AS SEEN IN:
"Alice In Wonderland" (1966)
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.
The Duchess is an antagonist of The Queen of Hearts. In her first appearance, the Duchess seems nearly as unpleasant as the Queen herself, but later on treats Alice with friendliness and respect.
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.
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.
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.
I believe that this version of Wonderland was a prophetic dream by this particular Alice, who read the original book. (In Toobworld, Lewis Carroll chronicled real events set in an alternate dimension.) She somehow mentally linked in to the mind of a future secret agent who resigned and was then abducted to "The Village", which was more of a surreal prison resort. There he was to be "broken" so that his captors could learn all of his secrets. (To do so, they first took away his name and gave him a number as his identity.)
The Duchess is the dream avatar for one of many Number Two's charged with getting the first basic answer out of 'The Prisoner' - "Why did he resign?" At first he was antagonistic to the Prisoner, but then joined his side. In much the same way, the Duchess eventually became friendly to Alice in the dream. To the point where she thumbed her nose at the higher authority and was led away by the midget Butler........
I'll have more on this theory soon.