In 1850, a young man named Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, enrolled at the University of Oxford, as a member of his father’s old college, Christ Church. Then, after graduating, his talent with numbers soon won him the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship in 1855. About a year later, on April 25th of 1856, Lewis Carroll went to visit his boss. On the way, he encountered the dean’s three daughters, named Lorina, Alice, and Edith. He became quite friendly with them, there in the garden, even asking to take their photograph, which was quite a lengthy process back then. Following this, Lewis soon became particularly fond of Alice, even though she was 20 years younger than him. Lewis Carroll was a really shy man whose voice stammered in the presence of other adults, but he was completely at ease around children, especially Alice Liddell.
In no time at all, he was even taking the girls on various different outings, teaching them how to play games and telling them lots of stories, in the process. For instance, on July 4th of 1862, he presented them with the first telling of what came to be known as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Lewis Carroll, and his friend Robinson Duckworth, had gone on a boat ride with the girls. They traveled up the River Thames to Godstow, where Alice begged and pleaded before Lewis would even begin to tell the tall tale. Then, he finally started telling the now-famous story of Alice in Wonderland, making it all up as he went along. They were all seated in the shade together having a picnic, about four miles upstream, along the riverbank. There, Alice grew tired of sitting next to Lorina, with nothing to do but look at a boring book. Unbeknownst to many, this real-life scene is what actually inspired Lewis Carroll to write his famous opening line.
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’
This was very much true of the children’s books of that day and age, so Carroll was using his story to make a point, a lot of them, in fact. As he told the story, Lewis Carroll was telling jokes about math and logic, to entertain Robinson Duckworth, but still being very whimsical for the girls' sake, at the same time. Most Brits, in the Victorian era, thought that children should endure their youth, not enjoy it. This wasn’t true of Lewis Carroll. It was really quite strange, and rather off-putting to a lot of people. Here was a logic professor, who would go on to become an icon of the genre of literary nonsense. Along with this, Lewis Carroll worked as an Anglican cleric and a photographer, among other things. The problem was that he also had some rather peculiar proclivities toward really young girls. That is to say, he was quite fond of kissing and cuddling kids. Lewis Carroll even photographed children in the nude, as well as in a number of provocative poses.
As part of his perversion, Lewis Carroll had a repressed attraction toward Alice Liddell. This is why, in the summer of 1863, her mother finally spoke up. She even burned all the letters that Lewis had sent to Alice, throughout the years. Oddly enough, the family thought that he was courting Lorina, so they were disappointed by the fact that he was obviously in love with Alice, instead. Needless to say, their mother didn’t approve of this. The fact was that Lorina was of the age of consent, but Alice wasn’t. Regardless, months later, Lewis Carroll was invited back to the deanery, but his relationship to the Liddell family had changed. As a result of this, Lewis and Alice grew apart. Still, after about two and a half years of writing and drawing, Lewis Carroll had finally created the original version of the timeless story. Then, on Christmas in 1864, Lewis gave Alice a handwritten and illustrated copy of what would go on to become a well-known, classic fairy tale. Furthermore, since he was such a perfectionist, there are no mistakes at all in the entire manuscript. He made layouts and practice drawings to make sure of it.
Later, after being encouraged by a number of his colleagues, as well as making good use of his connection with the publisher Alexander MacMillan, Lewis Carroll decided that Alice should go into print. This meant that he had to come up with a new title. So, Lewis thought about using Alice’s Hour in Elfland, but thankfully he went with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, instead. It was first published in 1865, and Carroll was so particular about it that he even required that the hardcover of the children’s book be red, to better appeal to kids. It was also now a bit longer than the original version, containing new material, such as “A Mad Tea-Party”. There were even illustrations by John Tenniel, the famous punch cartoonist, who worked closely with Lewis Carroll. The author was very demanding of his illustrator, to say the least. Hell, even the typesetter was challenged in surprising new ways, by having to put text around drawings, and especially in having to make the mouse tail page.
It was all so revolutionary. Alice was the first female lead to ever appear in children’s literature. Obviously, Alice the person was the inspiration for Alice the character, but there is a lot more to it than that. Lewis Carroll never lost the spirit of his inner child, which he channeled into the character of Alice. In many ways, he was also represented by the White Rabbit, though. As with many great works of fiction, many of the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are based on actual people and places, in one way or another. For instance, the Queen of Hearts is really Queen Victoria, as you might have guessed. Even the highly intriguing Mad Hatter was loosely based on a real person, named Theophilus Carter. Lewis Carroll went so far as to have John Tenniel model his drawings of the Mad Hatter on Carter, who often wore a top hat on the back of his head. This is how they worked together to produce such memorable characters.
In the end, following the success of the first book, Carroll decided to write a sequel. He first published Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There in 1871. Of course, with Alice Liddell no longer serving as his muse, the second book was more deranged than silly, but it’s still a literary masterpiece. The novel is set six months later than the first book, and instead of falling down the rabbit hole, Alice enters another world by stepping through a mirror. The actual version of which is displayed in Charlton King's village, in Gloucestershire, England. Regardless, as with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the book, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, is absolutely fantastic. This is because, Lewis Carroll was intentionally vague about whether or not Alice is only dreaming, or actually living through everything, as the stories unfold. This is part of what makes them so appealing, and enduring, to this very day. This is also why these fairy tales are quoted almost as often as The Bible, and they will continue to entertain children and adults alike, long into the foreseeable future. Such is the legacy of Lewis and Alice.