ALICE WAS A REAL GIRL

Rev. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)

Several years ago, I became interested in Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson). I had read about him possibly having migraines, and experiencing migraines myself, I went on a search to uncover the truth. Quickly I was caught up in the man (who quite likely did have migraines) but also shared my background in mathematics, my interest in religion, and in all things psychic. Who would have thought this rather stuffy (by all accounts), conservative Victorian deacon would have been a founding member of the Society for Psychical Research?

Of course, most of us are familiar with Lewis Carroll for his nonsense poems and the Alice books. I have to confess that I never read the books as a child and only as an adult have I been drawn to them.

In 1862, the Rev. Dodgson, who was a mathematics don at Oxford, took three little neighbor girls out for a ride on a boat. On a hot, sunny July day, and in the company of his friend, Robinson Duckworth, the don began to spin yet another fantastic story for the amusement of the girls. Alice, who was ten at the time, begged Mr. Dodgson to write down the tale for her. She was presented with a handwritten copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, illustrated by the author, during Christmas 1864. That copy resides in the British Museum and is probably the most famous book in all children’s literature. The next year the rest of the world welcomed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into history.

Alice Liddell

The Rev. Charles Dodgson was a fascinating man and I was caught up in the many mysteries and complexities of his life. So much so, that I spent the next year writing my own tale of Wonderland where he and Alice get swept up in their own adventure tale. So far, I’ve been unable to secure a publisher for this mid-grade novel but then again, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was self-published. Will you and I, Mr. Dodgson, also share this?                                                                                                                                                                  

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96 Comments

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96 responses to “ALICE WAS A REAL GIRL

  1. Pingback: Curioser & Curioser | Bibliofanatique

  2. If you’ve never heard it, Tom Waits has a great album from the early ’00s, Alice, that explores and creates a world around Carroll, Alice (the girl), and Alice (the story).

  3. Thanks for this lovely history! Enjoyed reading through your site.

  4. Thanks for the “like” on my site. What a great post here; glad to be connected to your blog.

  5. AH! Another great post – I share the intrigue of ysterious plot that under this thing called life. I too intend to have “beginner’s mind” as my mantra because over the years I realize more and more how much more there is around every corner.

  6. I recently studied Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for a Children’s Literature module I was taking at University. However, like yourself I think I did more research about Lewis himself rather than the book. About 70% of my major essay for that module was about Lewis instead of Alice.

  7. Hi Ellis,
    Thank you for the like on my post because I’m new to Facebook. All the best with your book and interesting article on Lewis Carroll – He plays a very important role in my book in relation to him being the founder of the Society of Psychical Research.

  8. I was introduced to the Alice books as a small child by my great grandfather. Alice was a real girl and the beauty of the story still captivates many of us today. They remain my favourite books and there is much in them for the adult (at 43) as well as the child. My niece (5) enjoys dressing up as and playing at being Alice. We have had lots of fantastic imaginary tea parties together and this has inspired more poetry:
    http://wendystrohm.wordpress.com/children/alice/

  9. Really interesting post! I think he’s a fascinating person and I love the stories behind an author’s writing.
    Thank you so much for visiting my blog. 🙂

  10. Really interesting article you’ve got here Ellis, thanks for sharing it with us. And thanks reaching out to me on my blog, it’s always wonderful to get in touch with other writers. I wish you luck with all your projects.

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  12. Wonderful article. I had no idea. I will probably read “Alice in Wonderland” in a couple years. 🙂

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  14. Thanks for you like on my blog. So nice to discover your wonderful blog. I am really enjoying reading it. I am also a big fan of Alice in Wonderland. My wife’s name is Alice and from her accounts she was named Alice after her aunt Alice, who was quite the adventurous type. And today my wife Alice, although she prefers Allie, is a painter who often hides rabbits into her artwork.

  15. so fascinating, going home to re-read the book, hope my Kindle is charged up from last night 🙂

  16. I haven’t read Alice books yet but I have watched the cartoon of Disney and I loved it. If Alice was a real girl, maybe Wonderland would have been a place on Earth which human doesn’t discover?

  17. A great post. I am a massive fan of the Alice books and read both as a child – looking back I’m amazed that I managed them, they are such complex texts! LC was a fasciniating character – did you know he created the Carroll diagram? I only found this out recently when working with a maths colleague on finding cross curricular links based on the Alice texts. What a legacy!

  18. i think what brings in the uniqueness of alice in wonderland is the ‘spontaneous’ manner in which it was ‘narrated’..if he would have thought of it and then would have written…it would have been so different..

