I’m Grown up now
I’m Grown up now
Female Sexual Authorship and Coming of Age in Pornographic Adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter explores pornographic constructions of female sexual agency through the character of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. These films use the Alice narrative to play out fantasies of womanly sexual authority through humor and sadomasochism. These films constitute recuperative projects that rescue Alice from her pawn status and position her as object, subject, and author within the pornographic text. I demonstrate the ways in which cultural understandings of the Alice stories are used by pornographic filmmakers to depict Wonderlands as joyful fantasy spaces for re-visionings of the normative and for developing and directing a particular pornographic female sexual subjectivity.
- “It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this life! […] There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I’ll write one—but I’m grown up now,” she added in a sorrowful tone: “at least there’s no room to grow up any more here.”
—Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Drink me
—Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Eat me
—Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
It is not difficult to see why many people (myself included) find Wonderland to be a terrifying, oppressive, violent, and controlling space for girls. Alice’s contention that there is little room to grow up is borne out in further scenes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and particularly in the sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1871), in which Alice is variously verbally and physically accosted before she emerges in ambivalent spirit into the real world. At the same time, the many instances of eating, drinking, tunnels, and physical transformations create a sense of rebellious mobility, consumption, and metamorphosis that many scholars have interpreted through a feminist (p.97) lens to represent sexual transgression. Once seen as the subject of a children’s tale, Alice has grown up over the past decade. Victorianist Catherine Siemann describes the current form of this erstwhile innocent story as “unsuitable for children” (175). Pornographers, in hot pursuit of anything remotely suggestive of sex, but also attracted to icons and tropes suggestive of purity, have exploited the Alice narrative in dozens of films spanning five decades.1
Alice is a child of seven years old in Carroll’s stories. The real Alice, Alice Liddell, is shrouded in mystery and troublingly linked to Lewis Carroll (writer Charles Dodgson’s pen name) and his suspected pedophilia. In discussions of “pornography,” the specter of “child pornography” often looms nearby. Considering Alice is the creation of a man subsequently suspected of pedophilic desires, and who certainly photographed pre-pubescent boys and girls,2 the prospect of pornographers exploiting this character in sexually explicit ways understandably makes some people uncomfortable. In turn, pornographers are wary of invoking childhood while at the same time operate in an industry that (like all media) sexually exploits the iconography of youth. There is a contradiction in the way pornographers have adapted Alice: while hardcore adaptations of the Alice stories claim to reveal an inherent sexual quality to the stories, part of the appeal of adapting a children’s fairy tale is also, as Jason Williams, production manager of Alice in Wonderland: A XXX Musical, puts it, “the polarity, the contrast” (Alice in Wonderland ). As with all the neo-Victorian porn films discussed in this book, this seeming contradiction between a sexually suggestive source text that is also innocent and naïve is exactly where the pleasures of neo-Victorian porn rest.
In the case of Alice, pornographers seem drawn to interrogating a perceived Victorian paternal control of the female protagonist. In response to this perceived paternalism, a handful of hardcore adaptations explicitly Gothicize the tales, such as Through the Looking Glass (1976), Tormented (2009), and Malice in Lalaland (2012). These films situate Alice as an unwilling pawn in a masculine world populated by abusive patriarchs. In the first film, the protagonist, Catherine, is haunted by the incestuous abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and is gradually seduced by a demon (in the shape of her father) into a Looking Glass hell.3 In Tormented and Malice in Lalaland, Wonderland is an illusory escape from the insane asylum where the female protagonist has been placed due to her inappropriate sexual appetites. Such implicit critiques of the Carroll tales are in the minority, however. Hardcore more commonly rescues Alice from Carroll’s controlling grip, either releasing Alice into a joyful Wonderland of sexual development or turning the tables on Carroll and his cast of abusive characters.
(p.98) If Dracula and his weird sisters reflect darkness and all the deviant delights therein, Alice represents light—white, English femininity—and the pleasures of transgressing that chaste boundary. Pornographers take the popular notion of Victorian white femininity as sexually repressed and socially oppressed and recast this feminine character as an active sexual subject. For while pornography routinely exploits the iconography of youth, hardcore adaptations of Alice opt to focus on an adult Alice, coming of age, and the process of maturity— more interested in adult female sexual subjectivity than the innocence of youth.4 More specifically, the Alice narrative has become a popular canvas on which female and feminist pornographers develop explorations of guilt-free white female sexual agency and gendered power dynamics circulating in society. Alice, an ambiguously empowered little girl, becomes an adult fully in possession of her sexuality.
