The Chimney Sweeper

While Alice is stuck inside the rabbit’s house, the main attempt of “resolving” the situation is made by invoking the help of another character: Bill. “Where’s the other ladder?—Why, I hadn’t to bring but one. Bill’s got the other—Bill! Fetch it here, lad!—Here, put ’em up at this corner—No, tie ’em together first—they don’t reach […]

While Alice is stuck inside the rabbit’s house, the main attempt of “resolving” the situation is made by invoking the help of another character: Bill.

“Where’s the other ladder?—Why, I hadn’t to bring but one. Bill’s got the other—Bill! Fetch it here, lad!—Here, put ’em up at this corner—No, tie ’em together first—they don’t reach half high enough yet—Oh, they’ll do well enough. Don’t be particular—Here, Bill! Catch hold of this rope—Will the roof bear?—Mind that loose slate—Oh, it’s coming down! Heads below!” (a loud crash)—“Now, who did that?—It was Bill, I fancy—Who’s to go down the chimney?—Nay, I sha’n’t! You do it!—That I wo’n’t, then!—Bill’s got to go down—Here, Bill! The master says you’ve got to go down the chimney!”

Bill is also behind a little play on words for the title of the chapter: “The Rabbit sends in a Little Bill”. We’re tricked into believing that it’s some sort of invoice, where in reality it’s the name of the little character who gets sent into the chimney. There’s a surreal thread here, between some very opinionated people and someone who just doesn’t get it, if you want a quick reminder of why I do not associate myself with forums anymore.

As you can clearly see from reading the passage, Bill is far from being a professional chimney sweeper, far from being enthusiastic about the task bestowed upon him by “the master”, and far from being working with safe tools (that idea of tying two ladders to reach the roof… brr…).

At this point you should remember that Alice is stuck with one foot halfway up the chimney, so it’s no effort for her to kick Bill out.

The first thing she heard was a general chorus of “There goes Bill!” then the Rabbit’s voice alone—“Catch him, you by the hedge!” then silence, and then another confusion of voices—“Hold up his head—Brandy now—Don’t choke him—How was it, old fellow? What happened to you? Tell us all about it!”

There goes poor Bill indeed.

Tenniel illustrates the scene and shows us a lizard, even if at this point Alice (and the reader) has no idea which kind of animal Bill might be: we just know that Alice is hearing a squeaking voice, but that might be either the shock or the brandy talking.

John Tenniel

Carroll too decided to illustrate the character quite a lot, in his first version of the book Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (you can flick through the whole book here, for instance): you have both the scene where Bill is sent up with a kick…

…and a full-page illustration of the following scene, where Bill needs to be revived with brandy. As we’ll see, Carroll gives us a rough description of the many animals present at the scene, but he also disregards his own narration, by showing us glasses and… well, those are two weird guinea pigs.

Regardless of the fact that chimney sweeping is not his job, lots of illustrators decide to clothe him in a traditional attire for Victorian chimney sweepers, from the patched trousers to the knotted handkerchief around the neck. It’s the case of Harry Rountree, who gives us several pictures for this chapter and one of them is poor Bill being sent up in the air.

Harry Rountree (1908)

In Victorian era, chimney sweepers were often children (take a look here if you want to learn more about it), so I’m rather surprised no illustrator picked up on that. Alice too seems rather angry that they are forcing Bill to come down the chimney and, if you look at it this way, it takes a different nuance altogether.

Willy Pogany 1929)

Instead of showing us the scene where Bill flies, some other illustrators choose to give us the landing (and comfort) of the poor thing. It’s the case of Alfred E. Jackson, but I was unfortunately unable to find a better scan of this picture (you can see one here, watermarked by people who did not have the right to do so). The original colours, as usual with works by Jackson, are incredible. And we also have the chance to see some very fancily dressed Wonderland bird-ladies. The one in the background is most likely Pat.

Alfred Edward Jackson (1915)

Another good depiction for this scene comes from Gwynedd M. Hudson, whose masterpiece is probably the court scene. This one is lovely too, with the couple of hedgehogs coming to rescue Bill, the garden flowers and the crowd of curious snails. The drawing is also rather accurate when it comes to the choice of animals: as Alice shrinks down again, she steps out of the door and she’s able to see that Bill is, indeed, a lizard.

