Published: Feb. 1, 1998 By

(1)   Middle-class Victorians were captivated by difference. They compulsively ordered their world in terms of the oppositions they imagined between men and women, public and private life, civilized and savage cultures, among other things, and promptly installed themselves whenever possible at the positive pole of the oppositions they noted. While it would be unfair to say that the Victorians invented binary thinking, it is not overstating the case to argue that they perfected it, locating the bourgeois, middle-class woman, for example, at the heart of an expansive structure of social, racial, and cultural differences that efficiently mapped out the limits of self and other, insider and outsider.

(2)   Yet, if it is by now a given that the middle-class woman in the nineteenth century was the ultimate insider, commanding a decisive role in the invention of middle-class taste, national character, and standards of health and hygiene, it must be noted that this same middle-class woman was also a liminal figure, a "border subject," whose travels through European culture do not, in fact, confirm the dichotomous landscapes so carefully cultivated by the middle class but instead disclose the tempestuous borderlands out of which middle-class womanhood in the nineteenth century is actually made. The celebrated adventures of Lewis Carroll's Alice and the hysterical travels of the subject of Sigmund Freud's early case study, "Frau Emmy von N.," follow in the tradition of such border travelers. Alice and Emmy's encounters with the grotesque figures of life on the border provide the European reader with a model (and a map) with which to establish domestic womanhood even as they dwell, often in excruciating detail, on the beastliness that simply will not remain safely underground. Middle-class womanhood consequently emerges in these texts less as proof of a reigning nineteenth-century metaphysics of difference or as the embodiment of a rapidly consolidating form of middle-class power than as a sign of the deficiencies of a binary cultural logic according to which domestic womanhood is the yardstick against which all varieties of cultural otherness, sexual perversity, and deviant behavior are measured. Domestic womanhood is a border phenomenon; despite the great ease and naturalness with which the domestic woman of twentieth-century Victorian Studies seems routinely to take her place within the charmed circle of bourgeois life, middle-class domestic women–women like Alice and Frau Emmy–are border subjects who are quite literally fashioned out of the exotic and familiar territories prevalent in an era of imperial expansion and cultural change.

(3)   Carroll and Freud have been harnessed together before in the service of a psychoanalytic vision of Wonderland and of the dream-child (Alice) who navigates her way through it. "To make the dream-story from which Wonderland was elaborated seem Freudian one has only to tell it" is William Empson's straightforward expression of this interpretive link.1 I join Carroll and Freud together here, however, not just as fellow interpreters of dreams, or even as fellow dreamers, but as social explorers preoccupied with charting the territories of middle-class culture and with managing the borders between domestic womanhood and the savageries of Wonderland.2 Carroll's classic narrative of mid-Victorian exploration participates in a discourse of European subject-making and nation-building–what Gayatri Spivak has dubbed "worlding"–by binding virtue, civilization, and self-discipline to the European domestic woman while attaching to the beastly body of her Wonderland others the awful promise of disciplinary failure.3 As Nancy Armstrong has argued in her reading of Alice, the domestic woman provided the symbolic connection between Victorian sexuality and British imperialism by casting English difference in terms of the capacity for self-mastery and physical restraint.4 My argument follows Spivak and Armstrong by locating the disciplined body at the center of imperial-domestic culture in the nineteenth century; alterity is, in both Carroll and Freud, quite clearly structured around the discipline of the body. And yet, I will also argue that what is really at stake in these texts is more than the European woman's mastery over her body or the management of the unruly appetites and sexual desires that, as Armstrong has so persuasively argued, "not only came to define certain women as non-European but also redefined the European body, in turn, as one significantly lacking these desires"(5). Carroll's nineteenth-century English children's story and Freud's European fin-de-siecle case study are absorbed by the threat of the confusion of boundaries between bourgeois self and other, civilization and savagery, human and animal–boundaries on which the integrity of domestic womanhood and Western identity depend. These texts are utterly fascinated by the challenges posed to the binary logics of middle-class culture in a nineteenth-century universe in which so many of the fundamental boundaries, borders and bourgeois social divisions seem to be on the verge of collapse.

(4)   Alice's Adventures and the case study of "Emmy von N." are border texts; they emerge in periods of intense border crisis in which the European logics of class, racial identity, and sexual difference are under seige. In the 1860s of Carroll's Alice, increased social mobility and class tensions brought on by industrialization in England promised to break down traditional divisions between men and women, middle-class and working-class communities, European and colonial subjects. The shift from a producer to a consumer economy similarly threatened to blur the boundaries separating the European woman who allegedly resists seductions of all sorts and the "self-indulgent colonials" who allegedly do not; the introduction of a spectacular new world of things in the commodity culture of the 1860s subjected European women to a "phantasmagorical spiral of desire and restraint"(19), as Armstrong has put it, that relentlessly called their self-disciplinary powers into question thereby challenging the very terms in which "English" and "colonial" difference might be expressed.5 And, in spite of the increasingly visible forms British imperial power would take as the decade wore on, the Empire appeared more fragile in the 1860s, still resonating with the traumatic memories of 1857-58 in India.6

