Imperfect Fiction

Bruno and Sylvie

Bruno and Sylvie

A putting of things in perspective

Larry Lefkowitz

Yes! Me. Bruno! The titular second fiddle to Sylvie in "Sylvie and Bruno," Lewis Carroll's pre-modern/post-modern/fiction/non-fiction mishmash. Why Carroll gave Sylvie first billing is beyond me, though it was known that he favored little girls, like Alice Liddell, the role model for Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." It may also explain why he gave Sylvie a sylph-like moniker, and me one more suitable to a mastiff, not a fairy. Yes, Sylvie and I are fairies—Carroll had a thing for fairies—"Alice Among the Fairies" was in fact the original name of what later became "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

In my not so humble opinion "Alice" has been overly treated; here we are concerned with Carroll's later, alas, less successful novel—no fault of mine or Sylvie's. To avoid confusion, I will hereinafter continue to refer to Carroll's dual-eponymous novel as "Sylvie and Bruno," and not my preferred title "Bruno and Sylvie." A more accurate title for Carroll's novel would have been "Sylvie and Bruno and the Rest of the Universe" since the novel spirals wildly in all directions and dimensions. Only my fidelity to Carroll outweighs my duty as literary critic to have added "out of control" to describe such spiraling.

For convenience and conservation of energy (we fairies lack the human strong arm muscularity that allows extended writing), the novel will be designated "S and B", which initials will serve also for Sylvie and Bruno, singularly or severally. Carroll himself liked to use capitol letters in names, perhaps to impart heft or to establish an arch-type. I will concentrate on the portions of the novel applicable to S and B, excluding those of the rest of the novel, sparing the reader their (Oh so Victorian) preaching and philosophizing and the serpentine subplots and whatnot (from my point-of-view, claptrap) of the original novel. True, Carroll threw in some satire, but when the novel doesn't concern S and B, it is fatiguing. It was incumbent on me to read the whole megillah, but I will spare you.    

Prior to chapter 6, the appearances of S and B, if at all, are not significant. I will deal exclusively with those chapters in which we take center stage and do not serve as mere spear carriers for the other less central protagonists. Only in Chapter 6 do we come into our own. In it there is also a beggar who turns out to be our father. Carroll refers to him as the Beggar, capitol B. the Beggar elucidates that they are in Elfland, Fairyland seemingly not enough for him or his puppet-master, Carroll.  There may be some Freudian reason for the elf bit. Or maybe Jungian. Or maybe Carroll was simply being fey. Anyhow, father shows S two lockets, one blue with the words, "All will love Sylvie" and one red, "Sylvie will love all." Saccharine, admittedly, but the Victorians at up such glop with a runcible spoon. (See, Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat," another Victorian favorite.) S opts for the second choice, Pollyannathat she is. I would have chosen the blue: "All will love Bruno," but my father, or Carroll, didn't give me the option.       

S and I go in search of the Beggar. S rubs the red locket, which doubles as an amulet (a rare economizing on Carroll's part) and a mouse is transformed into a lion, which we ride. Fearless fairies indeed, although S had to prod B a bit to mount the lion—I could have handled the mouse.

In Chapter 7 nothing concerns the dynamic duo. Hereinafter I have (blessedly for you the reader) eliminated the superfluous chapters which do not concern us. (Just in time since by now you are having enough difficulty with the plot thread; if you had read the excluded chapters you would have long since lost it.) This chapter elimination strengthens the novel's plot and the whole work, whose essence—read: S and B—could have been captured in one volume, instead of the two volumes Carroll opted for. (Ok, the Victorians liked to pad their libraries.)

Now we take a breather while Carroll indulges in all sorts of nonsense and non-sequiturs until we reappear in Chapter 14. The narrator—yes, there is a narrator (small n, which may evidence a certain disdain toward literary devices on the part of Carroll)—but I will spare you all sorts of literary commentary on the role of the narrator in the novel; I am first and foremost a fairy, only secondarily a literary critic. We fairies are expected to confine ourselves to the "oh" and "ah" school of literary appreciation, though I, of course, am not of that ilk.

Where were we? Ah, the narrator encounters S, who is helping a beetle, loyal to the "Sylvie will love all" credo, and then he—the narrator, not the beetle—encounters me who, also true to character, am spoiling Sylvie's garden (incidentally, a crime worse than murder in the eyes of your garden-loving Victorian). The narrator persuades me to weed the garden instead, offering me the quid pro quo of a bit part in the stage version of the novel which he says Carroll contemplates. There is no proof of this, but I always dreamed of being an actor, maybe in the role of a fairy in something called "Peter Pan," which the narrator claims J.M. Barrie is working on (Barrie is another little girl doter). Our narrator is, alas, a narrator not content to narrate but one that has to take part in the plot. I was against such an omniscient/chutzpanic narrator, but Carroll doesn't listen to me. I would have made the whole shtick more like Fielding's "Tom Jones," with me as the picaresque protagonist, but Tom's adventures were too strong stuff for the fastidious (in some respects) Carroll, and one who tends to favor the distaff side. Besides, S wouldn't have stood for my upstaging her, let alone being a tart, which Fielding's women largely were.  

Here, for the most part, finishes our part in the novel, the thing drones on blah, blah, but our roles are less interesting. The same is true, or even more so, in Volume 2, which I will spare you, Carroll having a smorgasbordian good time, but the reader, not.

Additional note. S is a sprite at the beginning of the novel and later—a true fairy. I won't go into this apotheosis now as I am working on a hagiography on the subject. 

Caveat: Someone in summarizing the novel has described S and B, to her advantage and my disadvantage, claiming that she is more mature than her younger brother (me), and often becomes exasperated with his illogical statements. This regarding a book written by the King of illogical statements, the Prince of Nonsense—Lewis Carroll! This scandalous summarizer goes on to characterize me as possessing a somewhat twisted view of logic. In this, I follow in my creator's footsteps; he has the same—winning, I might add—twisted view of logic. In this, I follow in my creator's footsteps; he has the same—winning, I might add—twisted view of logic. It is what makes Charles Dodgson Lewis Carroll. Next time this synopticizer should be assigned a book like "The Pilgrim's Progress"; on the other hand, Carroll, whose comments on religion and morality which he (unfortunately) inserted into the novel, might very well defend the choice of summarizer. A dichotomy exemplar on his part. I leave it to my fairy godmother to explain it—she has a degree in psycho-history. 

The Concept

The Concept