Posted by: allisongran | December 19, 2011

Victorian Ideas of Time

One idea which I keep seeing appear in our readings and our discussions is the concept of time. It comes up in many different forms, whether it be a desire or hatred towards the preservation of time, the prolonging of time, the bending of time, or the freezing of time. It seems like there was almost a Victorian obsession with these idea.

For example, in Alice in Wonderland we are presented with a Conversation between Alice and The Mad Hatter in which “time” is moldable, and changeable, as a person in itself.

“Alice sighed wearily. ‘I think you might do something better with the time,’ she said, ‘than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.’

            ‘If you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatter, ‘you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.’

            ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Alice.

            ‘Of course you don’t!’ the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. ‘I dare say you never even spoke to Time!’

            ‘Perhaps not,’ Alice cautiously replied; ‘but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.’

            ‘Ah! That accounts for it,’ said the Hatter. ‘He wo’n’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’”(Carroll, pg 72)

The Hatter then goes on to say that time doesn’t work this way for him anymore, as they got into an argument and now the time is always 6 o’clock (tea time) for them. By personifying time, Carroll gave it the ability to reap either favors or revenge,  going along with the well known idea that time can be friendly or cruel. These obsessions with time strike me as really interesting. It makes me wonder if this subconscious wish to control time came up from the ever increasing speed of life as the Victorian Period saw it changing from the rural to the modern. 


  1. It’s quite a nice idea, to personify time in a world where everything about Alice changes so rapidly and out of nowhere: she grows then shrinks in a manner of minutes. The personification of Time in Alice in Wonderland is another form in which Alice’s position between child and adult is further blurred. Time is something (someone) that (who) can come and ago, and even be late for tea!

    I think the conception of Time as working against you or for you is modern. Before industrialization, there was no clock ticking away their workshift. In sociology, I have read about centptions of the sociology of time and who different people, from different socioeconomic backgrounds (including age); this conceit like so many socially constructed elements in Alice in Wonderland, is made fun of ultimately fully ridiculous in Wonderland. For Alice, time, like direction, is fully destabilized.

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