Clara in Blunderland
“No room! No room!” cried the March Hare, with a strong Irish brogue.
“There’s plenty of room!” said Clara. “Why, there are more tea-cups than people, ever so many. Besides, I didn’t know it was your table.”
This made the March Hare laugh a great deal. “It isn’t a table at all,” he said. “It’s a platform. It’s not all mine. The part above board belongs to him—” pointing to the Hatter with his spoon “—and all the rest to me. The Dormouse thinks he has a share in it too, but he hasn’t. That’s only our fun, you know.”
“Your views want broadening,” said the Hatter, suddenly. He had been looking at Clara for some time with great curiosity.
Caroline Lewis is a pen-name, that of the team of Edward Harold Begbie (1871–1929), J. Stafford Ransome (born 1860), and M. H. Temple, who wrote both Clara in Blunderland and a sequel, Lost in Blunderland. These two novels deal with British frustration and anger about the Boer War and with Britain’s political leadership at the time. Much of Begbie’s work was as a journalist, though he also wrote non-fiction, biographies, and some twenty-five novels, ranging from children’s stories to explorations of personal psychology and spirituality. In 1917, he publicly agreed with the pacifists in their opposition to the war and defended the right conscientious objectors not to fight in it. Later he wrote some of his best-known investigative and satirical work under the pen-name “A Gentleman with a Duster”.
J. Stafford Ransome, the illustrator of both Blunderland books, also worked as a journalist. Moreover he wrote on such wide-ranging subjects as labour relations, engineering in South Africa, and woodworking machinery.
In 1902 M. H. Temple collaborated again with Begbie and Ransome in The Coronation Nonsense Book (in the style of Edward Lear). Previously in 1894 he contributed satirical political verse to The Hawarden Horace by Charles L. Graves.
I should make it clear that I am not a student of early twentieth-century British politics—but I’m not publishing this book because of its value to the study of that time and place. I’m publishing it because it’s a splendid parody, amusing both for what it parodies as for its reflection of Carroll’s original.
It is by no means my intention to annotate this edition, but I can—with the help of a review in the British Empire League’s periodical United Australia (“One people one destiny”)*—give some guidance to the reader. In the section “Literary Note and Books of the Month”, Evelyn Dickinson, writes from London:
Clara in Blunderland, by Caroline Lewis, (Heinemann, 6s.).
Biographical summaries (to 1902) and photos will certainly help the reader to put the cartoon parodies into context, and guide the reader who wishes to pursue an interest in any of these characters, or in the ramifications of the Second Boer War in general.
In the end, in 2010, Clara in Blunderland has to stand on its own in a way that it didn’t in 1902. In my opinion it survives the passage of a century surprisingly well. Politics and politicians haven’t changed much, it seems, in a century. That may be regrettable—but at least Caroline Lewis can still make us laugh about it!
HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, Cnoc Sceichín, Leac an Anfa, Cathair na Mart, Co. Mhaigh Eo, Éire, 2010-03-21
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