Wednesday, 4 July 2007


Two hundred and forty five years ago, today, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and an Oxford colleague, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, took the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church - Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell - on a boating trip.

As they rowed along, Mr Dodgson improvised a fantasy about the curious adventures of a little girl named (like one of the girls on the trip) 'Alice', who followed a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole and found herself in a true land of wonders...

At Alice’s request, Dodgson wrote out the story - first called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground - adding his own distinctive illustrations. By 1865, it had grown (like someone who had nibbled an EAT ME cake) into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and was published under the authorship of Lewis Carroll with illustrations by the legendary Punch artist, Sir John Tenniel.

The book was to make Mr Dodgson’s alter ego one of the most famous men in Victorian England; it also revolutionised children’s literature by abandoning, at a stroke, the long and piously-held tradition of moral-and-improving tales for the young in favour of zany, witty nonsense that had no underlying message other than fun...

July the 4th is also, of course, American Independence Day and is interesting to note how many true literary successors to Lewis Carroll - among them L Frank Baum, James Thurber, Ogden Nash and Maurice Sendak - have sprung up in America.

But then perhaps this shouldn’t really surprise us, since the Americans have always shown themselves to be far greater lovers and defenders of Wonderland (and Looking-glass World) than the English have ever been…

Maybe there are reasons for this affinity between the American sensibility and Carroll’s nonsense realm: for one thing, Alice is a highly independent and self-sufficient individual (a truly revolutionary notion for a child’s book of the 1800s); for another, the Wonderlanders with whom she mixes are a wildly disparate conglomeration of diverse species - animals, humans, animals dressed as humans and humans with animal masks - all of whom (for the most part) rub along together but who are, together, fiercely territorial!

I find it fascinating - and humbling - that, in 1948 (by which time the original manuscript of
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground
had been sold and was in the possession of an American collector), a group of US well-wishers - led by the Librarian of Congress - should have started a fund to raise the considerable sum of money required to buy back the manuscript and send it home to us!

That first foray into Carroll's underground wonderworld now resides in the British Library and maybe we should remember the American act of selfless generosity which made that possible the next time we look at, say, the Elgin Marbles…

Meanwhile, time to raise a cup of tea (courtesy of Hatter, Hare & Dormouse: 'Specialist Teas for the Discerning Palette') and join in the toast-----

Happy 245th Birthday, Alice!

Happy 231st Birthday, America!

[Images: Manuscript of Alice's Adventure's Under Ground from the Online Gallery at the British Library (where you can read more about Alice, Carroll and Wonderland); John Tenniel's Alice illustrations from Goldmark Art]

1 comment:

Boll Weavil said...

Great post Mr B. You are at your best when writing about things you (and we) love.