(5)   By the fin-de-siecle, when Freud was busy treating the hysterical women whose borderland travels are documented inThe Case Studies on Hysteria, an additional series of large-scale social and political transformations were underway. Rapid urban growth and other demographic shifts, including a general increase in population, were radically reshaping the familiar Continental landscapes of the nineteenth century.7 Frau Emmy's preoccupation with strangers, trespassers, and shadowy unrespectable figures consequently reveals more than simply a concern for the protection of property or even, as Freud suggests, anxiety over the social ostracization she regularly experiences after her husband's death. Frau Emmy's fears of violation settle on precisely those vagrants, beggars, and thieves whose growing numbers and increasing visibility in the final decades of the nineteenth century promised to erode many of the customary boundaries between subjects:

During the hypnosis I asked [Frau Emmy] whether it would now be possible for her to take part in social life or whether she was still too much afraid. She said it was still disagreeable to have anyone standing behind her or just beside her. In this connection she told me of some more occasions on which she had been disagreeably surprised by someone suddenly appearing. Once, for instance, when she had been going for a walk with her daughters on the island of Rugen, two suspicious-looking individuals had come out from some bushes and insulted them. In Abbazia, while she was out for a walk one evening, a beggar had suddenly emerged from behind a rock and had knelt down in front of her. It seems that he was a harmless lunatic. Lastly, she told me of how her isolated country house had been broken into at night, which had very much alarmed her.8


These and other perceived assaults on class divisions at the fin-de-siecle were mirrored by post-Darwinian concerns over the threat of reversion and the blurring of racial differences. While the 1880s and 1890s was a period of tremendous imperial expansion not only in Freud's Europe but in England as well, it was also dominated by grave doubts about imperial power and fears of racial decline. The defeat of General Gordon in Khartoum and the spectacle of the Boer War, among other things, contributed to the belief that the British Empire (and the British "race") at the fin-de-siecle was in crisis. And the rise of modern feminism in these years further seemed to guarantee the decline in the racial stock of European and English male subjects by ostensibly providing the missing link between the increase in physically inferior young men and the growing number of degenerate and unnatural "New Women" deemed responsible for breeding them.


(6)   My focus in this essay is on the particular ways in which the specter of border crisis and the burden of its management are linked to the production of middle-class womanhood in the nineteenth century. The mature Alice who emerges from Wonderland at the close of Carroll's tale does not, after all, mark the end of the story of bourgeois womanhood. It is Frau Emmy who will continue where Alice leaves off by actually realizing the hysterical promise of the very model of bourgeois womanhood which Carroll's Alice has only just begun to trace. If Alice struggles to become a proper domestic woman by learning to discipline her body and to order the subterranean economies of her Wonderland world according to the binary logics of an emergent middle class, Frau Emmy suffers from having learned Alice's lessons too well. The disciplinary irregularities attached to the young, bourgeois body of Carroll's Alice-in-Wonderland are replaced in Freud's case study by the "considerable excess of efficiency"(SH 104; Freud's emphasis) that guarantees both Frau Emmy's claim to bourgeois womanhood and her pathological vision. In short, the bourgeois woman of Freud's case study is incapable of fully banishing the grotesque creatures of her imagination below ground because the excessive disciplinary powers she possesses will continue to uncover them everywhere. This essay endeavors to return to the familiar territories of Alice's Adventures and Freud's case studies in order, finally, to wrest the figure of the bourgeois woman from the nineteenth-century middle-class logics in which she is caught and to describe the nineteenth-century borderland universe out of which bourgeois womanhood is made.

Victorian Border Crossings and Dreams of English Empire

(7)   The Wonderland world at the center of Carroll's most famous children's story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), is not only the fairytale fantasy of a Victorian child. It is also the basic landscape for Carroll's narrative investigation of the (treacherous) limits of English womanhood. Cast in the familiar tropes of high Victorian culture, Carroll's apparently dichotomous universe reveals an exotic danger underground that is both constitutive of the respectable figures up above and an everpresent threat to their smooth operation. Alice's relentless othering of the Wonderland creatures who refuse the English rules of good taste and conduct that she introduces to them sets into motion an always precarious self-making process that relies heavily upon the languages of nineteenth-century womanhood.9 The excessive violence of the Duchess, the Hatter's "rude"10 remarks, the "savage"(AAW 64) behavior of the Queen become the occasions for Alice to represent Wonderland as an uncivilized country desperately in need of the moral guidance and social instruction that can only be provided by a proper English woman.11 Like the European colonizer who ostensibly rescued native peoples by teaching them how to govern themselves, Alice endeavors to teach the creatures of Wonderland about (English) justice and proper judicial procedure and thereby to guarantee the racially coded binary differences through which English domestic womanhood is secured. That the Wonderland creatures simply do not get it, persisting instead in their alternatively anarchical and despotic behavior, is not, for Alice, an expression of their own form of Wonderland government or evidence of their refusal of the English laws and binary logics she imports. Rather, it is, for Alice, further evidence of the creatures' native incompetence:

…"Let the jury consider their verdict," the King said for about the twentieth time that day.

"No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first–verdict afterwards."

"Stuff and nonsense!" said Alice loudly. "The idea of having the sentence first!"

"Hold your tongue!" said the Queen, turning purple.

"I wo'n't! said Alice.

