Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Apologies to those readers who are Alice-phobes, but it is that day of the year again on which (in addition to saluting my American friends on their independence) I invariably draw attention to the fact that 4th of July is the day on which that rare and enchanted realm of Wonderland was discovered.

150 years ago today, on 4 July 1862, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known subsequently as Lewis Carroll) with his friend Robinson Duckworth rowed three young sisters up-river from Oxford for a summer picnic. As they rowed, Dodgson extemporised a fantasy about a young lady (called 'Alice', after one of the party) who followed a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole into a land of wonders.

At the end of the outing, the real Alice (daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church) begged the storyteller to write out for her the story of her namesake's adventures. This Dodgson did in November 1864, entitling the story, Alice's Adventures Under Ground. A year later, expanded and embellished, it was published to the wider world as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The original handwritten manuscript, now in the British Library, contained illustrations by the author...

...but when it came to publication, Dodgson wisely engaged the services of a professional, the great illustrator and Punch cartoonist, Sir John Tenniel.

Despite Tenniel's consummate draughtmanship (and his ability to depict the characters in a way that has ever since been imprinted on our cultural psyche) Dodgson's efforts have their own charm as can be seen from his spirited visualisation of the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle demonstrating the Lobster Quadrille...

...which has a quality of excited abandonment not found in Sir John's immaculately drawn (but somewhat staid) perambulation...

Many subsequent illustrators have depicted this – and all the other curious moments from Alice's bizarre dream – and, of course, it has been featured in theatrical, balletic, operatic, musical and filmic versions of the book.

One of the most imaginative and haunting interpretations (and I make no apology whatsoever, for mentioning it – yet again – on this blog) is Jonathan Miller's iconic 1966 TV film, Alice in Wonderland.

The film featured a star-laden cast – among them Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Leo McKern and (below) Michael Redgrave playing all the characters (human and talking-animals alike) as dotty Victorian ladies and gents.

One of the most memorable sequences (in a consistently unforgettable film) is Alice's encounter with the Gryphon (played by journalist, pundit and '60s TV celebrity, Malcolm Muggeridge) and the Mock Turtle (a world weary John Gielgud) that ends with the most enchanting Lobster Quadrille to ever be danced...

Happy 150th Birthday, Alice!

The entire manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground is just a click away on the British Library website.

And you'll find more Carrollian delights  here and also here.

Image: Caricature of Lewis Carroll by Lesco Griffe 2011

1 comment:

Beth Stilborn said...

This was wonderful. I enjoyed that snippet (especially the Lobster Quadrille) immensely -- I'd never seen that production.

Happy 150th, Alice! Happy celebrating, Brian!

AUDESCE -- an instance in which one's audience effervesces with enthusiasm.