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
Wednesday 27 April 2011
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.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist in Russia narrowly misses being hit by car and lorry
- 2 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 3 What are your fingerprint words?
- 4 Gary Lineker involved in Twitter row after presenter rubbishes claims he will be warned by BBC over foul-mouthed tweets
- 5 Pink Floyd new album: Band unveil cover art for first record in 20 years
Downton Abbey fans unimpressed by Kindle sponsorship adverts
Thomas Heatherwick creates gin palace with a fantastical Willy Wonka vibe
Idris Elba 'absolutely' wants to play James Bond
Cilla, episode 2, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith continues to shine
Kendrick Lamar: New song 'i' released on Soundcloud sampling Isley Brothers - listen here
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God