The cultural meaning and perception of Alice, both text and character, have been deeply influenced by a range of paratexts: Disney, Carroll’s relationship with Alice Liddell, Carroll’s photographs of nude children, psychoanalytic theory, and feminist interpretation that has explored the books for sexual symbolism. Alice and her Wonderland, the meaning of her image and journey, have become culture texts. In Will Brooker’s exhaustive history of the many myths and permutations of Alice, Alice’s Adventures, he notes, “Carroll and Alice currently circulate as cultural myths, cultural icons” (xiv), myths and icons that perform particular functions for twenty-first-century consumers. The same can be said of all the literary icons discussed in this book. Yet Alice, as Helen Pilinovsky argues, stands apart as a culture text due to “the taboo issue that is central to the cultural fixation with Alice: the circumstances surrounding its composition” (176). Pilinovsky alludes to the pedophilic associations with the books, associations that pornographers tiptoe around very carefully. Pornographic appropriations of Alice simultaneously invoke and displace these connotations and the sexual suggestiveness of Alice’s journey, utilizing them as a way of exploring Victorian patriarchal control and exploitation of female sexuality. Hardcore filmmakers porn the subtextual content of the Alice books while simultaneously closing it up by denying any association between sexuality and youth.
While Carroll is at best ambivalent about Alice’s maturation, and at worst resistant and controlling of it, pornography presents sexual stasis as not simply undesirable but outright destructive. In hardcore Alice adaptations, female sexual maturation is presented as a necessity and a pleasure, contradicting Carroll’s insistence on retaining female innocence and youth. These adaptations approach Wonderland as a place that, in the words of Mistress (p.99) Alice of Alice in Bondageland, “gives license to almost anything because it is transgressive by nature. That’s the whole point of Wonderland, that all rules must be broken. It’s kind of the only rule. That lends itself to especially rich taboo fantasies with blanket permission.” Pornographic adaptations of Alice reclaim Wonderland for Alice, literalizing the sexual symbolism of the novels while at the same time offering a transformed Alice who is free to author her own sexual coming of age.
A Proper English Girl: The Mid-1900s and White Femininity
The Alice stories are the only works of fiction from before the late nineteenth century addressed in this book. Published in 1865 and 1871, respectively, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures through the Looking Glass are from a Victorian society a good fifteen years prior to the next-youngest novel in this project. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1886), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and Dracula (1897) were all published within an eleven-year span and reflect a fin de siècle society with quite different understandings and fears regarding race, gender, class, and sexuality. Alice is of an era that knew nothing of the “New Woman” and had not yet been introduced to the word “homosexuality.” The threat of women’s liberation and anxieties over expansion of the British Empire had not crested and would not for a decade or more. Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment for “indecency” under the Labouchere Amendment wouldn’t occur for another thirty years. Likewise, the joys and apprehensions ignited by motorized vehicles, electric light, mechanized warfare, the telephone, skyscrapers, and radio were not to be felt for several years.
At the same time, technological advancements brought gas and, therefore, light to the streets of London that were themselves experiencing something of an overhaul. Gas lit, commercialized, mapped, and rerouted, the city streets were the site of a modernizing strategy. They were also teeming with a cross section of the populace. Consumer culture combined with a reinvented city, colonial rule, and developments in technology such as the photograph, transformed London into a bustling, multicultural, and (unsettlingly for some) diverse locale. The transformed city confronted citizens with the realities of the working classes, lewd women, obscene media, and traces of empire such as “oriental beggars and black street musicians” (Nead 152). Photography and other forms of low urban spectacle were associated with “the trash of the empire” (Nead 153). This burgeoning metropolis guaranteed that if an elite white flâneur went strolling and observing, he would likely be observed himself. White men were no longer the privileged voyeurs; by the mid-1860s they had (p.100) a lot of company. In this social context, curious little Alice—blonde, white, and dressed in a pinafore—emerges as a symbol of Victorian innocence, and Carroll is loath to let her grow up too fast.
The 1860s were exciting, forward thinking, and yet also distinctly rooted in a pre-fin de siècle social consciousness imbued with innocence, uncertainty, and tradition. In this way, the Alice culture text has evolved in a way distinct from Dracula and his weird sisters, Dorian Gray, and Mr. Hyde. The late-nineteenth-century characters of interest to pornographers are by no means innocent. They are of an era bursting forth into the next century, technologically advanced, racially and sexually ambiguous, deviant in gender, traveling fast, on the cusp of the modern world, monstrous. Alice, on the other hand, appears to represent a prototypical white Victorian femininity, one that generates pornographic adaptations intent on rescuing and reclaiming this little girl from the grasp of patriarchal Victoriana. Pornographers ensure that Alice can grow up and seize control of her destiny.
