The Amazing World of Alice in Wonderland

1862

On July 4th, 1862, Carroll took Lorina, Edith and Alice with his friend Robinson Duckworth (the ‘Duck’ in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) on a boating trip upstream to Godstow. Carroll’s diary does not record this as a special occasion – there were many such trips – but he later added that it was on this date that ‘I told them the fairy-tale of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which I undertook to write out for Alice, and which is now finished.’

The boat trip has become part of literary history, and it is difficult now to know how much of the recollections are nostalgic myth, rather than more mundane fact. Carroll himself idealised the occasion, in the prefatory poem to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as a ‘Golden Afternoon’, though some weather reports from the day suggest that there were showers in the area. Some critics claim that Carroll invented the entire story all at once, while others believe he reworked the narrative, combining many tales from several trips, when he wrote it down as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground; and that he revised it even more thoroughly for publication as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

'The Big Puppy' by Sir John Tenniel from 'Alice in Wonderland' (SHC Ref. LC/2, DVD 1, image sc3)

‘The Big Puppy’ by Sir John Tenniel
from ‘Alice in Wonderland’
(SHC Ref. LC/2, DVD 1, image sc3)

So many years after the event, with so many different versions of what happened – from Carroll, Duckworth and Alice herself – we have to be careful and critical with the historical sources and biographical interpretations, and make up our own minds from the available evidence.

1865

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published by Macmillan, with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel (he was knighted in 1893). It was well-received – one review describes it as ‘an antidote to a fit of the blues’. Sales were at first steady, then spiralled upward, and the book was published in several editions (and in several languages) even during Carroll’s lifetime.

Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk window at Long Melford (Photo: Di Stiff)

Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk window at Long Melford (Photo: Di Stiff)

This beautiful medieval stained glass window at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk, shows Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, who was used by Alice illustrator, John Tenniel, as the model for the Duchess in Alice. The Duchess appears with Alice in the ‘Mock Turtle’s Story’, where flamingoes are used to play croquet. Click on the image to see a larger version.

1868

Wilfred Dodgson (1838-1914) taken at The Chestnuts, Guildford, seated on a 'boneshaker' bicycle, c.1868. The photograph is captioned in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's' handwriting in his customary violet ink. (SHC ref DFC/B/2/2; courtesy of the Dodgson executors)

Wilfred Dodgson (1838-1914) taken at The Chestnuts, Guildford, seated on a ‘boneshaker’ bicycle, c.1868. The photograph is captioned in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s’ handwriting in his customary violet ink. (SHC ref DFC/B/2/2; courtesy of the Dodgson executors)

Carroll’s father died on 21st June, 1868, and Carroll, as the new head of the family, was responsible for finding them a new home. He started house-hunting seven weeks after his father died, and settled on ‘The Chestnuts’ at Guildford – a large house, built around 1861, which in some ways resembles the Rectory at Croft. His six unmarried sisters lived there with Aunt Lucy Lutwidge – as did his brothers, until they found suitable career opportunities – and The Chestnuts remained the family home until 1919. Carroll’s longest-surviving sibling, Louisa Fletcher, lived in Guildford until 1930.

Carroll may have chosen Guildford because of its proximity to both Oxford and London, where he liked to socialise and go to the theatre. The Chestnuts was leased in his name (originally at £73 per year), and though he never lived there permanently, he was a frequent visitor and always spent time there at Christmas. When the house was full – his brothers Skeffington and Wilfred also stayed, with various nephews and nieces, and brother Edwin lived there permanently until he became a missionary – Carroll had to find rooms at a hotel in town (the White Lion or the White Hart, on the High Street).

Guildford Museum holds many original artefacts from The Chestnuts, and an archive of historical documents from the Dodgson Family Collection is now held at the Surrey History Centre, in Woking.

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