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In the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, what does “Alice started to her feet” mean?

... But when the rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet...

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

It means she suddenly stood up or jumped to her feet, probably in amazement.


According to the OED, start could mean:

3 [ no obj. ] jerk or give a small jump from surprise or alarm: ‘Oh my!’ she said, starting. • [ no obj., with adverbial of direction ] literary move or appear suddenly: she had seen Meg start suddenly from a thicket.

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The closest meaning in the OED for the verb start is 2b: "To spring on, upon one's feet."

  • c1420 Lydgate Assembly of Gods 566 Than Pheb[e] styrt vppon her fete And seyd [etc.].
  • c1540 (1400) Destr. Troy 10977 And ho stithly in the stoure start vppon fote.
  • a1600 A. Montgomerie Misc. Poems xxxiii. 21 Vpon my feet incontinent I start.
  • 1847 Tennyson Princess i. 59 He started on his feet.

This Ngram chart suggests this particular use is now somewhat dated, and although I understand the text from the context, it's not something I'd use in everyday speech, or can recall hearing either.

start to (someone's) feet appears to take off around 1820, peaks around 1880 and has mostly declined by around 1940

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The expression got to her feet (or rose to her feet) means that the person stood upright (from either a sitting or lying position). To start in this context means a sudden but usually small movement.

So started to her feet means that Alice stood up quickly without any prior movement indicating that she would do so.

Look at this photograph with the title He is here! suddenly cried Dolly, and started to her feet made by the artist W T Smedley. It captures the moment.

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