Cut From the Classics: Bettina Thrush -The Toast

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Cut from the Classics brings your favorite novels to life as never before. Each week we present a profile of a character who originally appeared in the first draft of a major work of fiction, but was subsequently cut from the final draft. This insight into each author’s process brings a fuller, richer sense of their body of work. Previously: Affable Johnson.

Book: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll, The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Publication Date: 1865

Character: Bettina Thrush

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (typically known by its familiar abbreviation, Alice in Wonderland)[1. Trippingly On The Tongue: A Study Of Linguistic Sloth In Muscular Hydrostats, Dr. Ron Totonards, I Say Press, A subsidiary of Pressing Press, Toronto, Canada, 2008] has been a touchstone classic for children of all ages since its publication in the late 19th century. Written by Anglican archdeacon and amateur photographer Charles Dodgson under the nom de plume of Lewis Carroll, the tale began as a story Dodgson told for Oxford Vice Chancellor Henry Liddell’s three daughters, Lorina, Alice, and Edith.[2. “Every English Edith – A Compendium,”  Henriette E. Blurgewall, Stop the Presses Press, pg. 72, column 17, item, 312.]

The story Dodgson would eventually write down as a gift for his young friends, is a familiar one. Alice, a young tow-headed girl, bored and sleepy one summer afternoon, finds herself transported to another world by means of a rabbit’s hole.[3. Famous Holes, Dr. Larry Birch, Beaver-Bottom Publishing, Fanny, NY, 1973.] Having entered this land of nonsensical wonder, Alice is led on several adventures after pursuing the mysterious White Rabbit.

As the story progresses, Alice nearly drowns in a pool of her own tears, is advised by a caterpillar indulging in a hookah pipe, meets a weeping Mock Turtle, and is sentenced to death by decapitation after testifying at the Knave of Heart’s trial for stealing the Queen of Hearts’ baked goods.

Almost as famous as the text are the pen-and-ink illustrations by Dodgson’s friend John Tenniel. It is thanks to recently discovered correspondence between Tenniel and Dodgson that scholars have been able to shine a light upon a character originally featured in the work, who, but for a handful of pages, would lost to literary history.

That character’s name is Bettina Thrush. Notes on a drawing in progress that Tenniel had sent to Dodgson for approval indicate that Bettina was at one time not just a supporting player, but a co-star in the work. In his response to Tenniel, Dodgson remarked that Bettina was meant to be Alice’s fraternal twin, but not her identical copy. Where Alice was meant to embody the good, the pure, and the curious nature of youth, Bettina represented all the ills that might beset a woman as she made the perilous journey from childhood to adulthood.

Bettina’s looks were very distinct from her sister’s. Whereas Alice was depicted by Tenniel as blonde and delicately complected, Bettina stood in stark opposition.[4. “To call her monstrous is to do a very disservice to all other creatures who bear that name. Rather, squat, ungainly, and poorly mannered – this is to be Bettina’s way.” Charles L. Dodgson to John Tenniel, letter dated May 13th 1864.] Tenniel’s response to Dodgson’s notes has not survived, but the drawings completed after Tenniel had receipt of Dodgson’s message has. The subsequent finished illustration seems to bear an uncanny likeness to one Lydia Snerd-Motley, a housemaid of Dodgson’s whose romantic pursuit of the married, stuttering vicar verged on the carnivorous.[5. 99 Problems: Literary Titans and The Women Who Troubled Them, Derek Lemur Lions, Dakota Bookery Press, 2011.]

Much has been made – both for good and for ill – of Dodgson’s relationships with young children. Whether these friendships were a harmless escape for a retiring and painfully shy man, or whether they were tinged with something more sinister, are questions that cannot now be answered. What we do know, through Bettina Thrush, is that Dodgson lived in terror of the progressive woman, perceiving any overt displays of female sexuality to be highly untoward.

