How Carroll kept a close eye on his 'Looking Glass'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Previously unseen letters between Carroll and Macmillan, his publisher for more than three decades, detail how the creator of Alice in Wonderland retained a complete veto on all aspects of his books.

Such was the extent of Carroll's need to control that he ordered an entire 1,000-copy edition of Through the Looking Glass, his second Alice collection, to be destroyed because of the inferior printing quality.

The dispute between Macmillan and its leading children's author in 1893 - the equivalent of J K Rowling threatening to pulp an edition of Harry Potter - is chronicled in a collection of Carroll documents and books to be auctioned at Christie's this month.

The sale includes the copy of Through the Looking Glass annotated by Carroll to point out the quality-control failings. The book was amended in 34 places with notes such as "very much over-printed, very bad indeed", "very bad folding" and "paper too white, 26 pictures over-printed, 8 of them very bad".

In a letter to Frederick Macmillan, the co-founder of the publisher, Carroll threatened to end his contract, under which he retained artistic control but paid all costs.

The Oxford-based academic wrote: "The book is worthless ... Much as I should regret the having to sever a connection that has now lasted nearly 30 years, I shall feel myself absolutely compelled to do so, unless I can have some assurance that better care shall be taken in future to ensure that my books shall be of the best artistic quality attainable for the money."

The incident was one of a series in which Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, demanded editions be changed or scrapped, including the first printing of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the case of the Through the Looking Glass edition, Carroll eventually relented and agreed that the 1,000 copies be rebound and distributed to charities.

The 120-piece collection was gathered by a New York-based mathematician, Nicholas Falletta, who started his collection after coming across an obscure text by Carroll on logic.

The American collector said: "The more I read, the more impressed I became. The real testament to Carroll's genius is that after 150 years, he is still held in the highest esteem by an audience of young and old, novice and scholar, logician and lover of nonsense."

The collection includes games and puzzles he invented and a four-act comedy based on the ideas of the Greek mathematician Euclid. Among the lots to be sold at Christie's in London on 30 November is a letter written by Carroll to another Alice - Princess Alice, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria - adorned with a drawing of a large green spider interrupting the flow of the handwriting.

Carroll wrote: "How can one attend to one's writing, you know, when a great hairy green thing is crawling all over the letter? I shouldn't mind it so much, if the thing would only keep still."