Tag Archives: Alice in Wonderland

Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

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And don’t forget………….

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Alice in Wonderland (3)

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:

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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!

 

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