"Off with her head!" the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.(AAW 108-09)

As far as Alice can see, the creatures of Wonderland cannot understand English justice. Like the rebellions at Cawnpore and Morant Bay (among other places) in the turbulent eight-year period preceding the publication of Carroll's text, the colonial intransigence of the creatures in Alice's Adventures reveals the desperate need for English rule; the creatures' Wonderland brutishness further justifies the basic principles of the English civilizing mission.12 As with so many of the colonial uprisings in the British Empire in the nineteenth century, native insurgency is recast as the expression of a lawlessness that only English civilization can dissipate. If Alice the child-imperialist fails to understand the rules of Wonderland, interpreting the game of Wonderland croquet, for example, as "an English game that the 'creatures' merely play badly out of an 'understandable' fear of the Queen and out of an 'incomprehensible' use of inappropriate instruments,"13 she also fails to see the irrelevance of her own English rituals for the Wonderland society into which she has fallen. Alice here rehearses some of the fundamental strategies of English self-making; she also sets out some of the more basic Victorian relationships between home and empire, domestic womanhood and colonial rule.14

(8)   It is, of course, no coincidence that Carroll's tale of domestic womanhood finds itself trading in the signs and symbols of European expansion and colonial rule. Domesticity in the nineteenth century was never a local phenomenon, tied exclusively to the sanctuary of the English home; it was also the theoretical foundation for an imperialism woven out of domestic virtues like morality, spiritual duty, and self-sacrifice. The disciplined English body at the ideological center of this imperial-domestic formation further implies that Carroll's Alice must continue her middle-class labors to reproduce the physical, racial, and spiritual differences between herself and the Wonderland others she may encounter both at home and abroad. As Ann Laura Stoler has argued, "self-control, self-discipline, and self-determination…were productive of racial distinctions, of clarified notions of 'whiteness' and what it mean to be truly European."15While the bourgeois Alice is most certainly the victim of a terrible fall–"Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?"(AAW 10) is the refrain repeated by some feminist readers of Carroll's text16–she is, therefore, neither a properly fallen woman who is permanently marked by her lack of control over her body nor is she the uncivilized and racially "other" object of the English missionary's attention. She is, instead, cast by the text as an emergent bourgeois subject whose Wonderland adventures are a curious and unsettling rite-of-passage.

Alice! A childish story take,

And, with a gentle hand,

Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined

In Memory's mystic band,

Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers

Pluck'd in a far-off land.(AAW 3)

(1)   This final verse of Carroll's proem to Alice in Wonderland reveals precisely what is at stake in Alice's passage from Victorian girlhood to domestic womanhood. The apparently unruly bodies and improper objects of Wonderland must come to occupy a different territory, the "far-off land" of "Childhood's dreams," that is distanced not only in space but also in time, figuratively deposited in "Memory's mystic band." Carroll's tale, in short, diligently codes Alice's Wonderland world and everything in it as the distant fantasy of childhood.17

(9)   Yet, the adult subject's longing for the childhood dream of Wonderland, a meticulously produced nostalgia for the queer and the curious, succeeds in both banishing the figures of Wonderland and setting the stage for their eruption. Carroll's fantastic story of the making of a proper domestic woman is so intriguing because it is actually a borderland vision; it is a story of domestic womanhood that is repeatedly compromised by the interruptions of an underground universe that can never be left behind.

"Wake up, Alice dear!" said her sister. "Why, what a long sleep you've had!"

"Oh, I've had such a curious dream!" said Alice. And she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about…

[Alice's sister] sat still just as [Alice] left her, leaning her head on her hand, watching the setting sun, and thinking of little Alice and all her wonderful Adventures, till she too began dreaming after a fashion…she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality…the rattling teacups would change to tinkling sheep-bells, and the Queen's shrill cries to the voice of the shepherd-boy–and the sneeze of the baby, the shriek of the Gryphon, and all the other queer noises, would change (she knew) to the confused clamour of the busy farm-yard–while the lowing of the cattle in the distance would take the place of the Mock Turtle's heavy sobs.(AAW 110-111)

Carroll's excessively pastoral scene domesticates the dangers of Wonderland by smothering them in the details of the English rural landscape. However, it also discloses the insidious presence of these dangers within the mundane sights and sounds of everyday life and thereby introduces the flip side of the classic education in domestic womanhood that is rehearsed by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice's travels not only establish the difference between the English child and her native and colonial others by discovering everywhere the signs of a Wonderland savagery that confirms the virtues of the English subject; her travels also open up doubts about the soundness of the very differences they uncover. Bourgeois subjects like Alice (and her sister) live in the borderland; their exploits do not neatly trace the binary logics of middle-class culture so much as they reveal the rabbit holes that are already tightly woven into the fabric of the domestic subject.

