Alex in Wonderland (or A Clockwork Tour)

Colin Bishoff, Georgia College & State University


Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Dodgson’s) Alice stories (1865, 1871) and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962) remain some of the most linguistically inventive works of English literature. Yet despite their shared fondness for creative wordplay—and due, perhaps, to the stylistic differences of their respective film adaptations—Carroll and Burgess are rarely considered side by side. While some of the parallels between their works can no doubt be traced to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake—which took inspiration from Carroll and which Burgess, in turn, translated into Italian—the similarities between the Alice stories and A Clockwork Orange are significant enough in themselves to merit attention. Beginning with a biographical comparison of Dodgson’s and Burgess’s backgrounds, this critical-creative essay explores the way the authors’ religious upbringings and intellectual pursuits influenced their creative work. The essay then examines the way that both books use their “coming-of-age” structure as a vehicle through which to explore the power of creative wordplay. As linguistic outsiders in their respective worlds, both “little Alice” and “little Alex” find freedom from the limitations of the adult world through creative expression. By tracing the cycles of growth apparent in both protagonists, we can observe that the narratives also lend themselves toward a liberating stance on language that is of interest to writers, readers, and language enthusiasts of all stripes. Keywords: Alice in Wonderland, A Clockwork Orange, Lewis Carroll, Anthony Burgess, neologisms, puns, language/linguistics, nonsense