Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934)

In 1864, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - a young clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford university - presented a little girl with the unique Christmas gift. A 15,000 word hand-written manuscript.

Lovingly adorned with his own illustrations, Alice's Adventures Underground had been conceived during the summer of1862, when Lewis Carroll (as he was soon to be known) had been out 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 Dodgson's favourite. He first met her in the deanery gardens in the April of 1856. The day was later marked 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 girl in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was not based on a real-life child. Even so, there are many references that allude to Alice Liddell. 

Alice's birthday was May 4th, and during the scene of the Mad Hatter's tea party we read the following words -

'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 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' - the poem possesses a yearning and dreamlike quality. It 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 Dodgson's interest in young girls is also to be found in many photographs he took; some of which he went on to destroy before his death. Surviving images are held at the National Media Museum and can still be viewed today, though you may need to telephone to make a prior appointment.

Lorina and Alice Liddell, posing as Orientals

Dodgson also destroyed a page from his diary from 1863, soon after which his close relationship with the entire Liddell family came a sudden end. In later years, his own family explained that Alice's mother had been increasingly unhappy at the young clergyman's keen interest in courting a Miss Pricket, who was her children's governess. Indeed, it is thought by some that the character of the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass was based upon Miss Pricket, who was 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 degree, 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 only of disappointment when they met again years later and he felt that she had "changed a great deal and hardly for the better."

Whatever Dodgson felt about his childhood heroine, Alice Liddell had grown up to be assured and beautiful - so much so that she was courted by Queen Victoria's youngest son when he was studying at Oxford.

The match was not to be. Queen Victoria insisted that Prince Leopold should marry a woman of royal blood. This he did, but it's significant that when he and his wife had a daughter, he called the child Alice. Similarly, when Alice married Richard Hargreaves, another Oxford student - her son was christened Leopold. The prince was his godfather.

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

Despite the loss of her royal love, Alice still went on to become a happy society wife. Only after her husband's death, when she found herself in need, did she resort to selling her original copy of Alice's Adventures Underground

In 1928 the manuscript was auctioned at Sotheby's and sold for £15,400, which was four times the reserve price. 

In 1948 the book changed hands again, purchased by some American businessmen who donated the precious manuscript to the British Museum in Bloomsbury.

In 1932, to mark the centenary of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Mrs Hargreaves was invited to New York where she received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. The trip proved to be exciting but also very tiring. She was deluged with letters from 'Alice' fans, 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 Lyndhurst, in Hampshire, where the following words were 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 when she spent time with Dodgson, who is played by Ian Holm. The part of the older Alice is taken by Coral Browne, who received a London Evening Standard Film Award for Best Actress. 

The film is available from the Cult Movie selection at Amazon UK, and it is currently available in a Youtube version. It is enchanting, dark, and heartbreaking. Well worth searching out, and fully deserving to be more widely available for streaming.

Amelia Shankley as the young Alice Liddell, and Coral Browne as the older Alice Hargreaves in Dennis Potter's scripted film, Dreamchild


  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.

    1. There's plenty of evidence that he did NOT have a passion for young girls, but considerable interest in older ones. Because of this, after he died, members of his own family encouraged people to associate him with 'child friends' because at that time (although obviously not now) that made him seem virtuous and wholesome. This book does a good job of putting the record straight: www.shadowofthedreamchild.com/

  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.

  23. I share Essie's admiration for 'Dreamchild'. It's one of my favourite films and I'm fortunate to own a 16mm print of it. A UK DVD release from 2015 can easily be found on ebay. A few years ago, I saw a screening at the BFI, at which director Gavin Millar participated in a Q&A. Remarkably, they were able to show some cut scenes that included the Dean (i.e. Alice's father) played by Nigel Hawthorne. For some reason, producer Verity Lambert wanted these taken out, but they looked fine to me!

    1. I really must watch the film again. It has haunted me. Wish I'd seen those cut scenes.

  24. I know the feeling - seeing it a few times doesn't make it any less intriguing. The cut scenes would make a fascinating DVD extra and I may ask the BFI if they could supply a copy, for a fee. They looked 'fuzzy' on a big screen as the source of what we saw looked like a video copy. It's a shame the film doesn't have the stature it deserves, as we might have seen a fully intact director's cut by now!