(10)   If Alice's Adventures teases its readers with visions of the border, lingering over physical excesses of all sorts, it also provided the foundation for a whole network of regulatory structures, laws, and controls directed toward the detailed management of this body.18 The "medico-sexual regime" that Foucault tells us penetrated the nineteenth-century body with such persistence, depended for its justification (and expansion) upon the invention of a European body threatened always by excess, appetite, perversion. According to Rosemary Hennessy and Rajeswari Mohan, the global social and economic shifts in the second half of the nineteenth century "required a redefinition of alterity around the issue of discipline to […] serve as the ideological foundation for new laws marking increased state control over the family, sexuality and labour in both the colonies and the metropole."19 The feminine appetite that is set loose at various points in Alice's Adventures, for example, will be the object of a rapidly evolving patriarchal family structure designed to regulate nineteenth-century economies of consumption and production; likewise, the sexual danger introduced by the seductive child of Carroll's text will become the problem of which "parents, families, educators, doctors, and eventually psychologists would have to take charge."20 Such disciplinary gestures facilitate the making and the management of a European myth of domestic womanhood in which the female subject is cast as the most crucial piece of a wideranging system of middle-class power and bourgeois value. The dangerous body in Alice's Adventures, therefore, aids in consolidating the very domestic subject whom the text's subterranean economies of female desire and bodily insurrection otherwise so explicitly unsettle. Like the hysterical woman and the discourse of psychoanalysis that was to become the stuff of Freud's spectacular fin-de-siecle adventures, Carroll's English girl undermines the centered subject of the bourgeoisie while the text in which she appears ever more urgently attempts to manage the border crises this de-centered subject necessarily ushers in.

Emmy in Wonderland

(11)   Freud's early case study on hysteria, the case of Frau Emmy von N.,21 takes up the acutely ambivalent subject-making program of Alice's Adventures. If Carroll's text is uncertain about the relationship between its fascination with border crisis and its fanciful call for the management of borders, the discourse of psychoanalysis similarly shuttles between the discovery of a suitably bourgeois self and the radical exposure, as Jacqueline Rose has put it, of a "resistance to identity at the very heart of psychic life."22 LikeAlice's Adventures, Freud's analytic discourse endeavors to secure the juridical frameworks that guarantee the centered subject (marriage, incest, the "family romance") even as it poses a radical challenge to the coherent psychic and sexual identity that the centered subject so confidently claims for itself. Freud's work quite enthusiastically participates in a European self-making venture whose object is to stabilize border crisis and to return the hysterical woman safely to the domain of the European bourgeois family. "Despite everything," Foucault argues,

psychoanalysis, whose technical procedure seemed to place the confession of sexuality outside family jurisdiction, rediscovered the law of alliance, the involved workings of marriage and kinship, and incest at the heart of this sexuality, as the principle of its formation and the key to its intelligibility. […] Parents, do not be afraid to bring your children to analysis: it will teach them that in any case it is you whom they love. Children, you really shouldn't complain that you are not orphans, that you always rediscover in your innermost selves your Object-Mother or the sovereign sign of your Father: it is through them that you gain access to desire.(113)

(12)   The case study of Frau Emmy von N. dramatizes the relationship between a law of alliance and Freud's analytic treatment, between border management and European subject-making. The reinvention of Frau Emmy as a healthy domestic woman depends upon Frau Emmy's ability to discipline the borders of her bourgeois life and to contain the borderland crises of modern European society that come to dominate the fin-de-siecle universe in which she lives. The disciplinary technologies that help to define the domestic female subject of Carroll's text also, therefore, help to define the domestic female subject of Freud's case study–in spite of the fact that Frau Emmy's struggle is with her excess of efficiency rather than with the childish disciplinary lapses of Carroll's Alice-in-Wonderland. The feminine excess that marks the body of Freud's hysterical woman emerges as the anxious sign of bourgeois discipline gone awry; the case study focuses on the elimination of excess not only because such excess destabilizes the neatly divided landscapes of bourgeois life but also because it threatens to expose as hysterical the very woman whose disciplinary powers enable her most closely to approximate the ideal that is at the ideological center of bourgeois womanhood. The expertise with which Frau Emmy plays her role as the prominent widow of a wealthy industrialist and the mother of two children ensures both her hysteria and her status, in Freud's estimation, as a "true lady"(SH 104). The woman who, Freud notes, possesses a "morally oversensitive personality"(SH 65) and is routinely "over-careful"(SH 67) of her children also impresses Freud with her "benevolent care for the welfare of all her dependents, her humility of mind and the refinement of her manners"(SH 103). The case study celebrates Frau Emmy's embodiment of domestic womanhood even as it endeavors to restore order and stabilize the border crises introduced by the bourgeois excesses to which domestic womanhood is attached.

…every two or three minutes [Frau Emmy] suddenly broke off, contorted her face into an expression of horror and disgust, stretched out her hand towards me, spreading and crooking her fingers, and exclaimed, in a changed voice, charged with anxiety: `Keep still!–Don't say anything!–Don't touch me!' She was probably under the influence of some recurrent hallucination of a horrifying kind and was keeping the intruding material at bay with this formula.(SH 49)

Like Alice, who appeals to the English logic of the didactic children's rhymes she has been taught in order to fight off the encroachment of a disorienting and seemingly nonsensical Wonderland world, Frau Emmy deploys her own "protective formulas"(SH 56) in order, according to Freud, to keep at bay the horrifying visions that torment her. Yet Frau Emmy is unable to manage the border crises and "animal hallucinations"(SH 51) that dominate her psychic life.23 The animal fantasies that Carroll's Alice endeavors to deposit safely in "memory's mystic band" invade the above-ground world of the hysteric to produce the pathological landscapes of bourgeois terror.

