The Real Lewis Carroll and Alice

Ask who wrote the novel ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and most people will reply Lewis Carroll. However, Lewis Carroll was a pen-name; the author’s real name was Charles Dodgson…

Ask who wrote the novel ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and most people will reply Lewis Carroll. However Lewis Carroll was a pen-name; the author’s real name was Charles Dodgson and Alice was the daughter of a friend.

Charles Dodgson was a mathematician, writer and photographer. He came from an academic family, many of whom were members of the clergy, but Charles never seemed to be interested in a career as a priest. He took a post as a university lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford where he met Alice’s father who became a good friend.

Charles Dodgson
Charles Dodgson

Alice was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. The family met Charles while he was taking pictures of the cathedral and a strong friendship developed. Charles had a bad stutter that seemed to get worse around adults but almost completely went away around children, one of the reasons he loved spending so much time with them. Alice and her sisters spent a great deal of time with Charles; they had picnics and went to the museum and other activities.

The Liddell sistersAlice Liddell and her sisters, photo by Lewis Carroll

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, here is a little review. It is about a girl called Alice, who finds herself in a different world after falling down a rabbit hole. This world has strange creatures and people, many of whom speak nonsense. In fact, the book is considered one of the best examples of literary nonsense. The story plays with logic and riddles, which makes it popular with both children and adults. You will read about characters such as The Mad Hatter and join his tea party, and meet the Queen of Hearts.

Legend has it that one afternoon Alice, her sisters and Charles were on a boat ride when Alice, who usually got bored, wanted to hear a funny story. The story that Charles made up that afternoon was so good that Alice begged him to write it down. He gave her the handwritten manuscript called ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ in 1864. Later, his friend George MacDonald read it and with his encouragement Charles took it to a publisher who liked it immediately. After a few changes to the title, they finally came up with ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and it was first published in 1865 under Charles’ pen-name, Lewis Carroll.

Charles denied that any of his publications were based on a real child, but there are hints hidden within the books. For example, there is the poem, ‘A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky’, at the end of the book ‘Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There’, where if you take the first letter of each line of the poem, it spells out Alice’s full name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.

The Jabberwocky
The Jabberwocky

Charles was famous for literary nonsense and included logical and mathematical riddles in his work. ‘The Hunting of the Snark’, published in 1876, is regarded as the longest and best sustained nonsense poem in the English language. Another nonsense verse is ‘The Jabberwocky’ from ‘Through the Looking-Glass’;

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.”

A gifted photographer, Charles loved taking pictures and took many of the Liddell family. He took a lot of pictures of Alice who liked to dress up for the photographs.

Alice Alice dressed as a beggar maid, photo by Lewis Carroll

As Alice got older she began to spend less time with Charles. A note in his journal says that when he met her again when she was older, he was delighted to see her but felt that she had changed, and not for the better. She married and had three sons, two of whom perished in the First World War. After her husband’s death in 1926, she sold her handwritten copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground at auction. It sold for £15,400, the highest selling price for a book at that time in England.

Charles remained unmarried and died at the age of 66. When Alice heard of Charles’ death she sent flowers. She passed away in 1934.

By Rebecka Ferneklint. Rebecka is a freelance writer and blogger. Fencing and reading are two of her passions. 

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