Reverend Charles Dodgson was a mathematics tutor at Christ Church, Oxford in 1856 when he first met Alice Liddell and her siblings, who were the children of the Dean of the college. Dodgson’s friendship with the children would lead him to create one of the most famous and enduring children’s stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The story, which began life as ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’, was first told to Alice and her sisters, Lorina and Edith, on a trip down the river on 4 July 1862. The children enjoyed the story so much that Alice asked Dodgson to write it down for her. Written in sepia-coloured ink and including 37 pen and ink illustrations (and a coloured title page) the manuscript was presented to Alice as an early Christmas present on 26 November 1864. Dodgson was not an artist and had some difficulties with the illustrations; he pasted a photograph of Alice (he was a keen photographer) over a drawing of her that he had included. The original drawing would not be seen again until it was uncovered in 1977. The photograph is now attached to a paper flap, enabling readers to see the illustration underneath.
Under Ground to Wonderland?
When Dodgson was encouraged by friends to publish his manuscript, he made some changes to the story, removing some of the family references included for the amusement of the Liddell children. Dodgson added two new chapters, ‘Pig and Pepper’ and ‘A Mad Tea-Party,’ and sought out an artist to create the illustrations. Some of John Tenniel’s illustrations such as Alice swimming in a ‘pool of tears’ were based on Dodgson’s own drawings, while others of new characters such as the Hatter and the March Hare were of Tenniel’s own creation. The story was published under the new title Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.
What happened to the manuscript and how did it end up at the British Library?
Alice Liddell kept the manuscript until 1928 when she was forced to sell it to pay death duties after the death of her husband. The manuscript was sold at auction at Sotheby’s for £15,000 to an American dealer, Dr Rosenbach, who in turn sold it to Eldridge Johnson upon returning to America. Following Johnson’s death in 1946 the manuscript was again sold at auction. This time, however, it was purchased by a wealthy group of benefactors who donated the volume to the British people (and the British Museum) in 1948 in gratitude for their gallantry against Adolf Hitler during World War Two.
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Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, and where is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversations? So she was considering in her own mind, (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid,) whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain was worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when a white rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.
There was nothing very remarkable in that, nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the rabbit say to itself “dear, dear! I shall be too late!" (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for
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Professor Will Brooker, Kingston University, discusses the many interpretations and analyses Alice in Wonderland has undergone in the last 150 years
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Children's author Philip Ardagh looks at how Lewis Carroll transforms the highly-ritualised, rule-bound nature of 19th-century mealtimes into the madcap hilarity of the Hatter's tea party.