May 8, morning.–[Frau Emmy] entertained me, in an apparently quite normal state, with gruesome stories about animals. She had read…a story of how an apprentice had tied up a boy and put a white mouse into his mouth. The boy had died of fright. Dr. K. had told her that he had sent a whole case of white rats to Tiflis. As she told me this she demonstrated every sign of horror. She clenched and unclenched her hand several times. "Keep still!–Don't say anything!–Don't touch me!–Supposing a creature like that was in the bed!" (She shuddered.) "Only think, when it's unpacked! There's a dead rat in among them–one that's been gn-aw-aw-ed at!"(SH 51)

The white mouse that is magically refashioned in this passage into the laboratory rat of Dr. K. challenges the proper limits of the physical body and the purity of the domestic spaces in which such bodies are expected to move. The mouse-turned-rat who imaginatively travels from the site of the young boy's mouth to Frau Emmy's bed further remaps the highly sexualized bourgeois spaces over which Frau Emmy believes that she no longer has total control. Unlike the disembodied tail/tale of the mouse in Carroll's text whose bodily narrative is unable to hold Alice's attention ("'You are not attending!' said the Mouse to Alice, severely. 'What are you thinking of?'"[AAW 29]), the gnawed body of the dead rat with which Frau Emmy's "gruesome" story concludes mesmerizes Frau Emmy with a symbolic repetition of the horrible assault on bourgeois integrity that she most fears.

(13)   Frau Emmy is severely plagued by the "animal deliria"(SH 62) of a Wonderland grotesque that is unwilling to remain safely underground. Toads lurk beneath stones (SH 55), waiting to "jump out [suddenly]"(SH 62) when Frau Emmy passes by and the imaginary figures of "wild animals," including a "monster with a vulture's beak," violently leap upon her body, "tearing and eating"(SH 62) it all over. The terrifying shapes of Wonderland persistently return for Frau Emmy, reasserting themselves everywhere and promising to infuse the respectable scenes of her bourgeois life with horrifying revelations of the pathological. Frau Emmy's travels finally fail to reestablish the domestic subject that Alice's journeys through Wonderland help to shape because Frau Emmy's hysterical vision of a world that is saturated with the underground signs of Wonderland also reveals the collapse of the basic oppositions between human and animal, self and other, civilization and savagery upon which domestic womanhood depends.

(14)   Fin-de-siecle culture shared with Frau Emmy an intense anxiety over such boundary confusion and the specter of racial degeneration that it raised. In Europe, successful challenges to power both at home and abroad strengthened the suspicion that the European race was in decline. Frau Emmy discloses in hypnosis, for example, her tremendous uneasiness over such challenges, an uneasiness that Freud mentions in passing as the primary source of one of Frau Emmy's recent bouts of "deep depression"(SH 68n):

I read in the paper this morning that a revolution had broken out in San Domingo. Whenever there is any unrest there the whites are always the sufferers; and I have a brother in San Domingo who has already caused us a lot of concern, and I am worried now in case something happens to him.(SH 68n).

Although Freud passes over the traces of racial panic that Frau Emmy exhibits here and elsewhere in the case study, the threat of racial degeneration and the reversion of European culture to savagery were some of the more prominent social and scientific problems on the turn-of-the-century agenda. And while Freud does not seem particularly interested in the gender politics of this fin-de-siecle decline, others explicitly attached the decline in the racial stock of European and English men to the increasingly degenerate ladies and manly women who were responsible for breeding them.24 The decline of Empire and the border crises with which it was associated were intimately connected in the rhetoric of the late nineteenth century to the perceived feminist assault on femininity, marriage, and motherhood as well as to the rise of the independent and sexually aggressive New Woman; according to Charles Harper,

…the New Woman, if a mother at all, will be the mother of a New Man, as different indeed from the present race as possible, but how different, the clamorous females of today cannot expect…[There is] the prospect of peopling the world with stunted and hydrocephalic children…and ultimate extinction of the race.25

The figure of the New Woman effectively joined together visions of gender disorder and the dissolution of the civilized world. The New Woman whose undisciplined sexual behavior and masculine independence promised to destabilize some of the fundamental Victorian distinctions between men and women also brazenly denigrated the interests of the nation either by corrupting the imperial race with the deviant products of her unnatural sexual excesses or by indulging in non-procreative sex and shirking the responsibility of motherhood altogether. The New Woman's vampiric appetites, her blood lust, and the "voracious–and unnatural–appetite for sex and power"26 that Viennese anti-feminists like Karl Lueger publicly denounced, introduced a feminine excess that all proper domestic subjects were expected to guard against.27 Like the vampire bat who drains the blood of its prey, the distinctly vampiric New Woman of the fin de siecle "[sucks] the life and [exhausts] the vitality of her male partner–or victim."28

(15)   Frau Emmy's great fear of bats, ostensibly brought on by a bat which one day gets caught in her wardrobe, appropriately recalls these fin-de-siecle instabilities of gender and race. The metamorphic capacity of the vampire who, according to myth, changes shape at will further embodies the border crises Frau Emmy so earnestly endeavors to discipline:

[Frau Emmy] told me…that in the course of her life she had had a large number of adventures with animals. The worst had been with a bat which had got caught in her wardrobe, so that she had rushed out of the room without any clothes on. To cure her of this fear her brother had given her a lovely brooch in the form of a bat; but she had never been able to wear it.(SH 74)

Frau Emmy's inability to participate in the rituals of commodification that promise, here in the form of a brooch, to tame the bats, rats, and alien creatures that torment her discloses the disjunction between the female hysteric and the healthy bourgeois subject she so expertly impersonates.29 The nineteenth-century devotion to the transformation of nature into culture regularly manifested itself in consumer-society gestures to remake the physical world in the form of fetish objects like the one Frau Emmy's brother presents to her. The brooch that captures difference in order to domesticate it is also designed to restore order to a borderland universe that is, for Frau Emmy, so clearly in crisis.

