A-Z of Alice in Wonderland

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

On the eve of Tim Burton's 3-D take on Wonderland, Kevin Jackson reveals his cultural history of a Victorian classic

A is for Alice Liddell

How it all began: on July 4, 1862, a young Oxford don, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson , went for an agreeable five-mile boat trip on the Thames from Folly Bridge to Godstow. With him were the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry George Liddell: Lorina Charlotte (b. 1849, aged 13), Alice Pleasance (b. 1852, aged 10) and Edith Mary (b.1853, age 8) To while away the sunny afternoon’s trip, Dodgson began to make up fanciful stories about a little girl called Alice. The children were enthralled, and Alice in particular wanted to hear these stories again, so in November 1864, Dodgson presented her with a self-illustrated manuscript of about15,500 words, entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. (Incidentally, Dodgson often denied that the Alice of his imagination was based on Miss Liddell. He has seldom been believed.) What Alice did not know at this time was that her older friend was already busy expanding his yarn to about 27,500 words. It was this larger text, declared to be by one “Lewis Carroll” and re-entitled Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, that was eventually published with illustrations by John Tenniel, first in 1865 (with such slovenly reproductions of Tenniel’s work that he demanded a reprint) and more triumphantly in 1866. It was a dazzling success, as was the sequel Dodgson/Carroll published in 1871, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. (In many of the popular adaptations of the Alice fable, elements of the second book are stitched into the narrative of the first.)

Alice Liddell lived until 1934: a respectable age, and quite long enough to realise that her fictional counterpart had become an immortal.

B is for Mary Hilton Babcock

Who? A good question. Whether or not the fictional Alice was a version of Alice Liddell, it has always been clear that the girl in Tenniel’s illustrations bears very little resemblance to Carroll’s young friend. For many years, it was assumed that the real model for Tenniel’s girl was Mary Hilton Babcock, another of Carroll’s favourites. Carroll certainly sent the artist one of his photographs of Mary, asking him to use it as his model.; but in later years he would tell people that Tenniel’s Alice was a creature of pure invention.

C is for Carroll

Apart from the immense and largely unwelcome flood of attention that washed over him on the publication of Alice, Dodgson/Carroll did not lead a life of great incident: he never married nor, as far as we know, had any lovers; only travelled abroad once, in 1867, when he made a trip to Russia; and spent most of his life in the comfortable if sometimes tedious tranquillity of Christ Church. He was born in 1832; his home town was Daresbury, near Runcorn in Cheshire. Educated throughout his childhood by private tutors, he was sent to Rugby in 1846, and - shy and sensitive - found the experience painful. In 1851 he matriculated at Christ Church, and showed such early academic promise that he was soon appointed to the college’s mathematical lectureship, a post he held for 26 years. He published about a dozen studies in mathematics – work that is now regarded by mathematicians, when regarded at all, as solid rather than outstanding. Always fond of wordplay and story-telling, he began his official literary career in 1856 with a poem, “Solitude”; in the same year, he took up a photography, and is now recognised as a gifted, even remarkable pioneer in the art. He published the only other work for which he is popularly remembered, The Hunting of the Snark, in 1876. After a brief illness, he died in 1898. Perhaps a life of outward tedium was the necessary condition for gestating a unique form of fantasy?

D is for Gilles Deleuze

The eccentric and still modish French philosopher devoted a good part of his 1969 book Logique du sens to Alice. The little English girl has been well known and liked in France ever since the publication of Henri Bue’s Adventures d’Alice au pays des merveilles in 1869.

E is for William Empson

Though many twenty-first century readers have come to feel, not without justice, that psychoanalytic readings of literature are dogmatic, daft or simply irrelevant, there have been some glorious exceptions, and one of them is William Empson’s witty and searching essay “The Child as Swain” in Some Versions of Pastoral (1935). (This essay influenced Jonathan Miller’s film; see below.):

F is for Freud

In 1960, the American philosopher and journalist Martin Gardner published The Annotated Alice, an edition of the two books which, among other things, explained the wealth of puns, allusions and other jokes that would have been obvious to a well-informed Victorian reader. At that time, the sum of psychoanalytic literature on the book was already large and growing rapidly. This was partly because Carroll was such an interesting case for shrinkage (was he a paedophile? Well, no, if by “paedophile” we mean someone who molests or otherwise ill-treats children for sexual kicks); partly because Wonderland in particular is such a remarkable representation of the non-Aristotelean logic of dreams; and partly because the books are dense with happenings that almost scream out to be read as symbolic. In his notes, Gardner lists seven major Freudian essays on Alice, as well as a short story by Robert Bloch, incidentally the author of Psycho, which pokes cruel fun at such interpretations.

