Oxford, £9.99 Order for £8.99 (free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Alice Behind Wonderland, By Simon Winchester

A picture of the original young Alice

Lewis Carroll's two Alice tales are enthralling for grown-ups as well as children – but is there also something adult, as in "adult magazines", lurking in the background? Eyebrows have long been raised at its author's hobby, of taking nude photographs of little girls.

Some of Simon Winchester's previous books have depicted aspects of the 19th century: the Krakatoa eruption, a murderous contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary and a geologist who showed that Genesis was not Gospel truth. He now turns, in this intriguing and enjoyable book, to the "uneasy resonances" of a "disturbing" 1858 portrait of a six-year-old "lazing coquettishly" with "a winsome look". Dressed as a beggar-maid in a very off-the-shoulder dress, Alice Liddell was to become the eponymous heroine of two of our greatest children's books.

Having summoned up the spectre of something nasty in the shrubbery, however, Winchester exorcises it by declaring Charles Dodgson (Carroll was his alias) to be as innocent as the children he snapped. It was a case of his having inner child, not an inner dirty old man. The retiring Oxford mathematician was thought to have honourable designs on Alice's older sister.

Those of us who have enjoyed reading the Alice books to our own children will be glad to have that cleared up, although it might seem to sabotage a slim volume by tipping its central theme down a rabbit hole. Fortunately, Winchester saves the day by using the evocative photo as a way into the development of photography and the part it played in the creation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by bringing Carroll into contact with the family of his boss, Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church.

He met the Liddell children just as he had bought his first camera and his writing career was taking off. When she was 10, Alice joined a boating trip up the Isis, during which he extemporised a subterranean yarn about her, with himself as the Dodo. His words would have been lost on the Oxford air – but Alice asked if he would write them down for her. A year and a half later, he gave her Alice's Adventures Underground. After a further year it was expanded and published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was absolutely brilliant or, as the Jabberwocky would have put it, brillig.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world