(16)   Consumer society at the fin-de-siecle routinely enlisted the commodity as the agent of border management, overcoming the disorder threatened by disobedient others and foreign cultures with a commodity spectacle that worked to keep everything in place.30The commodity was responsible for more than the commercial health of England; it also sold "the culture and ideology of England, its plans for commercial dominance, its dreams of Empire, its social standards, and its modes of conduct."31 At home, commodity spectacle helped to keep house and to sustain the bourgeois differences of gender and race around which domestic life was organized; abroad, the commodity spectacle reproduced the imperial fictions necessary for the proper invention of national cultures and the men and women who claimed such cultures as their own. According to Anne McClintock, late-Victorian advertisements of "teas, biscuits, tobaccos, Bovril, tins of cocoa and, above all, soaps beach themselves on far-flung shores, tramp through jungles, quell uprisings, restore order and write the inevitable legend of commercial progress across the colonial landscape."32

(17)   Frau Emmy's failure to manage this complex representational language is one guarantee of her pathological condition. The marvelous transmutations of Wonderland that Alice negotiates in herAdventures reemerge for Frau Emmy as the site of a debilitating terror. While Alice imagines repackaging her underground travels into a book that will, like the bat-shaped brooch of the case study, tame all traces of the exotic in its new, consumer-culture reincarnation, Frau Emmy can only shudder at the thought of falling victim to this transformative procedure in reverse.33 Confronted with the images in an ethnological atlas of American Indians dressed up as animals, Frau Emmy becomes obsessed with the thought that the Atlas' "grotesque figures"(SH 54) will suddenly come alive. The book that provides Alice with a marketable space in which to domesticate the threat of life underground is here the source of Frau Emmy's enormous anxiety. Frau Emmy's horror of the physical and material transformations of the commodity-culture world is, finally, one of the principal signs of her hysterical vision:

Under hypnosis she explained that her fear of worms came from her having once been given a present of a pretty pin-cushion; but next morning, when she wanted to use it, a lot of little worms had crept out of it, because it had been filled with bran which was not quite dry. (A hallucination? Perhaps a fact.)…There had been times when she had been unable to hold out her hand to anyone, for fear of its turning into a dreadful animal, as had so often happened.(SH 74)

The frighteningly unstable borders between human and animal, animate and inanimate collapse in Frau Emmy's hysterical universe; the mundane pin-cushion that literally comes alive echoes Frau Emmy's dreamscape visions in which the legs and arms of chairs become snakes and a ball of wool, once touched, mutates into a mouse and quickly runs away like the child-turned-pig of Alice's Adventures.(AAW 62) Frau Emmy is in some ways, therefore, very far from the Alice who emerges from Wonderland at the close of her adventures because Frau Emmy is so profoundly distressed by the visual and material universe that Alice navigates with increasing aplomb over the course of Carroll's tale. Alice's whimsical encounters with the eccentric living props of the Royal croquet game, for example, display Alice's facility with the transformative economies of her distinctively nineteenth-century universe. The curious Wonderland relationship between inanimate objects and animate creatures, in which live flamingo croquet mallets and hedgehog balls rival the presence of playing-card men and women, is not the source of horror for Alice; the carnival confusion of Wonderland objects and creatures is instead simply a part of the commodity-culture universe that Alice must attempt to master.34

(18)   The high-Victorian travel narrative that repeatedly encourages Alice to recognize the differences between herself and the Wonderland creatures whom she encounters is remade in the case study as nothing short of an imperial gothic adventure in which the hysterical, fin-de-siecle woman obsessively records the threat of ontological and epistemological break-down. While Alice's journey through Wonderland maps out the Victorian world aboveground and struggles to trace the shape of the proper domestic women who live there, Frau Emmy's hysterical travels dwell upon the multiple excesses, confusions, and border violations to which such women are necessarily subject. In short, Frau Emmy's hysterical "adventures" reveal the promise of boundary confusion that is embedded within Alice's Wonderland travels and that so clearly marks the figure of the European domestic woman in the nineteenth century. Alice and Emmy's adventures therefore compel us to substitute the liminal figures of the borderland subject for the fixed forms of the bourgeois woman whose shape is guaranteed by a twentieth-century oppositional feminism trapped within the very same binary fictions of middle-class culture that it struggles to explain.35 The domestic woman of the case study is, like all middle-class domestic women, neither strictly insider nor outsider but rather a creature of the border. Her borderland travels, finally, deny the binary structures that locate the domestic woman at the hegemonic center of middle-class culture and refuse the bourgeois logics that explicitly dictate the shape and color of all those who, in contrast, are ostensibly doomed to hover at its margins.



