Tuesday, 2 February 2010

THE REAL ALICE IN WONDERLAND ...


 Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934)



In 1864, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - a young clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford university who was soon to become more widely known as the author, Lewis Carroll - presented a charming little girl with the Christmas gift of a 15,000 word, handwritten manuscript.




Lovingly adorned with his own illustrations, Alice's Adventures Underground had been conceived on a summer's day back in 1862 when Carroll had gone on a boating trip with Edith, Lorina and Alice - the three daughters of Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church college.


 The Liddell sisters, with Alice on the right. Photograph by Lewis Carroll




Alice was Carroll's favourite and the star of his fanciful stories. He first met her in the deanery gardens in the April of 1856, and the day was marked out in his diary as one of great significance. Carroll was 24 years old - twenty years older than Alice.






Though in later years he was to claim that the character of Alice had not been based on a real child, in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland there are many references to Alice Liddell. 

For instance, her birthday was on May 4th and during the Hatter's tea party we read -

'The Hatter was the first to break the silence. “What day of the month is it?” he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket and was looking at it uneasily...Alice considered a little, and then said, “The Fourth”.'





The epilogue for Through the Looking Glass is in the form of a poem, in which the first letter of each line spells out Alice's full name of Alice Pleasance Liddell -


A boat beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear
Pleased a simple tale to hear --

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden gleam --
Life what is it but a dream?



'Still she haunts me' - Carroll's poem possesses a dreamlike yearning and is filled with poignant memories of that balmy summer's day when he rowed along the river with Alice and her sisters. And, whatever the truth of the matter, whether Carroll harboured a sexual desire or simply an intense affection for Alice and other pre-pubescent girls, he certainly recorded his interest in a vast collection of photographs - many of which the artist destroyed before the time of his death. 

Some surviving images can be viewed at the National Media Museum in Bradford, though you need to telephone to make a prior appointment.


Lorina and Alice Liddell, posing as Orientals


Carroll also destroyed a page from his diary in 1863, after which his close relationship with the entire Liddell family was to come to a very abrupt end. In later years, his own family explained that the page in the diary referred to Mrs Liddell being unhappy at what she assumed to be Carroll's courting of Miss Pricket, the children's governess.

It is thought by some that the character of the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass was based on this Miss Pricket, described by Carroll in the following way - 

"The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm; she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the tenth degreee, the concentrated essence of all governesses!" 

So, she was firm and not unkindly - yet would such a mature governess really be attractive to the same man who meets the twelve year old Alice Liddell and writes of his disappointment to see how much the child has grown: "changed a great deal and hardly for the better."





But whatever her childhood character, Alice grew up to be a beautiful and assured young woman - so much so that she was courted by Queen Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold when he was studying at Oxford.




But Queen Victoria was adamant that her son should only wed a princess, and Alice then went on to marry another Oxford student by the name of Reginald Hargreaves.

However, it must have been something more than mere coincidence when Leopold named his first daughter Alice, and then became the godfather to Alice's son - called Leopold.


Prince Leopold and his wife, doting on their daughter, Alice.


Despite the loss of her first royal love Alice went on to become a successful society wife. It was only after her husband's death, when she found herself to be in need that she finally resorted to selling her original copy of Alice's Adventures Underground

In 1928 it was auctioned at Sotheby's, achieving the sum of £15,400, which was four times the reserve price. 

In 1948, it changed hands yet again, this time to be bought by a group of American businessmen who, in turn, presented it to the British Museum.



In 1932, to mark the centenary of Lewis Carroll's birth, Alice visited New York to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. The trip was exciting but also exhausting, leading to a deluge of letters, and interest from the media. 

Alice's death in 1934 was marked by an obituary in The Times. Her ashes were interred in the family tomb in Lyndhust, in Hampshire and it is engraved with the following words : The grave of Mrs Reginald Hargreaves, the Alice in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.


The poignant last page of Alice's Adventures Underground




Dreamchild  (1985) is a film scripted by Dennis Potter with Carroll's imaginary characters realised by the puppeteer, Jim Henson. It tells the story of Alice's journey to a Depression era New York with flashbacks to her privileged Victorian youth with Carroll, who is played by Ian Holm. The part of the older Alice is taken by Coral Browne, who went on to recieve a London Evening Standard Film Award for Best Actress. Sadly, I can only find it available in VHS tape format in the UK, but it is available in DVD format from Amazon in the US.





20 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. I'll have to find Dreamchild to watch. It sounds interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a delightful, informative post! Thank you, Alice in Wonderland has always been one of my family's favorites. Really enjoyed this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Elizabeth and Karen.

    I've only been able to find Dreamchild available in DVD format in the US, and VHS tape format here in the UK - both from Amazon -
    I've placed a link in the post above in case anyone wants to buy it. Have just ordered a copy myself!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm really loving your blog. I keep visiting it through FB and it sends me squirreling off to see what I can find elsewhere all over the net on the subjects you cover. It's a great read.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rosy, that really means a lot to me. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Once again an interesting and informative post. I intend to check out amazon for the film. Loved all the photos, they are beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello Ann,

    Thank you - and if you do watch the film let me know what you think. I've ordered it, but no idea how long it will take to arrive in UK.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I absolutely love this post! I am a huge Lewis Carroll fan! I actually learned some new stuff here as well, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks, Serinadruid - I'm working on a follow-up post, so do take another look in a few days time.

    ReplyDelete
  10. thankz for such an informative post i will remember this post forever. WOW never thought Alice in the Wonderland has a past.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great post! Very informative and interesting :-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you Himachaltravel and Green Gal.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Very nice indeed. It's Columbia University though, not The University of Columbia. Thanks.
    Dan O'D.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks, Dan - I'll put that right straight away.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I watched Dreamchild this evening...and cried and cried. Beautifully acted. Ian Holme was a perfect Dodgson - a subtle script that nevertheless pulled very hard on the heartstrings. Also reminds me what a great screenwriter Dennis Potter was.

    ReplyDelete
  16. PS - that should have been Ian Holm, not Holme - wrote that late at night in an emotional state!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am so glad I found so many fans of Alice Liddell. When I was a child my grandmother used to tell me about her. She was the Aunt of my Great Aunt. It never meant anything to me then but thanks to my children I have spent the last three years researching her life and discovering relatives I never knew I had and Alice fans all over the world. As a published author I have presented her story to children in classrooms and finally published a book about her co-authored with my daughter last week. For those interested it is a pictorial biography containing the largest number of Liddell family photos ever assembled. It is now available everywhere. For more information you can go to my website at www.cmrubin.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. I found one website where "Dreamchild" is available as a DVD/Region 2. It is said to include Japanese subtitles, but perhaps the subtitles may be turned off.

    http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/detailview.html?KEY=DXDS-6

    ReplyDelete
  19. The Real Alice - congratulations - and how wonderful to have such a link to history.

    PetalmainIndy - Thanks for that information too.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you for this wonderful post about "the Real Alice." But unbeknownst to the world is her very real–and inestimably important–connection to the Beatles.
    The influence on the four lads from Liverpool was not "Alice," per se, but "Alice Pleasance Liddell."

    ReplyDelete