I almost think Maecenas Press-Random House commissioned Dalí to illustrate its ALICE IN WONDERLAND publication because of Chapter VII: A Mad Tea Party. The artist was fairly well-esteemed by 1969, but still.

Lewis Carroll plays with accepted notions of time throughout the novel but most exaggeratedly in the exchange between the Hatter and Alice over (a personified) Time being someone who you shouldn’t quarrel with or it would always be six o’clock and time for tea.

Earlier in the chapter, the March Hare had tried to fix the Hatter’s calendar-watch with butter but it was still broken so the Hare dipped it into a cup of tea. Which brings us round to Dalí’s soft watch with a butterfly-tree through it…

"Mad Tea Party" Salvador Dalí. 1968

“Mad Tea Party” Salvador Dalí. 1968

Not that the tree has anything to do with the March Hare attempting to fix the Hatter’s watch with butter. The rest of supposititious tea-party turns into one aggravating riddle after another, so she leaves in a huff. 

“At any rate I’ll never go THERE again!” said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. “It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!”

After she makes that declaration toward the end of the chapter, she notices a tree has a door so she opens it and finds herself once again in the long hall of Chapter I: Down the Rabbit-Hole.

The golden key is still on the glass table so she nibbles on the mushroom (she had kept in her pocket) until she was about one-foot tall and, at last, was able to walk through the small passage into the beautiful garden with bright flower-beds and cool fountains.

The butterfly was a recurring element in Dalí’s work and is a symbol of the renewal that happened to Alice after she opens the door.


NOTE: Dalí had said his (famed) soft watches were not inspired by Einstein’s theory of relativity, but by the surrealist perception of a Camembert cheese melting in the sun. Here the soft watch has more to do with Lewis Carroll’s distortion of the space-time continuum.