Who is Mary Ann?

Tommy Kovac’s graphic novel, Wonderland, depicts the world of Lewis Carroll’s stories of which we are familiar by now. But the main character of the tale isn’t Alice – It’s Mary Ann, the White Rabbit’s housemaid whom Alice is mistaken for by the Rabbit. Although Mary Ann never makes a physical appearance in the story, Alice assumes that she is the White Rabbit’s maid. She is only mentioned in one section of the story, when Alice first comes upon the White Rabbit’s house, and in his rushed state, the following exchange occurs:

“Very soon the Rabbit noticed Alice, as she went hunting about, and called out to her in an angry tone, ‘Why, Mary Ann, what are you doing out here? Run home this moment, and fetch me a pair of gloves and a fan! Quick, now!’ And Alice was so much frightened that she ran off at once in the direction it pointed to, without trying to explain the mistake it had made.

‘He took me for his housemaid,’ she said to herself as she ran. ‘How surprised he’ll be when he finds out who I am! But I’d better take him his fan and gloves—that is, if I can find them.’ As she said this, she came upon a neat little house, on the door of which was a bright brass plate with the name ‘W. RABBIT’ engraved upon it. She went in without knocking, and hurried upstairs, in great fear lest she should meet the real Mary Ann, and be turned out of the house before she had found the fan and gloves.”

The question of who Mary Ann is, although Tommy Kovac attempted to answer it, is one of those eternal literary mysteries. She is never mentioned again, during either of the other times that Alice comes face to face with the White Rabbit – In fact, she’s only mentioned that one time. All we know about her is that she apparently works for the Rabbit, and he seems to consider it her duty to fetch his gloves for him, so she’s probably his maid or some other housekeeper type.

Does Mary Ann count as a character if she’s never seen, and the scant things we do know about her are repeated secondhand by other characters, one of whom has never even met her? Alice is mistaken for her… does that mean that Mary Ann is a girl around Alice’s age? Or is the Rabbit so rushed that he would have mistaken anyone standing outside his home for his housemaid? Why is she working for the White Rabbit? None of those questions are ever answered. Identity in the Alice stories is especially fluid, and the identity of Mary Ann remains a mystery. Although Alice briefly says that she fears meeting the real Mary Ann, one wonders what that interaction might have looked like.

Because the audience doesn’t know who Mary Ann is, the confusion around who she is adds to the frenetic nature of the scene, with the White Rabbit running about, harried and confused. If Mary Ann had a concrete identity, one suspects the scene would not have come across so chaotic or confusing, which was probably not what Lewis Carroll wanted out of it. So Mary Ann remains the eternal mystery of the Alice books. Perhaps she may have made more sense to our heroine than the other characters did.

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