Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934)

In 1864, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - a young clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford university - presented a little girl he knew with the unique 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 Lewis Carroll (as he was soon to be known) had spent a day 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. 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.

In later years he was to claim that the character of the little girl in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was not based on any living child. But there are many references alluding to Alice Liddell. 

Alice's birthday was May 4th, and during the Mad 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 every line combines to form the entire 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. 

It is a sensitive subject, but Carroll's interest in young girls is also to be found in a collection of photographs he took - many of which the artist destroyed before his death. However, surviving images can still be viewed today. They are held at the National Media Museum, though you may need to telephone to make a prior appointment to view them.

Lorina and Alice Liddell, posing as Orientals

Carroll also destroyed a page from his diary in 1863, after which his close relationship with the Liddell family came a very sudden 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 interest in courting a certain Miss Pricket, who was then the children's governess.

It is thought by some that the character of the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass was based upon Miss Pricket, who Carroll described 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, and perhaps he did find her attractive. But when it came to Alice Liddell, he wrote of his disappointment when he met her again in later years, and felt that she had "changed a great deal and hardly for the better."

Whatever Lewis Carroll felt, Alice Liddell grew up to be a beautiful, assured young woman - so much so that she was courted by Queen Victoria's youngest son when he was studying at Oxford.

However, Queen Victoria was adamant that Prince Leopold should only marry a woman of  royal blood. However, when he did so, he named his first daughter Alice. And when Alice married Richard Hargreaves, another Oxford student - well, perhaps it was mere coincidence that the prince was her son's godfather, and the boy was Christened Leopold.

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

Despite the loss of her royal love Alice still went on to become a successful and happy 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 the manuscript was auctioned at Sotheby's. It was sold for £15,400, which was four times the reserve price. 

In 1948, it changed hands again, this time to be purchased by a group of American businessmen, who donated the precious manuscript to the British Museum in Bloomsbury.

In 1932, to mark the centenary of Lewis Carroll's birth, Alice visited New York and received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. The trip proved to be exciting but also very tiring, with a deluge of letters from 'Alice' fans, and intense interest from the media. 

Alice's death soon afterwards, in 1934, was marked by an obituary in The Times. Her ashes are now interred in the family tomb in Lyndhust, in Hampshire, where the following words have been inscribed: 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.


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

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

  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!

  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.

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

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

  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.

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

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

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

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

  12. Thank you Himachaltravel and Green Gal.

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

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

  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.

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

  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

  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.


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

    PetalmainIndy - Thanks for that information too.

  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."

  21. Great post.

    Carroll must have known that his passion for young girls was a very sensitive subject, so it is telling that he destroyed his own collection of photographs before his death. Despite all the opportunities to meet adult women, he chose to socialise with his male pre-Raphaelite friends, he was ordained in the Church of England and cut himself off from the close and extended family.

  22. This was a lovely post. I loved that book as a child and have read now and then little squibs about how the book came about. But this was truly fascinating.