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Duchess

Duchess.

The Duchess is a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865. Carroll does not describe her physically in much detail, although her hideous appearance is strongly established in the popular imagination thanks to John Tenniel's illustrations and from context it is clear that Alice finds her quite unattractive.

Description

The Duchess lives in Wonderland in a small palace just outside the Caterpillar's forest. She employs a footman who Alice thinks resembles a frog, and a Cook who is addicted to pepper and who throws crockery and kitchen utensils over her shoulder with no concern for those who might be hit. The footman enjoys staring at the sky for days on end, oblivious to most people in or out of the house. The Duchess also has a child and a cat (the Cheshire Cat). Lewis Carroll is not explicit about her physical attributes, but Tenniel's drawings illustrate an ugly and grotesque woman with an extremely large head. Her character is strongly voluble; at times she even seems to have a double personality. When she first meets Alice in her kitchen, she shows herself to be nervous, aggressive, and not disposed to interact. She recites one of the more well-known rhymes in the book, when she advocates beating a child for sneezing:

Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes
he only does it to annoy
because he knows it teases.
I speak severely to my boy
I beat him when he sneezes
for he can thoroughly enjoy
the pepper when he pleases

As the Cook has absolutely saturated the kitchen with pepper, and the baby sneezes constantly, one can only conclude he has probably suffered quite a bit at his mother's hands. Taking pity on the child, Alice spirits him away, only to find that he has transformed into a pig. It is never explained why this happens, but Alice looks on the bright side, concluding that while the baby wasn't a very attractive baby, it makes for a good-looking pig.

Of the Duchess' household, the Cat appears to be by far the most balanced and sensible, although it states that—like everyone else in Wonderland—it is mad. How the Cat came to live with the Duchess is, like so many other matters in Wonderland, a mystery. Later, when the Cat meets up with Alice, it appears it has left the Duchess for good.

When Alice meets the Duchess for the second time at the Queen's croquet party, the Duchess is much more chatty and almost flirtatious, seemingly determined to charm the young girl for reasons unknown. She repeatedly places her chin firmly on Alice's shoulder, which Alice finds disturbing as well as uncomfortable, as the Duchess has a very sharp, pointy chin. (In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions he also has a character do this, and Vonnegut breaks the fourth wall to tell readers that it is a direct homage to this famous scene with the Duchess. Even so, Alice begins to suspect that the Duchess might actually have a pleasant personality after all, and that her earlier ruthlessness was caused by the pepper. In any case, the Duchess has no concern for her baby now that he's become a pig. After these events, The Duchess made a bold decision to move north to the Yukon Territory in hopes of a better future.

The Duchess is often seen as a child's-eye-view of emotionally volatile and mysterious adults, switching back and forth between dark moods and condescending affection at unpredictable times.

The Dutchess' Cook

The Duchess' Cook lives in the Duchess' Palace, obsessed with pepper and thus throws it all over the place, causing the Baby and Duchess to sneeze constantly. She also smashes plates everywhere.

Tim Burton

In the Tim Burton film, Thackery Earwicket (March Hare), shares many of The Cook's characteristics such as he, like her, enjoys smashing plates and throwing pepper.

Characters
Main Characters Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Alice - White Rabbit - Mouse - Dodo - Duck - The Lory - Eaglet - Pat - Bill - Puppy - The Caterpillar - Duchess - Cheshire Cat - March Hare - The Hatter - Dormouse - Queen of Hearts - King of Queens - Knave of Hearts - Gryphon - Mock Turtle
Through the Looking-Glass Alice - Red Queen - White Queen - Red King - White King - White Knight - Tweedledum and Tweedledee - The Sheep - Humpty Dumpty - Haigha - Hatta - The Lion and the Unicorn - Bandersnatch - Jubjub bird
Minor Characters Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Alice's sister - Dinah - The Duchess' Cook - Executioner - Fish Footman - Frog Frootman - Pig Baby - The Playing Cards
Through the Looking-Glass Snowdrop - Kitty - Red Knight - Live Flowers - Aged Man - Rocking Horse Fly - Bread and Butterfly - Snap-Dragonfly - The White Horse

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