Document Preview
  • Full Text
  • Scholarly Journals

The Ugly Duchess: She was everything a woman wasn't supposed to be

Pearlman, Edith. On The Issues; Long Island City Vol. 4, Iss. 1,  (Jan 31, 1995): 28.

Full text preview

The Ugly Duchess: She was everything a woman wasn't supposed to be.

The Ugly Duchess haunts me. She has haunted me since our first encounter, when I was seven. I was sitting with my parents on a train bound for New York reading Alice in Wonderland. The Duchess - a character in the book - was also sitting, on a stool in her kitchen. She was in a very bad mood. Holding a howling baby who would soon turn into a pig - a bit of Lewis Carroll whimsy that disturbed me then and disturbs me now. I few chapters later, the Duchess showed up at a croquet game. She was aggressively friendly to Alice. The Duchess is "very ugly," Alice thought.

When I looked up from the book, it was late afternoon. The train was crawling past an industrial Connecticut city which, reddened by the sunset looked complicated and interesting. I learned later it was considered a blighted city, an urban disgrace. But it didn't seem ugly to me.

The Duchess didn't seem ugly either.

In Alice in Wonderland, the Duchess' face is not described; the artist John Tenniel takes the responsibility of rendering her. I understood his drawings to be eyewitness, on-the-scene sketches, just as I understood Alice's adventures to be true accounts. In these drawings, the Duchess looks cranky on her first appearance, smug on her second. She is short of nose and long of lip, wide of jaw and small of eye. Her girth is draped in a loose garment that drags on the ground. A comfortable sort of sandal peeps out below. It's the costume of a derelict, topped by a lunatic hat. But she didn't look unattractive, at least not to my young eyes. The Duchess looked - though I was astute enough not to...