  19. That’s really interesting. I thought she was just a real person. The real story behind it is actually pretty creepy and the latest movie version of Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp definitely showed how twisted that story could be. I guess if he could self publish and be as big of a success as he is, there’s hope for me too! 🙂

  20. Have you seen Dennis Potter’s Dreamchild? Excellent reimagining of an adult Alice coming to terms with being Dodgson’s famous character.

    Alice was my favorite book long before I developed migraines, but if “How doth the little crocodile” isn’t an example of aphasia, I don’t know what is (“But the words came out all wrong”!)

    • I have the movie Dreamchild. It does start with Alice as an old woman going back and remembering her childhood with Dodgson. I actually have had aphasia. It begins with the words garbled and progresses to total loss of word retrieval and understanding for me. Looks a lot like a stroke. I hope LC didn’t have that. It is extremely scary!

  21. have you read Alice I Have Been? It’s based on the rumors about LC and AL. Very good read!!!

  22. This post takes me back to a graduate seminar on the history of photography where I really came to admire LC’s Alice portraits, and the otherworldly quality he brought to them. And speaking of Conan Doyle – I remember hearing that he planned to sail on the Titanic to attend a spiritualist conference in New York.. Then his plans fell through. Seems like the spirits were with him that time!

  23. I loved this post. First, Alice in Wonderland has always been one of my favorite books. I vividly remember that when I was 12, my teacher asked what my favorite book was, and I answered, “Alice”. She told me I was too old to be reading books like this, which embarassed me and caused me to make a conscious effort to begin reading more “adult” books. Pity. What a wonderful teaching opportunity it would have been for her.
    Recently I wrote a post about the book The Lost City of Z (which I see you read, and thanks!) The book is the true story of a British explorer named Percy Harrison Fawcett. Fawcett was a very hard-boiled character, but yet he too became a spirtualist after WWI. He had been through the Battle of the Somme, which was so horrible that it rivals anything Stephen King could dream up. It fascinates me that spiritualism was such a very popular belief among the British elite of the day.

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  25. Very interesting! Who would have thought that he would have based a character on a real person. 🙂

  26. Interesting post (and comments). Does everyone already know that you can look at the full manuscript Carroll made for Alice, through the British Library’s Turning the Pages project? (it is called ‘Alice’s adventures under ground’)

  27. That’s so cool! I actually never knew this 🙂 Good luck on getting your story out there, because that could be an awesome one!
    ~Cassia

  28. When I visited Oxford I had the chance to visit the Alice in Wonderland shop. It was so exciting! I just had to buy a new copy (beautifully bound) of Alice’s story. When we go back, I’d love to do historical visits regarding Lewis Carroll. I didn’t know that he was a migraine sufferer…so am I.

  29. aubrey

    I’ve always loved both Alice books – even when I was younger, when there was also a mitigating ‘creepy’ factor to contend with. Dodgson found John Tenniel’s illustration of the Jabberwocky so potentially creepy that he showed the drawing to the mothers of several children he knew, to gather their opinions and make sure it wasn’t TOO frightening. (I think it is – even now!)

    There has always been talk about the symbolism in these lovely stories – perhaps it’s there, perhaps not. Tenniel might have been a little more worldly – such as giving the battling Lion and Unicorn the facial features of Disreali and Gladstone!

    This was a marvelous read – oh, and thanks for visiting my blog!

  30. Wow!! Amazing!! Alice, a real girl!! Now who would have actually thought of that!! Thanks for sharing this!! 🙂

  31. Thanks for the like on my blog. I have to say I love Alice, and I am such a nerd (I was an English major in college) when I was in the UK I visited the Alice in Wonderland museum in Oxford. If you ever are in the area, it’s a great place where you can learn more about Carroll and Alice Liddell.

    I’ve always thought Alice in Wonderland was a complex text really not aimed just at children. The imaginative storyline appeals to children, but I definitely think there is much more to the book than that. For me, it’s similar to Chronicles of Narnia, though not necessarily a religious message but more generally spiritual.
    Self publishing, if you can afford it, can be a great way to go I think btw, you get to have total control over your final product. With social media, it’s possible to do your own media campaign.

    • I’d love to go to Oxford and explore LC’s old haunts. I used tour books, maps, and virtual computer tours to develop my story. I’ve teased my husband that as soon as the book is contracted, we’re going. Who knows? It’s good to keep all my options open concerning this book and I am.

  32. I’ve had migraines for years, as well, and am obviously interested in religion and everything else you’ve mentioned….other than math. We hate eachother. Either way, you’ve put up some interesting information that I’m enjoying reading.