“The Dream-Child”: Sexual Pleasure and Womanhood in Alice in Wonderland: A XXX Musical (1976)
In her essay “Underworld Portmanteaux: Dante’s Hell and Carroll’s Wonderland in Women’s Memoirs of Mental Illness,” Rachel Falconer observes the ways in which the concept of an underworld Wonderland has served authors striving to embody a space “outside (or beneath) the normal spaces of social interchange” (9). Wonderland can serve as a space for something “other,” the doppelganger to the norm, any niche or subgenre a pornographer wishes to explore. Wonderland functions in hardcore as what Steven Marcus calls a “pornotopia”: a timeless, placeless (Gothic) space where everything is designed to connote and facilitate sex with no consequences; a space where it is “always bedtime” (269) and where language “is a prison from which [pornography] is continually trying to escape” (279). Similarly, Victorianist U. C. Knoepflmacher regards Wonderland as “an anti-linguistic otherworld” (153) where Carroll is able to indulge in “self-rejuvenation” (158), “regressive hostility to growth and sexual division” (5), and to use his heroine as an “authorial surrogate” (8). Scholar of Victorian literature and childhood sexuality James R. Kincaid argues, “The Alice books are, above all, about growing up, and they recognize both the melancholy of the loss of Eden and the child’s rude and tragic haste to leave its innocence” (93). This focus on growing up, in tandem with a resistance to this process, is perhaps the most obvious reason for the popularity of the Alice books in hardcore pornography—the journey (p.101) from girlhood to womanhood via experience and consumption holds much in the way of sexually suggestive imagery and concepts.5
Consumption of food and drink, for example, figure prominently in Wonderland, which can connote sexual desire, gratification, and its denial. Helena Michie observes that in Victorian culture, hunger “figures unspeakable desires for sexuality and power” (15), desires that film pornography is eager to speak. Alice is “a greedy little girl who tastes drinks and cakes as soon as she falls into Wonderland” (Talairach-Vielmas 49), making her a sexually voracious protagonist ideal for pornographic appropriation. Indeed, in her influential essay, “Alice in Wonderland: A Curious Child,” Nina Auerbach muses in a footnote, “Does it go too far to connect the mouth that presides over Alice’s story to a looking-glass vagina?” (39). In pornotopia, it does not. As Playboy magazine bluntly puts it in their review of Alice in Wonderland: A XXX Musical (1976), “Eat me, redefined” (“X-Rated”).6
At the same time, Alice equivocates. She is not always greedy, active, and dominant. She is often passive, pushed around, and uncertain. She eats and drinks because she is told to. When she does eat or drink, her body often reacts in rebellious and uncontrollable ways. This has resulted in a body of scholarly criticism that attempts to situate Alice as either active or passive, when in reality she is both at different moments. For example, whereas Auerbach sees Alice as “explod[ing] out of Wonderland hungry and unregenerate” (46), Laurence Talairach-Vielmas sees Alice’s “voyage into womanhood” as “a journey into powerlessness” (10). For Talairach-Vielmas, food is not a source of sexual agency and exploration; on the contrary, “the food she finds in Wonderland systematically seems to punish her acts of self-assertion, as if the luring treats which peppered her adventures were devised to tame her appetite from within” (10). Rather than escaping the prescriptions of femininity and proper gendered behavior, “[h]er dream does not enable her to escape reality and to enter a wonderland where she can give vent to her appetites” (Talairach-Vielmas 61). This conflict at the heart of Alice’s journey is in large part why she works so well in pornography, a genre where the changeable, dynamic woman reigns supreme. Violation of the mainstream, shifting gender dynamics, and power play are the bread and butter of hardcore, so it should come as no surprise that Alice has been a staple of the genre since 1976.
Certainly, Alice is obsessed with food and drink, and her journey is a seemingly never-ending trail of edible items. These items often have a physical effect on her, and sometimes a psychical one. While she is certainly “curious,” active and on the move, and consumes whatever edible things she comes across, it is difficult to fully embrace Auerbach’s reading that Alice is (p.102) in control of her own physical changes or that she emerges from Wonderland “hungry and unregenerate.” Indeed, the Dormouse’s cautionary tale of the children stuck in the treacle well initially engages Alice, as she “always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking” (Carroll 49), and yet the story has a subordinating effect. Alice’s attitude changes from that of anger to politeness and humble promises to stop interrupting. Her desire to hear the story stems from a desire to hear about food, and yet the story warns against consumption, and Alice’s desire prompts her own self-silencing.
Furthermore, the trial of the tarts, which results in Alice’s violent awakening from her dream, begins with further desirous thoughts and self-restraint on Alice’s part: “In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them—‘I wish they’d get the trial done,’ she thought, ‘and hand round the refreshments!’ But there seemed no chance of this; so she began looking at everything about her to pass away the time” (73). Alice’s desire for the tarts goes unsatisfied, as Talailach-Vielmas observes, and yet Alice does not avert her eyes from “everything about her.” Ultimately, her verbal outbursts and physical growth have the effect of disrupting and then dismantling proceedings, leading to the ambiguous “fright” and “anger” Alice experiences before waking up (Carroll 83). As Jennifer Geer, professor of children’s literature, observes, “For an instant, Alice assumes a position directly contrary to those prescribed by domestic ideology or ideals of girlhood” (9). However, any lingering ambiguity regarding Alice’s empowerment and subversive agency is quickly stifled by “a transition back into the domestic” (Geer 10) and the anonymous narrator’s instruction that it was “a wonderful dream” (84). Alice’s older sister envisions Alice as “a grown woman […] how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale” (Carroll 86). Thus, the domesticating framework of the real world, not to mention the bullies she has been fending off throughout the narrative, defang Alice’s subversive adventures.
