Alice reflects on the start of it all and Alice Under Ground
A warm (perhaps) afternoon, 4 July 1862 and Charles Dodgson, his friend reverend Canon Duckworth, and the sisters Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell were on one of their boat trips on the river Isis from Oxford to Godstow. Alice grew restless and begged Dodgson for a story ‘with lots of nonsense in it’ he obliged, and, as usual, invented the story while he was telling it. The rest – of course – is history, but what would Alice have made of the world’s response to ‘her’ story? Brian Alderson indulges his imagination.
“Oh dear,” said Alice,
“Why can’t they leave me alone? Ever since that nice Mr Dodgson told about my falling down a rabbit-hole I’ve been harried by everyone. To hear some of them talk you’d think I was married to Peter Pan.
“Look at it!
Mr Barrie’s play was such a jolly romp and broke so many conventions on what was expected and the children loved it. And he didn’t let on for years about what the actual words were and then along came people like that incomprehensible Ms Rose grinding it between the upper and the nether millstones of their fanciful theories.
“And look at me!
None of you can ever know what happened on that picnic trip, just as you don’t know what happened on Barrie’s Black Lake Island. (Why, they’re still arguing about the weather on that day we set out from Oxford in 1862.) Even dear Mr Dodgson has kidded them about our rowing the boat when we were really only trying to cox – and the bowsprit would get mixed up with the rudder sometimes.
“It was certainly like a dream.
Along we went with Mr Dodgson rowing bow and trying to tell us a story at the same time and old Mr Duckworth at stroke egging him on and wobbling with the oars for laughing out loud. And then there was the picnic when he wasn’t exerting himself so much, except with the kettle, and got control of things. (That was when poor Bill the lizard got kicked up the chimney and we all fell about over Mr Dodgson’s attempt at an Irish accent.) He may have been a bit exhausted on the way home jumbling through that stuff about the caterpillar and the croquet and trying to sing a song about Beautiful Soup.
“Still, it was a wonderful afternoon
and who can blame me for wanting him to write it all down for me? But that wasn’t the same thing, of course. We rather missed Mr Duckworth even though he was down the hole swimming in the pool with Edith and Lorina, but it wasn’t so spontaneous despite those funny rhymes about the crocodile and Father William and that twisty mouse’s tale.
“It made a lovely book.
He wrote it all out for me, doing the drawings himself, and we used to look at it a lot at home, remembering that happy afternoon. But he’d showed it around too (I wasn’t quite sure why) and then, before long, he and Mr Tenniel destroyed everything. It stopped being our afternoon on the river and turned into the world’s recreation ground.
“Just look at it all now,
a hundred and fifty years after the book came out for everyone to see. Certainly he buffed up the messy bits towards the end by putting in things like the tea-party in the garden when he had us all living in a treacle-well, and the trial, and that sweet Cheshire cat, but it all got so clever. People began using it, quoting it in textbooks about money, say, or writing great big annotated explanations of what it all meant. And once it came out of copyright all the artists wanted to show how superior they were to Mr Tenniel (that pretentious Mr Moser, or weird Mr Dali – but I did like funny old Harry Furniss’s drawings). And don’t let’s talk about what happens on the teevee after nine o’clock in the evening or in the Google Swamps. Perhaps I will go to Black Lake Island and set up house there, away from it all, with Peter Pan.
Brian Alderson is founder of the Children’s Books History Society and a former Children’s Books Editor for The Times.
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll is published by the British Library, 978-0712356008, £14.99 hbk
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, illus Salvador Dali, is published by Princeton University Press, 978-0691170022, £16.95 hbk