The Alice books were extremely influential on children's novelists from the late nineteenth century onwards. Texts which obviously follow Carroll's pairing of adventures in fantasy landscapes with nonsense include GE Farrow's The Wallypug of Why (1898) and Mary Louisa Molesworth 's The Cuckoo Clock (1877), the latter combining the nonsense with a moral tale. As I commented in an earlier post, China Mieville has noted Carroll's influence on his work.
One of the strangest may be Speaking Likenesses by Christina Rossetti (1875). It is three tales-within-tales; an aunt is telling the stories to her little nieces. The first is the story of Flora, whose discontent at her own birthday party leads her to a strange house, where there is another party going on. The guests are monstrous children whose bodies exhibit the unpleasant character traits that Flora's guests have been exhibiting (slipperiness, selfishness, prickliness, angularity and roughness). After some frightening and unpleasant experiences Flora finds her way home, where she finds that she has fallen asleep, apologises for her bad behaviour and is forgiven.
The final story is that of Maggie, who in contrast to Flora, who lives in a large house with extensive grounds, is the orphan grandaughter of Dame Margaret who keeps a toyshop. Just before Christmas Maggie goes on an errand for her grandmother, and slips and bangs her head on the way. She is teased and frightened by similar monstrous children, including a greedy boy whose only facial feature is a huge mouth, who demands the chocolate she is to deliver:
This is a very strange little book (it is not in print; my copy is a facimile of the American edition, thankfully with Arthur Hughes' illustrations, from the University of Michigan Library), not least because of the insistance on bodily, emotional or social discomfort for the good of children's characters. As I have said, it is a tale within a tale; the framing device of an adult telling a child a story is not unusual, but there are regular interjections by the children, allowing the aunt to point a moral, or explain a word or phrase. Of course nineteenth century readers were still accustomed to read epistolary or multi modal novels with a strong narrative voice, such as Wuthering Heights, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, or Samuel Richardson's Pamela. It is interesting to read not only in the light of Rossetti's poetry (the consumption and denial of food is reminiscent of her poem Goblin Market), but also in relation to Alice in Wonderland and other nineteenth century fantasy.
I was reminded of Marion St John Webb's Knock Three Times by a very dear friend recently, so I had to dig it out and re-read it. First published in 1917, it was illustrated by Margaret Tarrant, one of the best-known illustrators of the period.