A product of 1970s sexual revolution and counterculture, Alice in Wonderland: A XXX Musical (dir. Bud Townsend, 1976) consciously subverts the sexually condemnatory attitude that emerges from Carroll’s Wonderland. The marketing rhetoric plays on the origins of the text as children’s literature to exploit the risqué pornographic overturning of the Carroll text, situating the film as “an X-rated musical—but it’s not for kids. It’s a bedtime story—but it’s not for kids” (“Alice in Wonderland ”). A tagline for the film also plays on the double meaning of what goes on in bed, declaring, “The world’s (p.103) favorite bed-time story is finally a bed-time story” (“Alice in Wonderland ”).
While these advertising tactics draw on the childhood origins of Alice as a way of clearly positioning the film as “for adults only,” in referencing the distinction in address between the novels and the film, the rhetoric also offers a reconciliatory notion of coming of age for girls. As Pilinovsky notes, (p.104) “Reversing the polarity of the original Victorian narrative, the 1976 Alice rejects the notion of a glorified childhood. This twentieth-century Wonderland conveys that maturity—physical, sexual, and emotional maturity—can be magical, and that there’s little to fear from the inevitability of growing up” (182). Hardcore treatments of Alice are firmly grounded in the adult, exploiting the controversial nature of adapting children’s literature through marketing but focusing on the pleasures of adult womanhood in the films themselves.
At the same time, while the XXX Wonderland segments are delightfully carnivalesque and prioritize Alice’s autonomous and joyful sexual explorations, the narrative is bookended by segments that suggest a woman’s “physical, sexual, and emotional maturity” merely involves putting out for one’s boyfriend, a common feminist critique of sexual counterculture. This XXX Alice (Kristine De Bell) is a young and sexually inexperienced woman, “just not that kind of girl.” As Alice’s boyfriend observes, “The body is all grown up, but the mind is still a little girl’s…. You’ve got all the right equipment, but you don’t know how to put it to work.” After leaving Wonderland a sexually experienced and grown-up woman, Alice puts her new-found knowledge “to work” by having sex with her boyfriend and achieving orgasm, a demonstration of the proper, heteronormative outcomes of female sexual awakening. The postscript also promotes monogamy, marriage, and children as the inevitable happy ending for a woman: “Alice settled down, got married, raised a family, in a house, with a white picket fence, filled with kids, and a little arf! arf! puppy.”
With all that said, the postscript appears to be tongue-in-cheek, and even if it is not, the implication that Alice’s sexual adventures do not preclude her entry into the patriarchal contract of marriage is surely something to celebrate. Wonderland is a joyous, singing-and-dancing adventure of sexual self-exploration for Alice, and one that has no ill effects on her real life existence. Indeed, Alice actively seeks to settle down with her boyfriend, raise a family, and have all the other trappings denied the fallen woman of the Victorian era. Wonderland offers much in the way of pleasure, self-satisfaction, and curious exploration that goes wholeheartedly unpunished. The real world is no place for a girl to attempt growing up. It stifles female pleasure. By entering XXX Wonderland, Alice has the opportunity to set things right—as she puts it, to “grow up all over again.”
From the moment her boyfriend leaves her, Alice is a determined sexual agent. Crying out as if in warning, “Here I come!” XXX Alice leaps down the rabbit hole with gusto. Unlike Carroll’s story, though, Alice’s journey through (p.105) Wonderland is characterized by encouragement of sexual desires, which are conflated variously with growing up, exploring your imagination, trusting what feels good, and being yourself, all things that the real world tends to deny women. Sexuality and appetite are not condemned or punished. In fact, Alice is put on trial for her “chastity” and is found guilty. Moreover, the film self-consciously acknowledges the source text as a restrictive, controlling influence getting in the way of sexual abandonment. For example, the trial—the most condemnatory element of the film—is included solely because it appears in the Carroll book. In fact, the inhabitants of XXX Wonderland are bemused by such a punitive event. The Queen cries out, “Trial? A trial? Where is it written that we have to give you a trial?” The Hatter hands the King a copy of Alice’s Adventures and exclaims, “It says so right here in this book.”
The ensuing trial is thus framed as a perfunctory performance of the limiting and punitive nature of Carroll’s text, begrudgingly included in order to satisfy the requirements of an adaptation. In addition, the fact that Alice is on trial for chastity ironizes Carroll’s puritanical attitude toward sexuality. Roger Ebert, in his mostly positive 1976 review of the film, exclaims that it will have Carroll “spinning in his grave.” While Ebert presumably meant this as a lazy joke about the explicit sex scenes, to bother Carroll is indeed the point of the film. The trial does not end with the court attacking Alice, as it does in Carroll’s version. The Wonderland inhabitants have been nothing but supportive of Alice throughout the film. The trial is instead followed by a segment titled “Fun in Wonderland,” a wacky montage of orgiastic imagery and visual jokes that frequently conflate food and sex. If the film must include Carroll’s unpleasant trial, the film suggests, then it will be one that criticizes the very concept of female virtue, and concludes with a laughter-filled romp through Wonderland.