  1. William Empson, "Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain" in Robert Phillips, ed., Aspects of Alice (New York: Vanguard Press, 1991). The literature on Carroll and Freud is extensive. In addition to the essays printed in the section, "Freudian Interpretations," in Robert Phillips' Aspects of Alice, see Mark Conroy, "A Tale of Two Alices in Wonderland," Literature And Psychology 37.3 (Fall 1991), George Dimcock, "Childhood's End: Lewis Carroll and the Image of the Rat," Word & Image 8.3 (July-September 1992), and Alwin L. Baum, "Carroll's Alices: The Semiotics of Paradox" in Harold Bloom, ed., Lewis Carroll (New York: Chelsea House, 1987). back
  2. Although there is not adequate space to pursue this line of inquiry here, it is worth noting with regard to this endeavor to map the borders of Western identity, Freud's striking reinvention of his own analytic travels as the heroic confrontation between a European explorer and a semi-barbaric people whose buried treasures and precious artifacts this explorer must recover and decipher. See his 1896 paper, "The Aetiology of Hysteria." back
  3. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986):262-280. back
  4. Nancy Armstrong, "The Occidental Alice," differences 2.2 (Summer 1990):3-40. back
  5. In "The Ethics of Shopping," an article published in the Fortnightly Review in 1895, Lady Jeune echoes a common sentiment when she asks, "What is shopping in these days, but an unsuccessful struggle against overwhelming temptation?" Quoted in Roy Porter, "Pre-modernism and the Art of Shopping," Critical Quarterly 34.4:3. back
  6. Ian Duncan observes with reference to what he calls an "epidemic of insurgency" that "throughout the 1860s the empire appeared on the brink of disintegration, held precariously together by force." See "The Moonstone, the Victorian Novel, and Imperialist Panic," Modern Language Quarterly 55.3 (September 1994): 305. back
  7. Patrick Brantlinger notes that between 1880 and 1910 the population in many British cities "nearly doubled in size, Brussels mushroomed from 314,000 to 720,000, Hamburg from 290,000 to 931,000, Vienna from 834,000 to over 2 million people." See Patrick Brantlinger, "Mass Media and Culture in Fin-de-Siecle Europe" in Miikulas Teich and Roy Porter, eds., Fin De Siecle and its Legacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 100. The explosion in population all across Europe threatened the traditional balance of power and posed an increasingly serious challenge to the cultural hegemony of the European "Old Guard". back
  8. Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud, Studies on Hysteria, Translator James Strachey (New York: Basic Books) 65. Subsequent quotations from the Studies on Hysteria will be cited in the text from this edition. The politics of class is one of the more interesting blindspots of Freud's analysis. In this instance Freud initially attributes Frau Emmy's fears entirely to her treatment by her community after the death of her husband. Freud rather unconvincingly explains: "It is easy to see […] that the essential origin of [Frau Emmy's] fear of people was the persecution to which she had been subjected after her husband's death." back
  9. On the politics of self-fashioning in Victorian travel literatures, see James Buzard, The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to "Culture" 1800-1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) and Joan Corwin, Identity in the Victorian Travel Narrative, PhD Thesis, Indiana University, 1987. See also Mary Louise Pratt's suggestive study of travel writing, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992). back
  10. Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971) 60. All quotations will be cited parenthetically in the text from this edition. back
  11. The Duchess, whom Alice meets in the "Pig and Pepper" chapter of Alice's Adventures, roughhouses rather than nurses the child howling in her arms and thereby remakes the Victorian domestic scene into a carnivalesque site of unwomanly savageries. Nina Auerbach and James Kincaid explore the element of "aggression" (both Alice's and the Wonderland creatures') in Alice in Wonderland in Nina Auerbach, "Falling Alice, Fallen Women, and Victorian Dream Children," English Language Notes 20 (December 1982) and James R. Kincaid, "Alice's Invasion of Wonderland," PMLA 88 (1973):92-99. back
  12. The period between the "Indian Mutiny" (or "Sepoy Rebellion") in 1857 and the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 is marked by numerous colonial uprisings. back
  13. Daniel Bivona, "Alice the Chlid-Imperialist and the Games of Wonderland," Nineteenth-Century Literature 41.2 (September 1986):165. back
  14. The "English Civilizing Mission" so energetically developed and extended by Victorian-era explorers and missionaries to the British colonies in the nineteenth century was grounded in the "feminine" moral principles necessary in justifying England's rapidly expanding imperialist enterprise. The "Civilizing Mission" also secured the attachment between motherhood, race, and Empire by assigning to the domestic subject the task of guaranteeing the strength and purity of the "breed"; such subjects were, according to Anna Davin, given the responsibility of "bearing and rearing […] the next generation of soldiers and workers, the Imperial race." See Anna Davin, "Imperialism and Motherhood," History Workshop Journal 5 (Spring 1978) 12. On the "Civilizing Mission" and English womanhood see the chapter "Britannia's Other Daughters: Feminism in the Age of Imperialism" in Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Three Women's Texts"; and Jenny Sharpe, Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). back
  15. Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995) 8. back
  16. See Nina Auerbach, "Falling Alice, Fallen Women, and Victorian Dream Children"; Nancy Armstrong, "The Occidental Alice". back
  17. On ideologies of childhood in the Victorian era, see Jan B. Gordon, "The Alice Books and the Metaphors of Victorian Childhood" in Aspects of Alice, Ed. Robert Phillips (New York: Vanguard Press, 1971):93-113; Nina Auerbach, "Alice and Wonderland: A Curious Child" in Romantic Imprisonment: Women and Other Glorified Outcasts (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985); and James R. Kincaid, Child-loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (New York: Routledge 1992). back
  18. On the regulation of the body and the modern family, see Jacques Donzelot, The Policing of Families, Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1979). One wonders whether the "Alice" to whom The Policing of Families is dedicated is anything like the "dream-child" of Carroll's text. back
