The image portrayed here by Carroll of someone reaching for a desired object, obtaining it but continually seeing something else apparently even more desirable just beyond the horizon of availability, represents the heart and soul of the capitalism which thrived in Victorian England as it does in America today.
"The prettiest are always further!" she said at last, with a sigh at the obstinacy of the rushes in growing so far off, as, with flushed cheeks and dripping hair and hands, she scrambled back into her place, and began to arrange her newfound treasures.
What mattered it to her just then that the rushes had begun to fade, and to lose all their scent and beauty, from the very moment that she picked them? Even real scented rushes, you know, last only a very little while- and these, being dream-rushes, melted away almost alike snow, as they lay in heaps at her feet-but Alice hardly noticed this, there were so many other curious things to think about. [Through the Looking Glass Norton Critical Edition, 56]
Today, naive popular conceptions of the Victorian world focus on its luxuries and comfort, but the reality — which subtly permeates this passage — is something entirely different. The actuality of Victorian living is aptly described "as not unlike the United states today. There was the same unblinking worship of independence and of hard cash."
In capitalism, as in Through the Looking Glass, worship translates into both relentless pursuit of the unattainable and a lack of appreciation for the attained. Superlatives such as the "prettiest "are the object of this insatiable desire, but inherent in such a capitalistic desire is the impossibility of obtaining anything superlative. For Alice this fact translates into a physical distance ("further") that can never be crossed. For the Victorian entrepreneur money translates into the distance constructed by society between different levels of material wealth. Just as Alice does not care that her "newfound treasures...melted away almost alike snow", the true materialist never appreciates what they have already procured because they are caught up in the quest for "other curious things to think about."
Dickens' Ebeneezer Scrooge bluntly embodies this desire in Victorian literature, and although Alice is hardly such a cruel character, the same mode of desire exists in both. Many modern works of both fiction and non-fiction revolve around the stories of those fanatical capitalists, the stock brokers and capital investors who stop at nothing to increase their own personal wealth but while occupied in the struggle for material wealth can never appreciate what they have. Alice acts out the same drama but in a seemingly more innocent manner. This innocence serves to draw the reader's attention away from the real capitalistic venture she takes, but also speaks to how engrained materialism was in the Victorian mind.
Last modified December 1995