The Dormouse in Literature

A Mad Tea Party (John Tenniel/Wikimedia Commons)

A Mad Tea-Party (John Tenniel/Wikimedia Commons)


Perhaps the most well-known writing which uses the dormouse as a character, is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Chapter VII of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is entitled A Mad Tea-Party. The opening paragraph reads:

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it; a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,” thought Alice; “only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.”

In Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice (1970) we’re informed that “the British dormouse is a tree-living rodent that resembles a small squirrel much more than it does a mouse. The name is from the Latin dormire, to sleep, and has reference to the animal’s habit of winter hibernation. Unlike the squirrel, the dormouse is nocturnal, so that even in May (the month of Alice’s adventure) it remains in a torpid state throughout the day. In Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 1906, we are told that the dormouse may have been modeled after Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pet wombat, which had a habit of sleeping on the table. Carroll knew all the Rossettis and occasionally visited them” (pp. 94–95).

A Mad Tea-Party

A Mad Tea-Party (Mabel Lucie Attwell/Public Domain)

“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, which seemed to be talking in its sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”

“The Dormouse is asleep again,” said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.

The Dormouse shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, “Of course, of course: just what I was going to remark myself.”

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