The sexual activities within Wonderland are rapid-fire, joyful, and queer. In a memorable scene, Alice enjoy interspecies sex with the Scrugs, a group of naïve and joyful abhuman creatures that helpfully lick Alice dry after she falls in the pool of tears. In another scene, a song-and-dance number reveals the Black Knight and White Knight (actual allusions to their race) to be same-sex lovers. And brother and sister, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, enjoy a harmonious sexual relationship with no concern for real-world notions of incest. Such transgressive sexualities abound in this pornotopian, musical Wonderland.
The overwhelming message of the film is to shake off the guilt and shame women internalize as part of their sexual coming of age. This Wonderland is a place where perversions mingle with naïvety, rendering any dirtiness clean (p.106) or meaningless. The King, who has no understanding of Alice’s meaning when she tries to explain her desire to wait until marriage, best expresses this. Alice tells him she cannot have sex because she wants to be “clean, unblemished, spotless.” He assures her, “I won’t put any spots on you. I like you just the way you are!” In this pornotopian Wonderland, such constructions of feminine virtue are meaningless. Furthermore, following Alice’s emergence from her dream into the real world, she is able to assimilate into a normative sexual contract of marriage and monogamy in spite of, or even because of, her explorations in Wonderland. Thus, unlike the fallen women of the Victorian age, Alice is able to have her cake and eat it too.
“I Generally Hit Everything I Can See—When I Get Really Excited”: BDSM Alices
Of all the texts analyzed in this project, the Alice books have the most adaptations and appropriations that fall under the fetish and BDSM categories: Alice in Fetishland (2000), Alice in Bondageland (2000), Fetish Fairy Tails 3: Alice in Summerland (2005), Alice in Savageland (2008), Alice in Tickleland (2009), and Mistress Alice’s website, AliceinBondageland.com. Another film titled Alice in Fetishland was included in the 2013 CineKink Film Festival in New York City. While the popularity of Alice with this particular genre may at first seem unusual, in fact the punitive violence of Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land, coupled with Alice’s variously dominant and submissive behaviors, make these particular appropriations more understandable. While Alice of the books is a reluctant plaything of Carroll’s imagination, subject to “uncontrolled aggression” (Kincaid 93), hardcore fetish and BDSM pornographers overturn these formulations, throwing the gendered nature of domination and submission into flux and restaging Wonderland as a space that is very much controlled and negotiated. Moreover, the concept of a Wonderland and a Looking-Glass Land, where play, inversion, and the topsy-turvy seem possible, provides a play space for primarily female BDSM practitioners to hold court. Alice has become the dominatrix icon of this world, its mistress and author, with Carroll entirely removed from the equation. Through BDSM’s staging of “sexual commerce as a theater of transformation” (McClintock 87), the gender and subjectivity of Alice and her cohorts are thrown into disarray, with Alice at the helm of their play-world.
While appearing to draw on and perpetuate a natural gender hierarchy, in reality BDSM “performs social power as both contingent and constitutive, as sanctioned neither by fate nor by God, but by social convention and invention, (p.107) and thus as open to historical change” (McClintock, “Maid to Order” 91, italics in original). This is because anyone can inhabit the role of dominant or submissive, regardless of gender, and the submissive co-authors the scene. Likewise, philosopher and ethicist Patrick D. Hopkins frames sadomasochism as a simulation of power structures, rather than a replication of them. In this way, BDSM becomes “a site for the (partial) performative subversion of gender” in the sense that gender does not dictate power, and vice versa (Hopkins 135). “To the extent that sex and gender and sexual identities themselves are captured and manipulated and exposed by the ‘scene,’” Hopkins explains, “they are made to seem less natural, less definite, less compulsory” (136). Furthermore, the BDSM Alice films tend to position men in submissive roles and Alice in the dominant role. This produces what Hopkins describes as “an image subversive to patriarchal sexual ideology” an ideology associated with Alice’s submissive status under Carroll’s controlling authorship and Victorian gender relations more broadly.
The popularity of BDSM Alices is likely the result of Alice’s conflicted experiences of Wonderland. While Kincaid recognizes both “rootless hostility” and “free and uncompetitive joy,” a world where “Alice is the object of love as well as fear” (92), Jacqueline Labbe regards Wonderland as “dangerous for Alice,” a world where “submission is the only answer” (24). Indeed, Wonderland is a precarious and intimidating space. Following her leap down the rabbit hole, Alice quickly learns that she must navigate this new world and its unpredictable inhabitants, not to mention her own unpredictable physical changes, leading to her constantly oscillating position within the power relations of Wonderland. One moment she is replying “shyly” (27) to the Caterpillar, and a moment later she is “swallowing down her anger as well as she could” (28). At the tea party she speaks “angrily” and “with some severity” (44) but is soon “dreadfully puzzled” and speaking “as politely as she could,” “cautiously” and “thoughtfully” (46). Interrupting the tale of the treacle well, Alice finds herself “beginning very angrily,” but then asks the Dormouse “very humbly” (49) to continue, until finally finding the Hatter to be too rude to bear: “She got up in great disgust, and walked off: the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her” (50). BDSM porn appropriates these power dynamics but does away with the hesitancy and care Alice takes in responding to these erratic characters. The BDSM adaptations seize control of the narrative, wresting it away from Carroll and placing it in the hands of Alice as participant and author.