  19. Rosemary Hennessy and Rajeswari Mohan, "The Construction of Woman in Three Popular Texts of Empire: Towards a Critique of Materialist Feminism," Textual Practice 3.3 (Winter 1989) 329. back
  20. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990) 104. back
  21. There is some controversy about the precise date of this case history. Freud dates it May 1, 1889. James Strachey argues, however, that treatment must have begun in 1888. See Apendix A in the Studies on Hysteria. back
  22. Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision (New York: Verso, 1986) 91. back
  23. Freud's early clinical method is designed to modify Frau Emmy's excesses by providing Frau Emmy with a more appropriate disciplinary voice. Freud furnishes Frau Emmy with "maxims which were to remain constantly present in her mind"(SH 77) and during her hypnosis sessions "repeated all the lessons I have been in the habit of giving her"(SH 73) in the hope that, like the child Alice in Wonderland, Frau Emmy will learn to appeal to this knowledge in moments of border crisis and will eagerly moderate her excessive behavior with reference to all that she has been taught. back
  24. See, for example, Anna Davin, "Imperialism and Motherhood" and Jane Maqckay and Pat Thane, "The Englishwoman." back
  25. Charles Harper, Revolted Woman: Past, Present and to Come (London: Elkin Matthews, 1894) 27, quoted in Sally Ledger, "The New Woman and the Crisis of Victorianism" in Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken, editors, Cultural Politics at the Fin De Siecle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). Ledger makes the important observation that many of the middle-class feminists of the 1890s in England — New Women who were accused of being a threat to the "race" — actually had a "considerable ideological investment in notions of empire and in the continuance of the 'race' with many of the New Woman writers championing motherhood and ardently supporting purity campaigns"(32). For more on feminism and imperialism in this period, see Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale, pp. 117-66 and Antoinette M. Burton, "The White Woman's Burden: British Feminists and the Indian Woman, 1865-1915," Women's Studies International Forum 13.4 (1991):295-308. For a succinct, general introduction to the "New Woman," see Ann L. Ardis, "Preliminaries: Naming the New Woman" in New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990):10-28. back
  26. Harriet Anderson, Utopian Feminism: Women's Movements in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) 2. back
  27. According to Bram Dijkstra, a woman's blood lust "was thought to be precipitated by her insatiable need to replenish the blood incessantly lost to her system as a result of her degenerative subjection to the reproductive function and its attendant sexual cravings." See Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) 334. While the child who falls down the rabbit hole in Carroll's text may succumb to her urge to eat too much or drink too much, the New Woman vampire of a fin-de-siecle tale like Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) routinely sates herself on the blood of children, thereby extending the New Woman's mockery of motherhood to its extreme. back
  28. William J. Robinson, Married Life and Happiness (New York: Eugenics Publishing Company, 1922) 90. Quoted in Dijkstra 334. According to Alexandra Warwick, "The influence of popular conceptions of the New Woman on the construction of the female vampire seems to be a strong one; her independence, freedom of movement, her real or imagined sexual autonomy and her apparent challenge to the biological destiny of motherhood are all aspects which provoke immediate comparison." See Alexandra Warwick, "Vampires and the Empire: Fears and Fictions of the 1890s" in Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siecle, n17. See also Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle (New York: Penguin, 1990). back
  29. Freud is particularly enchanted with Frau Emmy's performance of domestic womanhood; he writes: "During the times of her worst states [Frau Emmy] was and remained capable of playing her part in the management of a large industrial business, of keeping a constant eye on the education of her children, of carrying on her correspondence with prominent people in the intellectual world — in short, of fulfilling her obligations well enough for the fact of her illness to remain concealed"(104). back
  30. On the advertising industry and commodity spectacle in the nineteenth century, see Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851-1914 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990) and Jennifer A. Wicke, Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, and Social Reading (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), especially pp. 19-54. See also Lori Anne Loeb, Consuming Angels: Advertising and Victorian Women (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). back
  31. Thomas Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England 40. back
  32. Anne McClintock, "Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising" in George Robertson, Melinda Mash, Lisa Tickner, Jon Bird, Barry Curtis and Tim Putnam, editors, Travellers' Tales: Narratives of Home and Displacement (New York: Routledge, 1994) 142. back
  33. Alice muses: "I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I'll write one…"(AAW 33). back
  34. In "The Occidental Alice," Armstrong recasts Carroll's story of the making of a proper English girl as the story of the making of the new (nineteenth-century) female consumer who is necessarily fluent in the languages of her consumer-culture world. Armstrong consequently reads Alice's appetite for rules as an allegory of middle-class taste; she argues: "Whether [Carroll] knew it or not, it made sense for him to place his heroine in constant danger from her appetite because this relationship to objects was essential to the formation of the new female consumer"(19-20). While Armstrong is interested in imagining the cultural and literary trajectories of the production of the European, middle-class female subject in the nineteenth century, I have been interested in exploring the various ways such subjects play out the bourgeois promise of their own collapse. back
  35. Christina Crosby argues a similar point about some of the early feminist work in Victorian Studies. See Christina Crosby, "Reading the Victorians," Victorian Studies 36.1 (Fall 1992): 63-74. back