Down the rabbit hole with John Tenniel

alice-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glassIt’s just over one month into the New Year and the world of politics is thrashing from one extraordinary tweet to another and here in the UK a notable Member of Parliament has even suggested some of our politicians are living in Wonderland.

mad-hatters-tea-party
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Chapter VII, A Mad Tea Party, ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll. 1898 Illustration by John Tenniel (from my grandmother’s 1905 edition)

In last week’s parliamentary debate on Brexit, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, expressed his views on the hopes of his Pro-Brexit colleagues saying,

“Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union,” he said. “Nice men like President Trump and President Erdoğan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

Flicking through my Grandmother’s copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, to find the famous John Tenniel illustration of the Hatter’s Tea Party, I spotted a few more delightfully grotesque images I’d forgotten.

Interestingly, there is a tradition hailing from Suffolk, that a medieval stained glass, representation of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is the inspiration for the Duchess in John Tenniel’s illustrations found in ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’.

long-melford-elizabeth-talbot

This splendid painted glass is part of the spectacular, medieval stained glass windows of Holy Trinity, Long Melford in Suffolk. However, when digging around for further information I read that some commentators have suggested Elizabeth Talbot looks more like the Queen of Hearts. I’m not sure whether it is the headdress styles or the facial expressions depicted that have prompted such comparisons.

Of course, either way it’s a nice idea, but I think, in truth, I am more in agreement with Marilyn Roberts who, writing in ‘The Mowbray Legacy’, suggests that the well-known painting, ‘Grotesque Old Woman/The Ugly Duchess’ by Quentin Massys in the National Gallery, was more likely Tenniel’s inspiration.

ugly duchess
‘The Ugly Duchess’ or ‘Grotesque Old Woman’ by Quentin Massys. Oil on oak panel 62.4 by 45.5 cm. circa 1513 National Gallery, London.