(p.108) While Alice’s interactions with the Wonderland creatures are perhaps most memorably fraught with tension, she reserves her bitterest scoldings for herself. This finds an interesting parallel in the degree to which the submissive is author of the scene in BDSM. As Anne McClintock observes in “Maid to Order,” “To argue that in consensual S/M the ‘dominant’ has power, and the slave has not, is to read theater for reality; it is to play the world forward. The economy of S/M is the economy of conversion: slave to master, adult to baby, pain to pleasure, man to woman, and back again” (87). To be sure, after scolding herself for crying, the narrator explains, “sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes …for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people” (6). The “two people” Alice inhabits are the scolder and weeper, the masculine and the feminine, the dominant and the submissive. Such gendered, binary power relations characterize both Wonderland and Alice’s psyche (which, after all, is Wonderland). BDSM pornographers can rupture and stage these Wonderland dualities, transforming gendered subjectivity in the process.
Two competing desires are at work within the text: “the adult’s desire to dominate children and the child’s desire to resist that domination” (Geer 7). While Geer’s analysis centers around the narrator’s framing poems, which seem to contradict Alice’s adventures themselves, it is not so great a leap to gender such forces as masculine and feminine, or to dichotomize them according to power relations of dominant and submissive, power relations that can then become pleasurably performed, transformed, and ungendered in BDSM.
Alice rarely submits in the BDSM and fetish film appropriations. While in Wonderland she is helplessly resized and ordered about, in BDSM pornography the girls stage a takeover of Wonderland. The members of each various “land” are subject to Alice’s whims and punishments, not the other way around. Linda Williams has observed that “although male submissives apparently outweigh dominators in real-life heterosexual sadomasochistic practice, the incompatibility of this role with the more traditional use of heterosexual pornography as confirmation of viewers’ masculine identity inhibits its incorporation into hard-core narrative” (Hard Core 196). Yet the Alices of the fetish and BDSM titles are almost all dominant, the male characters almost all submissive. Summer Cummings’s Fetish Fairy Tails 3: Alice in Summerland is a notably playful and reflexive light-BDSM fetish video, featuring four scenes in which Alice meets a character from Summerland: the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, and finally the Queen of Hearts (the only character to dominate Alice). Alice in Summerland establishes (p.109) from the very title that this is Summer’s Land. There is no confusion over authorship; Alice, Summer Cummings, and author are one. This is Summer’s playground: she wrote, directed, and stars in the film.
The video, like much fetish and BDSM pornography, involves no conventional sexual intercourse of any kind, and only small amounts of genital contact. As Williams has noted, much of BDSM and its subgenres are characterized by a “lack of subordination to a genital goal of discharge or ‘end pleasure’” (195). In this way, the video avoids much of the perceived imbalance of power relations signified by androcentric genital intercourse and yet simultaneously foregrounds power relations via constant verbal and physical power play. BDSM in general is not about one person being dominant and one person being dominated; rather, it is about a contractual power play, one in which power is not fixed (Williams, Hard Core 228), where the dominant might switch and become submissive, and where participants can confront gender and power, challenging the natural order of gender relations through simulation, staging, and “doing a scene” (Hopkins). Indeed, Summer’s attraction to the Alice story is rooted in “the fact that she is both dominant and submissive in different parts of the story” (Cummings). Alice’s oscillating power in the Carroll text offers up a rich canvas on which to play out the fluid gender positions of BDSM.
In Summerland, the characters of Carroll’s stories attempt their punitive attitude toward Alice but are quickly put in their place. For example, on meeting the Caterpillar, Summer answers his question— “Who are you?”—with a tentative “I’m not really sure,” similar to Wonderland Alice’s “I—I hardly know, Sir” (27). Yet when the Caterpillar persists with the question, Summer’s Alice snaps and yells, “I just told you, OK?! I’m Alice, and I need to get outta here!” Similar to this, when the White Rabbit asks if she is a girl, Alice doesn’t hesitate to assert angrily, “Yes I am a girl! What, you don’t have girls here?” In Wonderland, the Pigeon’s question regarding Alice’s species prompts an introspective query on Alice’s part as to whether she is a girl, whether she is a serpent, and whether she eats eggs (35), but not so in Summerland.
Furthermore, in Summerland the Caterpillar—a somewhat intimidating and wise character in Wonderland—is reduced to an absurd broken record. Each time Summer asks for the way out, the Caterpillar returns to his cycle of stock phrases. This enrages Summer, who, after giving him ample warning, opts to reject any potential assistance, gags him with rope, and wraps his entire body in saran wrap like a cocoon, covering his mouth and silencing him before moving on to the next scene. Tenniel’s illustration of Alice’s encounter with the Caterpillar also stands in stark contrast to the composition (p.110) of the same encounter in Summerland. While Tenniel’s Alice is barely tall enough to see over the mushroom on which the Caterpillar is seated, so that only her hands and eyes peeking over the edge can be seen, Summer—forty-three years old, stocky, loud, and with very large breast implants—is immediately physically dominant over the tubby and dimwitted Caterpillar. In Summerland, Alice is the one teaching lessons, and the violence and unsettling power relations of Wonderland become the source of staged gender and power play.
