable for having written three books in “Burt’s Series of One Syllable Books”, Gulliver’s Travels (1896) and Black Beauty (1905) being her other two, with some eleven other books in this “series of Classics, selected specially for young people’s reading, and told in simple language for youngest readers”.

M. Sarah Smedman, in an article about Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s book, makes reference to Mrs Gorham’s adaptation:

Interesting if only because it evinces the challenge posed by a clever game, the book has a liveliness of style derived from varied sentence patterns and apt diction. Gorham cheats only a little when she divides the months of the year into hyphenated words.

Having read the Gulliver’s Travels retelling, I can say that it is a fine example of monosyllabic writing—Smedman makes no overstatement. Although Mrs Gorham “cheats” rather a bit more than this in her 1905 retelling of Alice—her style is still both vigorous and enjoyable. It is for this reason that Mrs Gorham’s “Alice imitation” (to use Carolyn Sigler’s term) deserves to be put back into print.

Quite unlike this is the rather dreadful 1908 version pub­lished by Saalfield, which, although claiming to be “in words of one syllable” is in fact no more than a hyphenated edition of Carroll’s text, which inexplicably omits two chapters entirely: “Pig and Pepper” and “The Lobster-Quadrille”.

Another version, genuinely monosyllabic, was published by Routledge & Sons sometime between 1900 and 1909. (The approximate date can be guessed from the publisher’s de on the title page.) Unfor­tu­nately, nowhere does the book inform us who did the retelling.

Despite the careful editing a book like Mrs Gorham’s must have had a century ago, some additional editing has been applied to the present text to make it more acceptable to a new generation of readers.

The first set of changes has to do with normalization of the text to conform to Carroll’s preference in writing “ca’n’t”, “sha’n’t”, and “wo’n’t”.

The second set of changes has to do with making sure that polysyllables are in fact hyphenated. This group of words includes all of the words in “-n’t”, only two of which were hyphenated in the 1905 text. (Mayn’t and weren’t are treated as monosyllables [meɪnt] and [wɛɹnt].) A number of hyphen­ations have been altered: “pict-ure” to “pic-ture”, “list-en” to “lis-ten”, “fa-ded” to “fad-ed”, “rav-en” to “ra-ven”, “strang-est” to “stran-gest”, and “cur-ly” to “curl-y” (even though this word is applied to the puppy’s fur and “cur-ly” makes a rather nice pun). In “You are old, Fath-er Wil-liam”, Mrs Gorham changed “somersault” to the variant “som-er-set”; this has been changed back to “som-er-sault”.

A small number of Mrs Gorham’s simplifications to Carroll’s text have been rescinded. I rather doubt that anyone will really care to compare the two texts, but—just in case—I will give a listing of a number of the changes here.

In “Pig and Pep-per” where Carroll had “thought Alice”, Mrs Gorham’s change to “Alice thought” has been undone; “by-the-by” has been restored to “by-the-bye”.

In “The Queen’s Cro-quet Ground”, “she thought” has been restored to “thought she” (with some misgiving).

In “The Mock Tur-tle”, the indefinite article in “It is a thing Mock Tur-tle soup is made from” has been restored to Carroll’s definite article “It is the thing Mock Tur-tle soup is made from”.

In “The Lob-ster Dance”, “Turn heels o-ver head in the sea!” has been restored to “Turn a som-er-sault in the sea!” (since the word “som-er-sault” appears in “You are old, Fath-er Wil-liam” anyway).

In “Who Stole the Tarts?”, “Si-lence in court!” has been restored to “Si-lence in the court!”; “shook both his shoes off” has been restored to “shook off both his shoes”; “Then I cut some more bread and—” has been expanded to include the original “and but-ter”; “Call the next” has been restored to “Call the next wit-ness”.

In “Al-ice on the Stand”, a typo “put them backed in the ju-ry box” has been changed to “put them back in the jur-y box” (with change in the hyphenation of jury).

Mrs Gorham’s unnecessary “’neath” for “be-neath” has been retained in the two instances where it appeared.

In a few cases (as for the Do-do and the Gry-phon) “his” has been restored to “its”.

In “The Queen’s Cro-quet Ground”, Mrs Gorham changed the card Seven to Six, although she could have written “Sev-en”. As editor I could have changed Six back to Sev-en, but in the end I chose to accept Mrs Gorham’s simplifi­cation—and so I deleted one of the spades in Tenniel’s illustration on page 59, so that Six in the picture matches Six in the story.

In “Who Stole the Tarts?”, on the other hand, I did restore “Fourth”, “Fifth”, and “Sixth of March” to “Four-teenth”, “Fif-teenth”, and “Six-teenth”, if for no other reason but to preserve Carroll’s implicit sum (3s.14d. + 3s.15d. + 3s.16d. = 9s.45d. which “reduces” to 12s.9d.—perhaps equivalent to the Ninth of December?).

In places, Mrs Gorham’s early 20th-century punctuation has been altered to conform to modern practice.

As in my other editions of Alice books, I have kept to the book design inspired by Martin Gardiner’s Annotated Alice.

Retelling in words of one syllable is indeed a “clever game” and I dare say it isn’t easy to do—not convincingly, anyway. Mrs Gorham achieved it: her retelling in simple language for younger and early readers is still worth reading today.

Michael Everson
Westport, February 2010

HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, Cnoc Sceichín, Leac an Anfa, Cathair na Mart, Co. Mhaigh Eo, Éire, 2010-03-21

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