‘My Fancy’ by Lewis Carroll is a poem where confusion and exaggeration are offered to not only show a distinct variation between expectation and reality, but also express the confusing nature of “love” and romance. Frustration and admiration can blend together into an unsure combination, but in the end, the “love” somehow “still” perseveres. Just as the poem does not necessarily make rational sense—and just as confusing elements follow the reader until the end of the poem—genuine “love” is mysterious, intriguing, and confusing—but also worth holding on to. This, in the end, is the theme of the poem.
My Fancy Analysis
I painted her a gushing thing,
With years perhaps a score;
I little thought to find they were
At least a dozen more;
My fancy gave her eyes of blue,
A curly, auburn head:
I came to find the blue a green,
The auburn turned to red.
This stanza presents a separation from expectation and reality in regard to “love.” The descriptions in Lines 1 and 2 are flattering, that she was “painted” “a gushing thing, [w]ith years perhaps a score.” While “gushing” might not be the most complimentary of adjectives—and “thing” might not sound overly personal—these are clearly given as terms of endearment on some level, particularly when paired with that verb, “painted.” This verb is connected to ideas of art and masterpieces, and this hints that the portrait being described was one of beauty. As well, however, “painted” indicates a fictional quality. Even if this were a real-life portrait, some variations would be present since a “paint[ing]” cannot be as accurate as a photograph.
Additionally, Carroll notes that he pictured her with “eyes of blue” and “[a] curly, auburn head.” These show that he had preferences in mind regarding what this woman would be, and this was the image he appreciated. It was his ideal visual for her—the thing that he held a fascination for. His “fancy,” then, was his interest rather than the woman herself.
The woman proved quite different than his expectations since she was “[a]t least a dozen more” “years” older than he envisioned with “green” “eyes” and “red” hair. These are primarily superficial variations thus far, but they effectively set the scene for this person being different than what the narrator desired. By providing these elements in this contradicting fashion—his expectation, the truth, his expectation, and the truth—the variation is noted in a striking fashion. There is a little delay once Carroll notes what he expected for this woman to how the actuality of the circumstance was a variation, so the reader has little time to forget the details and little opportunity to miss the contrast. It is a great strategy on Carroll’s behalf for this very reason.
Also worth noting is that the wording in regard to her hair is given as if something changed, like his image of her had been accurate before they met, but then it “turned to red.” What this could entail is how significant Carroll’s beginning image of this lady was. It was so strong that it was real to him, and even though he only had to alter his thoughts once he learned the truth, it was as if she had truly changed.
She boxed my ears this morning,
They tingled very much;
I own that I could wish her
A somewhat lighter touch;
And if you were to ask me how
Her charms might be improved,
I would not have them added to,
But just a few removed!
In this stanza of ‘My Fancy’, Carroll progresses beyond the superficial qualities that did not quite meet his expectations by diving into a more solid problem—violence. Specifically, he claims that “[s]he boxed [his] ears” so that they “tingled.” Because of such roughness, he admits that he “could wish her [a] somewhat lighter touch.” This idea indicates that he wants something different, once more, but he is passively accepting things as they are. He is not leaving this woman, after all. He only “wish[es]” she were different, much like he wanted her to look different in the first stanza. This shows an escalation in the poem’s topic since it has moved beyond appearance and into violent actions and “charms” that could be “removed.”
Carroll also addresses the reader in this stanza by saying “if you were to ask me.” This strategy brings the situation from a formal poem to something that has more of a conversational feel. By this thought process, there is no danger in speaking these displeasures or any strong platform from which he is addressing them. Instead, the casual nature makes it feel as though Carroll is simply unloading his struggles to a companion like friends discuss relationships. That he ends this stanza with a bit of a joke—that he “would not have [her charms] added to, [b]ut just a few removed”—pushes this concept along since it reads as though he is engaged in friendly chatter about how his relationship is not what he wanted or expected.
By this thought as well, though, this stanza could reveal that what is presented in the poem might not be able to be taken at face value. If he is joking with a friend, after all, the jokes could extend this situation to humorous levels for the sake of conversation. Even if such is the case, however, it is likely that there is a bit of honesty in the situation that sparks the reason for the humor. Essentially, then, he probably was not expecting a woman as he has, but he could be expanding the variations to untrue proportions for humor.
She has the bear’s ethereal grace,
The bland hyena’s laugh,
The footstep of the elephant,
The neck of the giraffe;
I love her still, believe me,
Though my heart its passion hides;
“She’s all my fancy painted her,”
But oh! how much besides!
This stanza of ‘My Fancy’ seems to cement the joking nature that makes the poem a bit unreliable since he begins comparing her to animals—“bear’s ethereal grace,” “bland hyena’s laugh, “footstep of the elephant,” and “neck of the giraffe.” The odds that this woman actually resembles all of these creatures are low, so it seems Carroll is letting the reader know with little question that the details of ‘My Fancy’ have been stretched to comic levels. As well, the notion that he claims to “love her still” furthers this idea since anyone with such strong, legitimate qualms against another would potentially be tempted to leave the relationship.
Again, as well, the stanza ends with a joke to add another layer of concrete evidence that there is too much jest for this disappointment in his “love” to be taken too seriously. Specifically, “[s]he’s all [his] fancy painted her,” just more.
Noteworthy, also, is that this line of her being “all [his] fancy painted her” is presented in quotation marks as dialogue. There is no definite answer regarding who is speaking. It could be his “heart” that is referenced in the line before, or it could be a note of his conversation with his companion. The latter is an unlikely answer, given that the whole poem feels like a dialogue with a friend, which leaves us with the answer of the “heart” being the speaker. This is quite likely, in fact, because any other person speaking would not potentially claim this lady as “my fancy” other than the original speaker. As his “heart” is a part of him, though, it is a fitting proclamation “still.”
What this means is that his “heart” has its own thoughts, and it seems its thoughts are representative of the “love” he notes. It would be this romantic part of him that would hold such a regaling thought of his “love,” after all, whereas his mind would be more inclined to think that she was “beside” all of those romantic notions.
By pushing this idea along, the reader can conclude that ‘My Fancy’ is a conversation, but not between friends. Rather, it is a conversation between his “heart” that only knows that he “fanc[ies]” her and at least one other part of him—perhaps his mind—that recognizes all the variations from what he wants. It is only in this final stanza, however, that this becomes clear, which highlights the confusion of “love” in general. We cannot always know all the details, and we can be blinded by our fascinations and frustrations—like the speakers in the poem do not become clear until so late in the poem and the complaints are clearly exaggerated. But in the end, “love” happens, and people embrace it even when little else makes sense.
Overall, Carroll has crafted a poem that mirrors these elements of “love” and variations from the ideal image we might have of it. Though our experiences with romantic “love” might not be perfect, that kind of “love” “still” continues.
About Lewis Carroll
Most known for his Wonderland stories, Lewis Carroll was born in 1832 and lived until 1898. He had ten siblings and was an English writer whose works dealt with the nonsensical. His interests also included mathematics, photography, and politics. His life ended after he developed pneumonia, but his works continue to hold popularity and significance.