Alice also becomes the dominant in the website Alice in Bondageland, run by Mistress Alice. The tone of this site depicts smiling, laughing BDSM. Mistress Alice explains that at the time of the site’s conception, she could not find any BDSM content that depicted “happy and healthy BDSM where it looked like participants were having fun” (Mistress Alice). Thus, Alice in Bondageland was created. Mistress Alice explains that when she began the site, she was disappointed in the BDSM porn on offer, so she sought to produce scenes that reflected the “joyful quality” of BDSM play that she witnessed in her personal life and in club settings: “We call it ‘play’ for a reason” (Mistress Alice). In this way, as with other hardcore adaptations of Alice, female sexual (p.111) agency becomes a guilt-free, celebratory endeavor, reclaiming and restaging the dark and ambivalent power struggles of Carroll’s books.
Significantly, Mistress Alice explicitly identifies with Alice of Looking-Glass Land, “where she crosses the chessboard and then becomes the queen” (Mistress Alice). Alice’s position as a pawn in a chess game is ambiguous in terms of agency, suggestive of both an anonymous player moving her around the board and the ways in which a pawn might escape the hands of this same player. In general, the relationship between Alice and her author is more fraught in Looking-Glass, authorial intentions more ambiguous, sinister, and domineering, and yet, as Mistress Alice observes, this is the narrative in which Alice is afforded the most agency. Carroll seems ambivalent about Alice’s maturation; even though Carroll interrupts and overshadows his heroine, he also permits agency and authorship throughout the text. Hence, Knoepflmacher’s contention that “The Looking-Glass Alice …is quite deliberately presented as a mirror image of the narrator who dominated the heroine of the Wonderland text” (209–10). Thus, while Carroll’s presence is persistent, and he is reluctant to allow Alice to mature, the tone of his authorial presence is also pathetic and wistful in its understanding that she must come of age and become subject.
Perhaps most jarring is the narrator’s aside regarding the White Knight who, it appears, represents Carroll himself saying goodbye to Alice as she goes off to become an adult woman. The narrator explains,
Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through The Looking-Glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly. Years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday—the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the Knight—the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her. (125)
It is a melancholy scene, and one in which the desires of the narrator, or the White Knight, are palpable: for Alice to cherish this moment more than the (p.112) others and to recall it in dazzling fashion. However, Alice does not shed the tears the Knight was expecting; instead, she runs off thoughtlessly rather than giving him an emotional goodbye. In this way, it is entirely understandable that Mistress Alice would align herself with Alice of Looking-Glass Land. As Mistress Alice puts it, “I did the ‘through the rabbit hole’ journey, that I read as kind of a coming of age and a sexual awakening story that’s very fraught with Victorian sexual mores and peril and things like that. But Looking Glass Alice has a journey of moving into adulthood that I relate to a lot more now that I’m grown up, I guess you could say. So, that’s the Alice I relate to from my femdom persona rather than the childlike Alice” (Mistress Alice).
Mistress Alice occasionally reads the Carroll stories to the characters themselves, enacting a bizarre and (in Mistress Alice’s words) “ridiculous” metatext that acknowledges the fiction at the heart of the scene. These scenes also implicate Carroll and his text as a kind of torture device in a similar way to the frustrating and perfunctory inclusion of the book in Alice: A XXX Musical. In “Alice in Wonderland Chapter 2: Pool of Tears Sissy Bondage,” Mistress Alice reads “The Pool of Tears” to a male sub dressed as Alice in the classic blue and white Disney costume. Speaking to the sub in the manner of a mother putting a child to bed, Mistress Alice makes it clear that she is the author, while the sub remains the “innocent” and “pretty” Alice of the original text in need of severe restraints because she has “a little trouble paying attention.” By featuring two Alices of different sexes and coding them clearly as dominant and submissive, Mistress Alice creates a world where the fictions of Carroll’s text are entirely malleable and where gender and text are revealed a fiction.
Like Summer, Mistress Alice dominates characters from Wonderland, feminizing and infantilizing them. Mistress Alice refers to this as “turning the tables” on those characters who so mercilessly ordered Alice around in the books. At the same time, indicative of the manner in which the submissive authors the scene, subs are allowed and encouraged to pick the Wonderland character they most identify with. While submissive Alice must be restrained because she has trouble paying attention, in “Cheshire Cat Saline Ball Busting,” submissive Cheshire Cat must be locked up so as to limit his ability to appear and disappear. “You think you’re quite the little escape artist, don’t you?” Mistress Alice says mockingly, laughing in his face as she explains that the chains she is using are “enchanted,” such that they will disable his magical abilities. In this Wonderland, Mistress Alice is able to invent her own rules and turn the tables on its inhabitants.