  33. That is really cool! I had no idea that Alice was an actually person in his life!

  34. Thanks for the follow! I found the Lewis research to be wonderful. I never knew he was a minister. I know the Alice tale but have never really read the book either. As for self-publishing? I have tried for years to find a fit for my work. Although I got wonderful comments (not standard rejects) it seems it was always ‘not quite a fit’. So, as I am getting older, I decided to self-publish so I can get my work out to readers and it is increasing slowly but surely with God’s hand. I also have found out how many big name authors were first self-published! I wish the ease of self-publishing (and no cost) had been available when I was younger. I know it puts a lot of garbage into the marketplace, but there are some real jewels amongst them also.

  35. LOL, funny to read this blog now. One of our local Christian radio stations here in Gainesville has like a book club if you will, and one of the books they just recently read was Alice in Wonderland. Now Im really curious to read the book (I actually have never read it) like most, im familiar with the Disney Version lol.

  36. fcg

    Really interesting read. I, too read Alice in Wonderland when I was about 7 or 8 and my oldest sister (probably a high school senior at the time) gave me a hard cover copy of it. Though I found some portions of it entertaining, like the bits on Tweedledee and Tweedledum, I had found the book much too “complicated” due to the lengthiness and complex plot that I don’t remember actually reading through it to the end. 😉 This post, however, certainly makes me feel like going to the bookstore now and getting myself a copy just because of the real history of the girl who inspired it. Always been a fan of nostalgic, curious things…Thank you for reading my post on Dr. Seuss, by the way. Have a great day!

    • One of the reasons this book resonated with its audience back then was that it was a big departure from what was available at the time. Victorian children had countless books on manners and morals, but few books that were just fun and silly. Yes, the plot meanders and can be frustrating to today’s sensibilities but back then, it was a pure delight.

  37. Recently read a biography of Alice. They were both interesting characters in their own right. This was interesting to read and the comments even more so. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  38. Thanks for visiting my blog.
    Um did you hear the bad news about Jonah Lehrer? He misquoted Bob Dylan and recycled an article that he had written for another publication for the New Yorker, sigh. What do they teach them in journalism school these days?

  39. Very cool! I had no idea about that history. I’m an English major, so any bit of juicy history like that really gets me interested!

    I had a teacher in junior high who, when asked about the surreal nature of Alice in Wonderland, said of Carroll, “He was just another idiot on drugs.” I’ve never forgotten that not only did he not answer anyone’s questions, he seriously offended the fans of Alice in Wonderland.

    • And there’s absolutely no evidence of LC ever being involved with any drugs, not even the typical Victorian stuff (like Queen Victoria and marijuana for menstrual probs). A shame you had that teacher!

  40. A very interesting piece on Lewis Carroll – although I was hoping for some migraine remedy at the end. 😉

    Glad to see you’ve got yourself published. Much luck!

    • Sorry, no migraine remedy. As you know, it’s a complicated disease. I did find an abortive that worked (about 90%) of the time. Even with that, I still lose lots of days.

  41. Many companies kick themselves later for rejecting an author who became famous . Hang in there! Who knows? Just has to be right place – right time.

  42. Nice, I had no idea that this was the history of Alice, thank you for sharing, that was curious to read!

  43. Great post! I don’t know if you get into the awards on WordPress or not, but I nominated your blog for an award– More info can be found here: http://fictionalmachines.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/versatile-blogger-award-nomination/
    Enjoy the day & keep up the great work!

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  45. J.S. Taylor

    What a lovely little tale of it’s own that is. I would be very interested to read the story you’re planning, seeing them falling into and exploring the world together would be quite a story 🙂

    • My book is written and making the rounds. It’s a time travel story with two boys who are whisked back into Dodgson’s time only to discover that Alice has gone missing in Wonderland. To return to their own time, they will have to rescue Alice and restore the Alfred Jewel to its rightful place.

  46. Thanks for the ‘like’ 🙂
    Very cool post. Fun how Carroll’s gesture of kindness and generosity became such a huge thing with quite a lot of fans.

  47. Chris

    I love this background, especially because some of my favorite memories as a child involve storytelling: adults embellishing on their own childhood memories, the shenanigans of an absentminded relative or the bedtime stories an aunt used to whip up off the top of her head. There is magic in the oral tradition itself.

  48. Thank you very much for visiting EoTE. I love the layout of your site – easy to read, not too busy. I am following you by email. Warmest regards

  49. Liz

    Love the background information–makes Alice all the more fascinating. Appreciate that you stopped by foodforfun’s trifle post.Thanks!

  50. I’ve always wondered about that. I loved this book when I was a child.

  51. It’s great to find out a bit of the history behind such iconic stories as Alice in Wonderland. I have been an avid fan since I was a child and have always been excited to see the newest film version too to see how another person interprets the eccentric tale. Great post and I look forward to reading your version of Alice’s adventures!

  52. You use a pencil and I use a brush…it’s a wonderful world when explored with words and images…

  53. Thanks for liking my blog post! This post was extremely interesting. Lewis Carroll’s history is really fascinating, just like his stories. I never knew that Alice was based on a real person, though! Thanks for the information and happy writing!

