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Henry Holiday's illustration of Lewis Carroll's 'Hunting of the Snark'Insanity

"In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad."
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."


"We're all mad here." These were probably the words Alice least wanted to hear. But they follow a pattern in Carroll's books, all of which explore "madness" in all of its forms. In Carroll's day not much was known about the nature of mental illnesses. The insane were pitied, but for the most part not treated well.   Jan Gordon outlines how in the Victorian era an insane person was “appropriated” to the status of a child, which was an improvement over the status of animal, as the eighteenth century would have it (101). However, as children themselves were on the margins of society, the insane were still certainly on the furthest edges of society. Carroll however brings both children and mad characters front and center in his books. Some have argued that this is a satirical move to point out the absurdities and irrationality of most adults. However, others have read Carroll's compassionate treatment of the “mad” characters, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and even the Cheshire Cat, Alice as a radical stance for the rights and humane treatment of the insane. He argues that "mad" people sometimes see the world better than the "sane" ones and gives each character a voice and an entire world to occupy specifically created for them.


An Excerpt from the Hunting of the Snark
(Lewis Carroll, 1876)

The image above comes from the 1931 printing of Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark," a nonsense poem told in eight "fits." Henry Holiday, the illustrator, chose to illustrate this scene from the end of the eighth "fit," which describes an insane man's inability to express himself. The passage, though meant to be comedic, betrays a deep sympathy with madness and the people who "suffer" it.

To the horror of all who were present that day.
He uprose in full evening dress,
And with senseless grimaces endeavored to say
What his tongue could no longer express.

Down he sank in a chair--ran his hands through his hair--
And chanted in mimsiest tones
Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity,
While he rattled a couple of bones.

"Leave him here to his fate--it is getting so late!"
The Bellman exclaimed in a fright.
"We have lost half the day. Any further delay,
And we sha'nt catch a Snark before night!"



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