This is particularly clear in the book’s famous tea-party scene. When Alice drags a truculent Bettina to meet and talk with the dormouse and the Mad Hatter, events unfold in a slightly different manner than fans of the published text may expect. “Why,” queries the Hatter, “is a raven like a writing-desk?” Before Alice can begin to puzzle out the famous riddle, Bettina, chortling darkly, slaps the Hatter on the back. “‘Cawse Mr. Poe done me atop boaf of ‘em, innit?” Alice spends the remainder of the scene apologizing to the Hatter, while Bettina performs a bawdy dance for the dormouse’s benefit.[6. “‘’Tina done a little mouse, little mouse, little mouse! ‘Tina done a little mouse, and now she’ll do his bruuuver!’ With this, Bettina fell into the dormouse’s lap with a mighty clap. The dormouse himself was far from entertained, sobbing as the full weight of Bettina landed upon him. ‘Oh my,’ remarked Alice.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Draft 1, 1864.]

The tea-party scene is not the only occasion where a now-classic moment in Carroll’s novel takes a shocking turn. Earlier on, when Alice famously goes from very small to very tall and back again by way of enchanted food and drink, she recites a poem in an effort to reassert her identity. In so doing, her parody of the Isaac Watts poem, “How Doth the Busy Bee” becomes “How Doth the Little Crocodile,” which is now more well-known than the original. However, in the first draft of the book, Alice was too wise to eat and drink anything, and it is Bettina who “voracious I am, like,” inhales both food and drink, whereupon she immediately turns into a winged Valkyrie. While Alice implores various creatures for their assistance, Bettina bursts into song while spurting fire onto various magical characters, burning them to ash:

How doth the little harlot girl
showcase her breasts most supple?
By hoisting them to her chin-height
and coverin’ ‘em in bubbles.
How cheerfully she seems to grin,
How foul and round her buttocks,
Always she forces vicars in
to ‘meet her Aunt in Sussex!’[7. Entries in Dodgson’s journals from this time make mention of a traumatic encounter he had with his housemaid, Snerd-Motley. Upon going to the kitchen for a glass of day-old cream (a favorite snack of the Reverend) he was confronted with the sight of Snerd-Motley recumbent in his washing-up tub. “While spared the worst of it,” he writes, “what I have witnessed this day has shocked me to my very core.” No doubt this early scene harkened to Dodgson’s memories of this harrowing event.]

To “meet your Aunt in Sussex” was, of course, a popular 19th-century euphemism that denoted sexual congress[8. Pretty Ponies and Squiddly Fingers: 19th Century England and Double Entendre, Louise Inherenderson, Orkney Books, UK, 1966.]

For all her faults, Bettina was solely dedicated to indulging in licentious behaviors and baser forms of entertainment. When Alice is charged by the Duchess to mind her child, Bettina, realizing that they are likely stuck in this nightmarish realm indefinitely, suggests ransoming the infant for a tidy sum. Unfortunately, however profitable this scheme may have been, it is proved moot when the child in question is transformed into a pig.[9. “OINK SQUEAL,” Teddy, Ed and Anne Mungus, Pig Passions and Fashion Magazine, Vol. XV, Issue 7, A Porcine Publishing Impress, NY, NY, 1989.]

Additionally, the true stalwart and decent nature of Bettina’s character is seen at the infamous croquet match, where Alice first becomes acquainted with the violent Queen of Hearts. While Alice is coerced into playing a game of croquet with the Queen, Bettina is not so quick to follow suit. As Alice battles with her flamingo, Bettina quietly incites rebellion, asking the hedgehogs serving as croquet balls about their hourly rate of pay and health benefits. Eventually, without much additional prompting, the hedgehogs rise up again the Queen. After the frenzied hedgies devour the despot, they scurry to Bettina, crown in hand, and proclaim her the new Queen, whereupon she promptly makes Alice her fool.

While this storyline did not make it into the completed manuscript, echoes of Bettina appear throughout the entire original draft, particularly in the character of the Cheshire Cat. Once Dodgson had excised Bettina, Tenniel’s early sketches of the woman began to alter. Bettina’s toothy grin, and short, curvy frame remain largely unchanged. Her face is gradually topped with triangular ears and her body covered in striped fur (a much thicker coat than the original mustache and half-beard Tenniel and Dodgson had originally settled on for Bettina).

Lydia Snerd-Motley was eventually fired by Dodgson’s wife Fanny. She moved back home to London, where she cared for her ailing husband before being arrested on charges of bigamy and pandering.

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance humorist living in Brooklyn. Her work is on the internet.

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