  54. raven's witch

    wow!! i never knew that about that tale, wishing you the best with your book publication!!

  55. Fantastic post! Didn’t know a lot of these facts. Thankyou for sharing!

  56. Interesting article! Good luck with your writing. I’m right there with you trying! Thanks for visiting my site! 🙂

  57. What a wonderful post so interesting.I am a migraine sufferer too and I am also interested in religon and physic phenomena. Don’t know if there is a connection or not. I am a follower now. Thank you so much for liking my blog judysp.wordpress.com cheers Judy 🙂

  58. So interesting! You learn something new everyday 🙂 Thank you!

  59. kim's scrapbook

    i have always thought he was a slightly creey man with an inappropriate like for young girls. But then maybe that is a 21st century bastardization of an innocence we have forgotten could exist

    • That image of LW was advanced by Morton Cohen’s biography. Historians are taking another look and trying to see him in light of the typical Victorian. Since the mid 1990s some scholars have begun to believe that the Dodgson family edited out and destroyed a lot which would give a more balanced perspective to the story. Jenny Woolf’s book called The Mystery of Lewis Carroll attempts to correct and restore his image.

  60. I’ve never known why I didn’t ike Alice when I read her at 8years… no doubt some deep psychological reason! But you make Lewis Carroll sound so attractive.

    • I think the modern reader could be put off by the language and flow of the story (especially if you read it at 8 years old). I really like The Annotated Alice because you get the backstory and all the tidbits that help explain things along the way. And of course, all literature is subjective.

  61. Good luck on the publishing journey; I liked this piece.

  62. I too nowadays share much with Lewis Carroll. For over a decade I wanted to write about my adventures and misadventures in various offices in Sydney in the 1990s. I had things to say but I needed to make anything I wrote entertaining enough so that people would want to read what I wrote. A year or so ago I came across the Alice books and Lewis Carroll gave me the handle I needed. I wrote furiously and with joy. Sometimes I wrote with a smile or a snigger. One day a woman on a train wanted to know what I found that was so amusing so I read out to her what I had just wrote. She was also amused.

    I could have written something dark, horrible and dull about the office. It just didn’t work out that way. I was rescued by a certain 19th Century British author.

    Alice had her Wionderland and my heroine, Sarah, had her Office-land. When I began to think of the office as Office-land all sorts of creatures related to work or non-work in the office began to emerge. I began to have fun in the writing process just wondering what some reader would think when they came across THIS passage or THAT passage. Now it is all out there as Desk Job.

    Yes there was a real Alice who did inspire the writer we know best as Lewis Carroll. We all have out inspirations. For me there’s my nieces and sisters. There’s also Lyn McConchie, a New Zealand novelist I have been corresponding with now for at least two decades. She’s a sharp lady and I have at least three sharp ladies in Desk Job.

    Desk Job is out and about as an e-book. Even so, I plan to get it into a high school where my youngest sister works and also into the library of Maclean, a northern NSW town on the Clarence River. My book wasn’t written with high school kids in mind but I think so0me high school kids would get a kick out of it. There’s no swearing and no explicit sex. There are great surrealist moments and questions of logic concerning how best to run a team of computer desk jockeys.

    I know that Lewis Carroll enjoyed himself putting together the Alice books. If you and I can also have the same or similar joy in our writing we might get somewhere or at least produce something someone else will enjoy on the train or in a nice park somewhere in spring. My thoughts at any rate.

    http://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/178806/1/desk-job

    http://rodmarsden.hubpages.com/hub/Balloon-man-and-tubby

    • I’m sure LC will continue to inspire long after we’re gone.

    • I loved this comment! The first thing that came to mind when I saw “creatures in Office-land” was the copier in my office. We all swear that it has a malevolent personality and hates us all. Recently it has taken to giving us an error message that no one understands, including the service technician! I think it’s developed its own language. I believe I’ll name it “Hal”.

      • The flesh and blood office creatures in Office-land are weird enough without competition from any copier. Mind you there are hand mirrors in the novel that are not of this world.

  63. I didn’t know that Lewis Carroll was fascinated by the psychic! Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, and obviously created a character who based his deductions on logic, but he too was also fascinated by the psychic world. Very interesting link!

    • LC thought our understanding of the world was limited and that eventually science would be able to explain psi phenomena. Conan Doyle was interesting too for his interest in spiritualism and its pursuits. And then there was the faerie thing with the photos!

      • One thing Doyle wanted to do was make contact with his son who died during WW1. In fact there was a growing interest in making contact with the dead after that horrific war. Mind you, Doyle claims to have had an interest in psi phenomena decades earlier.

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