Mistress Alice is also aware of the complicated baggage surrounding Dodgson and his photographs of Alice Liddell and other children, viewing the (p.113) Alice culture text as a curious entry in the history of pornography: “The book and the character and the author already have this strange relationship with the dawn of modern porn, as you’d call it” (Mistress Alice). In this way, Mistress Alice recognizes this marginal sexual association and complex relationship between the novels, coming of age, and female agency. Her BDSM pornography seeks to recover this agency, a gesture Mistress Alice regards as empowering for women: “There’s a certain amount of power in reclaiming those images for ourselves and particularly in my case the idea of Alice, reframing it in her own terms both as a character and also as a subject and artist relationship” (Mistress Alice). Here, Mistress Alice makes explicit what all of the adaptations under consideration suggest: pornographic Wonderlands offer Alice the opportunity to displace Carroll/Dodgson and author her own sexuality.
Hardcore adaptations of the Alice books vary significantly in genre and tone, offering a wide range of approaches, and yet all tap into the source texts’ dealings with identity, femininity, patriarchal control, and sexual authorship, reclaiming Alice and permitting a celebratory sexual coming of age via an unruly Wonderland. Pornographers, many of them female, recognize the ambivalence surrounding female coming of age in the Alice books and stage a takeover, using porn to fill the gaps of the canonical text but also to answer it back and respond to it in complex ways that center Alice as author (p.114) of her sexuality. Indeed, in the last decade, four hardcore films that adapt the Alice text have been produced, all of them written and/or directed by women: Tormented (2009), written by Stormy Daniels; Erica McLean’s Alice (2010), directed by Erica McClean; Malice in Lalaland (2010), co-written by Nicki Heartache; and Alice in Wonderland XXX (2011), written and directed by Wendy Crawford. In porning Alice, these writers, directors, and performers do not merely expose the sexual suggestiveness of Carroll’s texts and the cultural baggage surrounding them; they prove themselves sensitive literary critics. As with many of the texts under examination, the initial allure for pornography is deceptively simple: a female protagonist, a theme of emergence into womanhood, and an alternative realm where anything can happen. Yet what the adaptations show is more than simply the sexualization of youth and the ease with which a low-budget video can appropriate a familiar feminine image. The popularity and diversity of these adaptations and appropriations demonstrate the fraught nature of coming of age for girls and women, and the ways in which pornographic Wonderlands can offer space for women to speak back to a culture that attempts to contain and control sexual autonomy. In turn, hardcore Wonderlands reveal the extent to which pornography itself serves as a Wonderland for women (and men) to enjoy and enact explicit, unrepentantly deviant, and non-normative sexualities denied them in the real world.
(1.) I regard the Alice books as Gothic texts. Though they are not typically described as such, these novels contain many elements of Gothic fiction, such as abhuman characters, duality, doppelgangers, insanity, the Gothic space, and what Catherine (p.185) Seimann calls “controlled menace” (175). Moreover, these texts have been reimagined into explicitly Gothic films, videogames, and graphic novels, suggestive of the latent Gothic elements in the original books. I have always regarded these books as darkly Gothic tales of terror for little girls, though Carroll’s intention may not have been so.
(2.) See Brooker’s chapter titled “The Man in the White Paper” (49–75) for a thorough overview and analysis of the various critics who have asserted and refuted Carroll’s sexual desire for little girls.
(3.) For an excellent analysis of Through the Looking Glass as a feminist text, see Neil Jackson’s essay and interview with the director, “Joseph Middleton: Reflections on Through the Looking Glass.”
(4.) There are no invocations of preteen youth in Alice in Wonderland: A XXX Musical. The Kristine DeBell Playboy cover, however, deliberately exploits the iconography of adolescence. The cover depicts DeBell in the familiar Alice dress, pouting innocently and holding a teddy bear. This image misrepresents the content of the film, yet it is suggestive of what Playboy thought would sell copies. Likewise, the dark thriller, Through the Looking Glass, co-stars Laura Nicholson who was sixteen years old at the time. She does not perform in any sexually explicit scenes, and the film does not trade in her youth even while the plot centers around childhood sexual abuse. The poster, however, proudly announces, “Starring 14-year-old [sic] starlet, Laura Nicholson.”
(5.) Rather intriguingly, a book titled Alice in Wonderland: A Masterpiece of Victorian Pornography? by David Hunter was published in 1989. The book is out of print, and the only trace of it I can find is a listing on Amazon.com. All of my efforts to find a copy or even a blurb have failed. Ronald Pearsall makes another interesting connection between Lewis Carroll and pornography in his foundational book, The Worm in the Bud: The World of Victorian Sexuality. In discussing the “quintessence of pornographic verse,” the 1870 parody Cythera’s Hymnal, Pearsall remarks, “The greatest master of the parody was Lewis Carroll, and Cythera’s Hymnal was published when Carroll was at his peak, midway between the two Alice books. […] Some of the parodies are so good that one is tempted to assign them to Lewis Carroll, though there is no evidence that he did have a hand in any of them, as all kinds of smut were alien to the mathematical don” (374).
(6.) The film was shot in 1976 and released that year in a semi-soft cut. Adult film producer and sometime director Chris Warfield later acquired the rights, added the hardcore back into the cut, and shot and inserted additional hardcore footage. He released this version through Essex Video in 1979. Thanks to Joe Rubin for these important details.