July 4, 2015

It Happened on July 4th

Lewis Carroll Tells Alice A Story

The Story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), self-portrait
On a beautiful summer day in 1862, two young men took three little girls out for a picnic outing. The date was July 4th, and the two men were the Reverend Robinson Duckworth and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church College, Oxford. The little girls were the three oldest daughters of Henry Liddell, the new Dean of Mathematics: Lorina, Alice, and Edith.

While Duckworth rowed the company up the River Thames, Dodgson told the three girls a story about a bored little girl who went looking for adventure. It was quite a long story -- it lasted the whole of the five mile river trip. The Liddell girls loved the story, and Alice begged Dodgson to write it down for her.

He did write it down, beginning the next day. Another river expedition the following month provided some further plot complications. Dodgson also did a little research on the animals he presented in the stories, to make sure that his interpretation on their habits was based on facts. In November, 1864, he presented Alice with a manuscript copy of the story, complete with his own illustrations.

In the meantime, Dodgson had begun to think that the work might be publishable, and he showed it to his friend, George MacDonald, a successful author of fantasies and fairy tales. MacDonald's children loved the story, and MacDonald urged him to publish it.

Dodgson asked John Tenniel to illustrate the book for publication. Tenniel was a well-known illustrator and political cartoonist, whose work Dodgson was familiar with through his reading of Punch magazine. Tenniel provided 42 woodcut illustrations for the book, which was published in 1865 as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Dodgson published it under his pen name, Lewis Carroll.

Dodgson and Little Girls

Alice Liddell as the beggar-maid (story of Cophetua),
photograph by Dodgson.
There's been a lot of speculation over the years as to the nature of Dodgson's relationship with the Liddell girls, and particularly with Alice. Dodgson was also a passionate amateur photographer, and took many pictures of young children, the Liddells among them. Of his surviving photographs, about 50% of them are of young girls. Of course, only about 40% of his photographic work still exists, so we have no idea what the original proportion might have been. At least five photographs survive in which the girls are nude.

It's important to realize, however, that in Victorian times, this wasn't as unusual or as suspicious as it now appears to us. Children were considered innocent creatures, and nudity was an expression of their innocence. It appears that most of Dodgson's child photography sessions were supervised by mothers or caretakers, and the majority of them were taken in outdoor locations, since natural sunlight provided the best light.

One event that cast additional suspicion on Dodgson is the sudden break in relations between Dodgson and the Liddell family in 1863, a break that has led to no end of speculation as to its cause. Dodgson kept diaries throughout his life, but out of the 13 diaries, four complete books and an additional seven pages are missing. It is thought that they may have been deleted after Dodgson's death, by relatives wishing to preserve his reputation.

Alice as Queen of the May, photograph by Dodgson.
One page that is missing is the entry for June 27, 1863, an entry that, it is believed, might have told what happened between Dodgson and the Liddell family. A document, discovered in 1996, may provide a clue. It was allegedly written by Dodgson's niece, Violet Dodgson, but the author is by no means certain. (It has also been suggested that it was written by a great-nephew based on memories of conversations he had with Violet and another of Dodgson's nieces, Menella.) The note provides a summary of the missing page. It says,

"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 to be courting Ina."

"L.C.", of course is Lewis Carroll. Ina was a nickname for Lorina, Alice's older sister, who would have been about 14 at the time. The children's mother was also named Lorina, however, so it could have referred to her. Whatever the truth of the matter may have been, if the note is authentic, it appears that Dodgson and the Liddells separated in order to put a stop to some type of rumor. Dodgson stopped visiting the Liddells altogether for about six months and then resumed the relationship, although without the former closeness.

What Happened to Alice?

Alice Liddell as a young woman.
Alice grew up, of course. She took a tour of Europe in her young adulthood, accompanied by her sisters Lorina and Edith. There was a rumor that Alice had a romantic entanglement with Prince Leopold, the son of Queen Victoria, when he attended Christ Church, but that is not certain. (It has also been suggested that he was involved with Edith, rather than Alice.)

At the age of 18 Alice married Reginald Hargreaves, a local magistrate and well-known cricket player. They had three sons, two of whom died in World War I.

Alice found herself in a difficult financial position after her husband's death in 1926, and sold her manuscript copy of Alice's Adventures Underground (the earlier title for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.) Eventually, the book came to be owned by Eldridge R. Johnson, who displayed it at Columbia University on the 100th anniversary of Charles Dodgson's birth. Alice attended the celebration. On the trip, she met another legend -- Peter Llewelyn-Davies, one of the Llewelyn-Davies brothers who inspired James M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

Alice and her sisters. Left to right: Edith, Lorina, and Alice.

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