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In A Mad Tea-Party the Hatter and March Hare mistreat the Dormouse, as they

...were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.
(p. 95, original pagination for this and all subsequent quotations)

During the Trial, near the end of the book, Alice begins to grow in size, and thus to squish the Dormouse, who tells her:

I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so, said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to her. “I can hardly breathe.”
(p. 105)

Whence the using of the Dormouse as a cushion, the resting of elbows on him, and the squeezing of this character?

1 Answer 1

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The wordsmith Lewis Carroll loved to use puns and other types of plays on words in his “Nonsense” writings. The word “Dormouse” provided him with such a clever play on words, because this word was sometimes confused with the word dormeuse. Here is how the OED describes this confusion

Dormeuse, n. ... Forms: Also 1700s -ouse. ... Etymology: French; feminine of dormeur sleeper, applied to articles convenient for sleeping, < dormir to sleep.

It just so happen that during the Victorian Era, one of these articles convenient for sleeping was a Dormeuse Cushion (for a write up and picture of this object, see Paterson,s Magazine, Vol. 40, 1861, p. 475, available at
https://books.google.ca/books?id=HIzNAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA475&dq=dormeuse+cushion&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi2y_7p5J_vAhUTvJ4KHfA3DvwQ6AEwAHoECAMQAg#v=onepage&q=dormeuse%20cushion&f=false )

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  • 14
    So, a dormeuse was something you could sit or lay on, and a dormouse is a type of rodent, so the Dormouse is both?
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 8, 2021 at 15:32
  • 9
    Yes. Like a mouse can have both a tail and a tale, the Dormouse can be both a rodent and a pillow in Carroll’s dream-like world of Wonderland. Mar 8, 2021 at 15:35
  • 4
    the same french root as in dormitory.
    – dlatikay
    Mar 8, 2021 at 19:29
  • 1
    Also the same root as "dormant."
    – CarlF
    Mar 9, 2021 at 16:39
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    It might also be worth mentioning that dormice are especially known for their unusually long hibernation period, and were thought of (by Victorians especially) as always being sleepy. This makes the pun associating them with a type of pillow especially fitting. Mar 9, 2021 at 22:08

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