…she ran out of the house, and found quite a crowd of little animals and birds waiting outside. The poor little Lizard, Bill, was in the middle, being held up by two guinea-pigs, who were giving it something out of a bottle.

Gwynedd Hudson (1922)

There’s also a nice illustration by Margaret Tarrant, for this scene, where we seem to find again Pat as a goose and we also have the mouse from previous chapters and a squirrel, for good measure.

Margaret Tarrant (1916)

The same scene is also illustrated by Harry Rountree, with a multitude of birds, Pat illustrated as a human, lots of mice, and Alice stopping by to see what’s up (something that doesn’t really happen in the book).
Thanks to the University of Glasgow Library blog for publishing it.

Harry Rountree (1908)

There’s also another vintage illustration, which gets the scene better with Alice running in the background, but I haven’t been able to figure out the author yet. It seems one of those recoloured illustrations in the style of some black and white author, but I can’t figure out anything if not that the brandy is replaced with… liquid peppermint? Are they trying to finish off poor Bill or something?

The same scene is also illustrated by Blanche McManus, in her particular choice of colours: you have the rabbit, Bill, the brandy and everything else. McManus worked for the US edition and Alice’s clothing here is consistent with the previous illustration I showed you, where Alice is falling down the rabbit hole. It’s one way of sorting our the wonderland illustrations: in Through the Looking Glass, she gives Alice a white dress with red ribbons instead.

Blanche McManus (1899)

A much more cheerful, but equally crowded illustration, is provided by Mabel Lucie Attwell: we see Pat bringing the ladder and the one lizard worryingly looking up is probably Bill, while the rabbit is sensible enough to stare from a distance.

Mabel Lucie Attwell (1910)


If you’re looking for something a little more abstract (and disturbing), the scene with Alice stuck in the rabbit’s house and them trying to sweep her out the chimney is also one of the scenes picked by Salvador Dalì for his Alice-based set of illustrations. Instead of a lizard you have a caterpillar and butterflies, and Alice seems to be about to eat one of them, but you have the house, you have the ladder, you have the arm sprouting out the window.

Salvador Dalì (1969)

He also gives us a more dramatic scene and the lizard sprouting out the chimney is Bill, without any doubt. Everything else… well, I’m not sure, but there’s definitely an owl.

Salvador Dalì (1969)

Another rather abstract one is this scene by Charles Ware, where the house is dematerialized and we see different portions of Alice in different sizes, all at the same time, alongside the rabbit, the dodo from the previous chapter and, of course, little Bill trying to climb up to reach Alice’s arm. You can see a biography and other works at this address: he did rather interesting stuff.

He lived his life in complete devotion to his art, at least once he recovered from a long bout of drinking – all else be damned.

Charles Ware (1971)

If you’re looking for something even more abstract, this work by Mizuho Koyama, with graphics and lettering for the chapter, might be for you. You can find it here.

Mizuho Koyama (2019)

Among contemporary artists, Rodney Matthews is one to give us quite a dramatic picture for this scene, taken from afar: there goes Bill, over the hedge. You have to love the shape for the rabbit’s chimney, and the detail of the snail playing a flute by itself for no actual reason other than looking cool. I found it here, with a nice selection of other pictures from the same artist.

Rodney Matthews (2008)

Angel Dominguez, whom you might remember both from previous chapters and from The Wind in the Willows, takes a much more cheerful approach and, as in the Disney movie, he gives us a very professional Bill, although for some reason he’s dressed like a sailor. The white roses are wonderful, though.

Angel Dominguez (1996)

Another incredible artist who we haven’t met yet is Anne Bachelier, on sale here. She’s simply incredible and her work is awesome: you can find her biography here, with some of her works. She does illustrations inspired by zodiac and mythology, Shakespeare, legends, and the circus. Check out her work because she’s really awesome.

Here you can see poor Bill, very elegantly dressed as it’s convenient for the servant of an important character like the rabbit, and a wonderful crowd of smaller characters blending with the house and gardens, while the rabbit himself proudly stands out, clothed in red, and is eagerly waiting to see the job getting done.

Anne Bachelier (2008)

Last but not least, if you’re looking for someone to spice up the drama in the scene, Japanese artist Yoko Furusho might be the one you need. Take a look at his very angry rabbit and terrified Alice. Other illustrations are here.

Yoko Furusho

Talking about drama, next week we’ll deal a bit with the fact that the rabbit and his friends try to burn Alice alive.

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