I mentioned previously that “Alice in Wonderland” began its life as a book on Friday, July 4th 1862, when a select group of people, both adults and children, took a short trip by boat on the River Thames. They went from Folly Bridge near Oxford to the village of Godstow, a trip of some three miles. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll was with his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and they had with them some of the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College, namely “Prima”, Lorina Liddell (13), “Secunda”, Alice (10) and “Tertia”, Edith (8). Here’s Dodgson’s photograph of Edith, Lorina and Alice:
The tale was told that day, for the most part while resting under the haycocks of Godstow village. The story was a particularly rich and complex one, and Alice Liddell in particular asked several times that Dodgson should write it down. The latter spent most of the night recalling all of the many events he had invented. This is his first draft of the tale and can be bought as a book in its own right:
Dodgson, the son of a clergyman, was a long standing family friend of the Liddells, although the relationship ran off the rails rather badly in June 1863 when he stopped seeing both the parents and the children for many, many weeks. Dodgson would later mix socially with the Dean and his wife as he previously had, but the children would never be taken out by him again. Here’s Henry George Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford:
In 1864, Dodgson gave Alice a bound edition of the very first manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”. In 1865 the printed book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” appeared and made the nom de plume of “Lewis Carroll” a household name. Here’s a first edition, dedicated to “Ella Chlora Williams from the Author”. It is currently on sale at Abebooks for £75,000.
There is a tale attached to the first edition:
“The very first edition was printed in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in June 1865. On July 19th 1865, Dodgson discovered that John Tenniel was not happy with the printing, and he withdrew all two thousand copies from sale. He had gifted some to his friends, but he recalled them and then donated them to local hospitals in Oxford. There, over the weeks and months, they were trashed. Only 23 are thought to have survived, and one of the Holy Grails of book collecting was born.”
In 1871, the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” was published…..
This first edition will set you back £40,000.
Go on! Buy them both!! You know you want to !
We do not know why the sudden rift occurred between Dodgson and the Liddell family. The page of Dodgson’s diary for June 27th-29th 1863 has been torn out of the book by one of his family members, most probably his niece, Violet Dodgson, or her sister Menella. Reasons suggested include the idea that he had proposed marriage between himself and Alice when she was old enough. Mrs Liddell, though, supposedly wanted Alice to marry Prince Leopold of Belgium.
Further reasons were that there was gossip about Dodgson’s feelings towards Ina Liddell, then fourteen, going on fifteen and, by the standards of the time, ready to accept suitors (the age of consent was then twelve). Equally Dodgson may also have been making a play for the children’s governess, whose name I have been unable to discover.
In 1996, Karoline Leach found what have become known as the “Cut pages in diary” document—a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson’s niece, Violet Dodgson, summarising the missing page from June 27th–29th 1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads:
“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”
In her book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, Jenny Woolf argues that the problem with Mrs Liddell was caused by Lorina herself becoming too keen on Dodgson and not the other way around.
I have the feeling that, as she gradually grew up, Alice became less and less happy, as if she was beginning to mourn for the passing of her childhood. Or perhaps she finally became fed up with her mother’s pushy ambitions. When she was twenty, Alice had her photograph taken by the society photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. The results look as if she has just got back from storming the beaches of Iwo Jima:
In actual fact, Mrs Liddell had already returned to Dodgson when Alice was eighteen, but only in his capacity as one of top society’s most fashionable photographers. She wanted the now famous author to take a series of photographs of her daughter, possibly to show Alice off as a good marriage prospect to potential suitors.
Dodgson then photographed Alice for the last time. There has been much speculation about why she has that “1,000 yard stare”, but my personal guess is that having found out that she was not allowed to marry Prince Leopold because she did not have royal status, Alice may not have been best pleased when she then found out that she could have had one of the nation’s most famous authors as her husband, only to have her own mother put a stop to it all.
Alice went on to marry Reginald Hargreaves who was immensely wealthy. When he died in 1926, though, the cost of maintaining the estate was such that Alice had to sell her bound edition of the manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” which Dodgson had gifted her in 1864.
It realised £14,500 at auction, nearly four times the reserve price. The book was eventually bought by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people “in recognition of Britain’s courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war”. And quite right too!
13 responses to “Alice in Wonderland (3)”
Fascinating history, John
Glad you enjoyed it, Derrick. I have found him a fascinating man, and “Annotated Alice” helped me see so many of the layers of extra meaning in the book.
The fact that some of these original books are still around, encourages my faith in some humans to protect what’s dear. A timeless story that everyone can enjoy and can increase the use of playful imaginations.
It certainly is. One of the most enduring books in childhoods all over the world. And furthermore, I’ve never heard a bad word said about it by anybody, even in this day and age when everything and everybody seems to upset someone.
What a fascinating story, John!
I’m glad you enjoyed it. I find it an enchanting tale, no doubt written by a very strange man, but one with a good heart and an attitude of kindness to all the children he encountered. We need more people like that! .
Absolutely fascinating John. We all know of Alice’s adventures and perhaps even the sequel but not many know the background to the story, the family and the connection to the Liddells. We performed a Alice at school last year, a school’s musical production, and there’s references to the Liddells in there. At the time we didn’t know who it was referring to and as time went by forgot to look it up, now we know. Do you know where the gifted book is now?
As far as I am aware it is in the British Library (https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/alices-adventures-under-ground-the-original-manuscript-version-of-alices-adventures-in-wonderland).
It has been lent out on occasion to our American friends, perhaps most recently to the Morgan Library in New York (https://www.themorgan.org/). Here’s the full story with some big blanks where the photos used to be…..
It’s fascinating to hear about this.
Glad you enjoyed it, Lloyd. There are so many fascinating aspects to this familiar story: the hidden meanings in the text, revealed in “Annotated Alice”, and the strange character of Lewis Carroll and the various twists and turns of his life, revealed in his biography “Lewis Carroll: A Biography” by Morton Cohen. One more post on Carroll to come.
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The governess name was Mary Prickett
Thank you very much for that information!