Regarding this passage from Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland:

'No, please go on!' Alice said very humbly; 'I won’t interrupt again. I dare say there may be ONE.' 'One, indeed!' said the Dormouse indignantly. However, he consented to go on. 'And so these three little sisters–they were learning to draw, you know–' 'What did they draw?’ said Alice, quite forgetting her promise. 'Treacle,' said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time. Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: 'But I don’t understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?' 'You can draw water out of a water-well,' said the Hatter; 'so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well–eh, stupid?'

Alice's 'draw' is to 'sketch', and the Hatter's 'draw' is to 'pull' and here lies the pun, I get it.

What I don't understand is the meaning of Alice's question, especially the use of from in the question. Can anyone rewrite her question so that her meaning is clearer (to me)?

+Extra information. Dormouse's draw means to sketch. Alice knows from the earlier part of the story that the sisters are physically in the well- so a tun with a spigot doesn't work. Alice's draw means to sketch also. This we know because the Hatter's draw is to pull, and for the pun to work, their understanding must be different.

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    Either she meant it in the sense the Dormouse ultimately rendered, draw as in pull from somewhere (maybe Alice was imagining a tun of treacle with a spigot, where you could draw a draught of the stuff), or she meant it in the sense of "drawing from" a model, as in, sketching something you're viewing (reproducing it on paper). In that scenario, she was asking "Where was the physical treacle the sisters were using as a model for their sketches?".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 14:19
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    I wouldn't be surprised if Carrol left this ambiguity intentionally. The whole point of this exchange is to play with the different meanings of draw and from.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:17
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    I took it that once the dormouse said "treacle", which is a substance rather than an object, she assumed that it meant "draw from a well" (i.e. lift up in a ladle or a bucket, rather than turning on a tap). "Draw from" in the sense of a "model" never occurred to me, and still doesn't seem likely.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:25
  • Drawn from life, drawn from memory, drawn from imagination -- using "from" to mark the nature of the model seems quite likely. Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 20:26

1 Answer 1


I think you are overestimating the dormouse's attention span. It does not connect "they were learning to draw" with Alice's question "but what did they draw?" and just gives an answer fitting Alice's question without context.

The whole point of that scene is that the dormouse is half asleep and spitting out random but related words when cued/prompted, and the Hatter and March Hare construct a gospel from it which they feed Alice with increasing agitation while insisting on its coherence.

Basically, it is a satire on divination and mysticism or other exegesis, similar to Monty Python's "follow the sandal" scene.

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