G is for Gilbert Adair and also for Martin Gardner

The novelist - and essayist, poet, critic, translator and screenwriter - made his fictional debut with Alice Through the Needle’s Eye, a beautifully judged and affectionate pastiche of Carroll’s style and storytelling; in effect, a third episode of Alice’s adventures.

Gardner, an American philosopher and journalist, edited The Annotated Alice (1960), which unearthed dozens of hidden jokes, parodies and games that would have been fairly obvious to adult Victorians, and sometimes to their children, but had become obscured by the passage of time.

H is for Huxley

Aldous Huxley wrote the first draft of the screenplay for Disney’s animated version of Alice in Wonderland (1951) Walt is said to have turned it down on first reading, saying that he could only understand one word in three. H is also for Aldous’s nephew Francis Huxley, anthropologist, expert on shamanism, and author of The Raven and the Writing Desk, a philosophical fantasia on themes from Carroll.

I is for Alice’s Inferno

A concept album by the Spanish Goth metal band Forever Slave [sic], which imagines Alice’s life after both her parents have died.

J is for Jefferson Airplane

The band’s psychedelic anthem “White Rabbit”, written and performed (with a voice that could strip the paint off a battleship) by Grace Slick, brought out the affinities between Carroll’s imagined world and the drug experience (“One pill makes you larger/ One pill makes you small”) in such unambiguous terms that even the most addled hippies got the point. Ms Slick’s reading of Alice as a metaphor for a trip on Lysergic Acid was corroborated by the LSD guru Timothy Leary in The Politics of Ecstasy. Leary is hardly read nowadays, but the song, though frankly rather silly, is still a potent sliver of West Coast psychedelia. There is a fine cover version by Patti Smith.

K is for Kafka

Kafka’s fables are usually regarded as glum and terrifying, and Carroll’s as merely charming. Yet the affinities between their fictional worlds have long been plain enough to the unprejudiced eye. The trial of the Jack of Hearts shows the same nightmare logic as The Trial; the hidden forces of The Castle echo the deep structure of a chess game in Looking-Glass...

L is for Lost Girls

Finally published, after many years of hard labour, in 2009, this large-scale graphic novel by Alan Moore - grand master of the form - and his wife Melinda Gebbie imagines a time just before the beginning of World War One, in which a trio of famous girls - Wendy from Peter Pan, Dorothy from the Oz books, and Alice - all gather in an exclusive hotel. And so the sexual games begin.... Despite the best attempts of local radio interviewers and the like to whip up some bogus outrage, this gentle exercise in period erotica was greeted, on the whole, with admiration.

M is for Jonathan Miller

Though it caused outrage at the time of its first broadcast, when the angrier critics wrote as if Jonathan Miller had defiled a national treasure, this modestly budgeted 1966 BBC version of the tale has grown in stature with the years. For one thing, it is very beautiful indeed - the black and white cinematography, by the late Dick Bush, rivals the best work coming out of France and Italy in the mid-sixties. And what a cast! Peter Cook! Peter Sellers! Alan Bennett! John Gielgud! Michael Redgrave! Eric Idle (pre-Python)! The title role was played by the then 13-year-old Anne Marie Mallick, an enigmatic beauty who never seems to have acted again; and the soundtrack - hinting at India’s crucial off-stage part in the Victorian age - was by the great sitar master Ravi Shankar. Simply, a quiet, neglected masterpiece.

N is for Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov translated Carroll’s work into Russian, changing “Alice” into “Anya”. Though references to the Alice stories are scattered throughout his fiction, he firmly denied that Carroll was an influence on Lolita. Sure, Vladimir, we believe you.

