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 Hitler during World War Two.