Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The title of the original hand-lettered book was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. As is well known, it had its origin in stories told by Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) to Alice Liddell and her two sisters in the early 1860s; particularly in a set of stories told on the afternoon of 4 July 1862, when they went on a boating trip on the Isis at Oxford.

Dodgson illustrated the hand-lettered book himself, and presented it to Alice in 1864. But by this time he was barely on speaking terms with Alice and her family: relations with the Liddells had suffered a mysterious rupture. One guess is that Dodgson offered Alice his hand in marriage, and the offer was not well received by the Liddells. Alice was only 11, of course. Possibly of greater importance was that she was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College (where Dodgson was a Fellow). Alice’s mother was a social climber, and Dodgson was not a very good prospect.

Still, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground was the fruit of those golden days on the Isis: and it was so well liked by the friends Dodgson showed it to that he determined to have it properly published, with proper illustrations. He decided on John Tenniel as the illustrator – thus bringing to being the most famous marriage of author and illustrator in the history of literature – any other candidates?

However, he worried that the title Alice’s Adventures Under Ground might be a little too prosaic for the published version (he even joked that readers might guess it had something to do with mining). Accordingly he wrote on 10 June 1864 to a friend, Tom Taylor, for advice. He enclosed several titular possibilities in his letter, including Alice Among the Elves, Alice Among the Goblins, Alice’s Hour in Elfland, Alice’s Hour in Wonderland, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Taylor picked the latter, and Dodgson concurred. Of the possibilities, it stands out as the superior choice, but in rather a poor field. The original title – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – is easily better, with its mythic connotations and its modern sense of a parallel social reality.

Taylor went on to be editor of Punch and a minor member of the Victorian literati. He had one other claim to fame: he was the author of a play called Our American Cousin. This was the play being performed when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

Brown, Sally: The Original Alice (1997)
Gardner, Martin: The Annotated Alice (1970)

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