O is for Oz

L Frank Baum was happy to admit that Carroll’s work was a major influence on his stories about the land of Oz (beginning with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900), particularly in his invention of Dorothy, a young female protagonist who can play the role of surrogate for the reader. He complained, though, that Carroll’s stories were “incoherent”. Well, yes....

P is for Dennis Potter

Somewhat upstaged by the playwright’s more successful (Singing Detective) or scandalous pieces (Brimstone and Treacle), Dreamchild is still well worth seeking out. Directed by Gavin Millar, the screenplay drew both on the real-life Alice, seen here as an 80-year-old lady on a visit to New York, and on Carroll’s creation.

Q is for the Queen of Hearts

A surprisingly cheeky note: Victorian adults who read Wonderland with their children would have seen at once that Tenniel’s portrait of the Queen - described by Carroll as a “Fury” - was based on Queen Victoria. Later dramatizations and adaptations of the tales often conflate the Queen of Hearts with the Red Queen of Looking-Glass, though they are very different characters.

R is for John Ruskin

Dodgson became a good friend of the great Victorian art critic, who taught Alice Liddell how to draw; the figure of Ruskin can be made out in the “old conger eel”, who taught the Mock Turtle “Drawling, Stretching and Fainting in Coils”. There are a number of curious parallels between their lives: for example, Ruskin also composed a fable, The King of the Golden River, at the request of a young girl; Ruskins tale was moderately successful, and has never been out of print, but it has never had such a vast and devoted audience as Alice.

S is for the Surrealists

“At an epoch when, in the definitively united kingdom, all thought was considered so shocking that it might well have hesitated to form itself, what had become of human liberty? It rested in its entirety within the frail hands of Alice”: Louis Aragon. The Surrealists adored Alice; Andre Breton cited her in various manifestoes, and all manner of Surreal works allude to her. One latter-day Surrealist, Jan Svankmeyer, made a well-received animated film of Alice.

T is for Bryan Talbot

Talbot’s recent (2007) graphic novel Alice in Sunderland has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding works of its kind. Impossible to summarise in a few words, it begins with a slobbish everyman character following a White Rabbit into a deserted theatre, and includes a number of fascinating speculations on the links between Dodgson and the North-East of England.

U is for Unsuk Chin

The Korean composer of the opera Alice (premiered in Germany in 2007), with a English language libretto by the Asian-Anerican playwright David Henry Hwang (best known for his play M Butterfly)

V is for Virginia Astley

The English singer has composed and performed a number of songs that allude to the Alice books; her CD From Gardens Where We Feel Secure includes sound recordings made close to the sites where Dodgson imagined his alternative reality.

W is for the Wachowski Brothers and also for Tom Waits

As they have freely admitted (or boasted) in interviews, the Wachowski brothers scattered references to Alice throughout their Matrix film trilogy, beginning with the injunction to “follow the White Rabbit”. Tom Waits wrote the songs for a 2002 stage version of Alice

X is for X-rated

Alan Moore’s erotic fantasia on themes by Carroll is far from being the first attempt to sex up Carroll’s superficially sexless tales. There have been countless pornographic versions, of which Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Porno (1976) is probably the most notorious.

Y is for Yu Watase

The manga artist who created Alice 19th, which includes a rather frightening version of Wonderland into which Alice’s older sister is banished, and begins with the appearance of a White Rabbit called Nyozeka. This is one of many manga Alices, since the little English girl has been Big in Japan ever since the first Japanese translation was published in 1908.

Z is for Zadie Smith and also for Roger Zelazny

who has written an elegant introduction to a recent re-issue of Carroll. Zelazny was a major science fiction writer, whose novel Sign of Chaos includes chapters set in a simulacrum of Wonderland. The influence of Alice on science fiction is vast and profound - it includes an episode of Star Trek entitled “Shore Leave” - and many, many novels and short stories; just one of the reasons why, as W.H. Auden once said, the Fourth of July is an important a day for literature as it is for the United States.

Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' is on release from 5 March

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
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.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?