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Alice from Wonderland in Lewis Carroll’s photos and drawings

On 4 July 1862, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson createed an incredible tale of Alice’s adventures. Today we compare the story of the real and the fairytale heroines, looking at numerous photos of Alice Liddell, taken by Lewis Carroll himself, and leafing through the manuscript of the book with his illustrations. Do they look alike?

Creation of Wonderland and its first images

The story we know today as "Alice in Wonderland", was created by 30-year-old Oxford mathematics teacher, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832—1898), during a boat trip on the Thames with his friend Robinson Duckworth and the Liddell sisters (13-year-old Lorina, 10-year-old Alice and 8-year-old Edith), daughters of Henry Liddell, Dean of the College of Oxford University. The young ladies were bored, and Dodgson told stories about the girl Alice he made up improvising on the go. The real Alice liked the adventure story and asked to write it down. Dodgson, though not immediately, got down to work and began to write the story in a more concise language, generously adding paradoxes, parodies and allegories. By Christmas 1864, a gift to Alice Liddell was ready — an intricately designed manuscript "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" with 37 illustrations by the author: in his early youth, Dodgson, who later took the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, seriously considered becoming an artist. And, although his fate turned out differently, the author of "Alice…" was able to portray the key moments of his very original composition.
Hereinafter, all illustrations are taken from the pages of Carroll’s manuscript with the author’s drawings.
In the pictures of the manuscript, there is "Alice for Alice": a typical Victorian girl, a collective image in which one can recognize the features of the real young lady Liddell. Well, in the last of the drawings, the real girl Alice was clearly depicted. They only discovered this only in 1977: the author pasted a photo of the heroine, taken by himself, over the drawing. The mathematician and writer Lewis Carroll is now recognized as one of the best photographers of the Victorian era. And, although this part of his creative heritage causes numerous discussions in our time, we emphasize the main thing: photographs of Alice Liddell.
  • Alice Liddell portrait on the manuscript page
  • Photo of Alice Liddell (1860) Carroll pasted over the drawing

Lewis Carroll: photography as a vocation

Carroll was introduced to the photograph by his uncle Robert Wilfrid Skeffington Lutwidge in the summer of 1855, when the young man was on vacation. Six months later, Charles wrote: "I wrote to Uncle Skeffington, asking him to get me a photographic apparatus, because I want to find something for myself besides reading and writing." In the spring, the purchase of equipment took place in London, thus the era of photography began in the biography of Lewis Carroll (in the same year he took the now famous pseudonym, publishing his poem), which lasted until 1880. Carroll seriously thought that photography would bring him income, but it quickly became clear that this hobby, albeit a serious one, was still a hobby. Carroll devoted a lot of time to photography: the morning was devoted to teaching, the evening was devoted to preparing for classes, while photography reigned in the afternoon. He set up a photo studio in Oxford above his living quarters, in the attic, and there he kept all kinds of props — from clothes to toys. He took the creation of photographic portraits very seriously: he thought over the composition, the location of his heroes, their poses, gestures… Carroll was recognized by the professionals — it was not for nothing that celebrities agreed to pose for him, and parents gave permissions to photograph their children (an important point).

Self-portrait by Lewis Carroll, 1857

In focus — Alice and her family

24-year-old Carroll met Henry Liddell’s children in the garden in the spring of 1856 and asked their parents for permission to take a photo of the girls. Alice was 4 years old then: a charming, spontaneous child. The teacher became friends with the dean’s family, he often visited them: the future writer was no stranger to the hustle and bustle, as he had seven sisters and three brothers, so he felt quite comfortable in the house with four children.
Edith, Lorina and Alice Liddell (Summer 1858)
Alice grew up, Carroll made new photographs — not only of her, but also of other girls, the relationship with whom he regarded absolutely as friendship. From an artistic point of view, Carroll’s pictures — not only of children, but also of dignified men, respectable families, celebrities — are distinguished by the desire to show the character of his heroes, to capture a living moment (despite the fact that the photos are staged), the ability to build a composition — even with theatrical effects…
"Open your mouth — close your eyes" — Liddell sisters and cherries (photo of 1860). By the way, if you see "a shocking shot of Alice kissing Lewis Carroll", do not hesitate: this is a rather clumsy photo montage. The figure of Alice is taken from this very picture.
Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell (1858, Alice is 6 years old). Photo posted on the blog of Alice Liddell’s great-granddaughter, Vanessa Tait, 7 June 2015.
The most famous photo of Carroll with Alice Liddell, as the caption says, "as a beggar". 1858
2017 was an anniversary year not only for the wonderful story, but also for Alice Liddell: she was born on 4 May 165 years ago

Alice Pleasance Liddell (4 May 1852 — 15 November 1934) was the fourth child in the family; after her, the Liddell couple had more children. Eight out of ten survived to 30 years. The girl had the ability to draw: she was given lessons by John Ruskin himself, the famous artist and critic. The father was friends with the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as Lewis Carroll, who became friends with Rossetti and his family and took many photographs of them.

Carroll drew Alice from the book partly from photographs of the girl, partly from nature, and sometimes it was not Alice Liddell who posed, but her younger sister. The real Alice by that time had outgrown her book heroine.
The Lindell children, Spring 1860

Rumours, speculation and photos: Carroll and Victorian mores

In relation to young ladies, Lewis Carroll was a kind of do-gooder who entertained his young girlfriends (in the most common sense of the word). Tea drinking, stories, harmless games, walks, and photographs were quite a gentleman’s set. Children’s nudity was a symbol of purity and innocence, the grace of girls was akin to the fluttering of fairies. This is the paradoxical Victorian basis. The term "paedophilia" appeared much later. However, even in the midst of Carroll’s passion for photography in the 1870s, rumours spread through Oxford — where were the notorious bounds of decency and the line between platonic relations and obscene thoughts? Opinions were different. Well, Carroll always asked the parents' permission to even take the child on his hands.

Mrs. Liddell’s dissatisfaction grew. There was an inappropriate dispute between the men, started by Dean Liddell, about the architectural innovations… The mother of the family spoke openly with Carroll in 1863 — Alice was 11 years old (there is a letter from her sister Ena on this topic), and Carroll retired from the family, shocked by the suspicions. His visits to the Liddell house ceased, and meetings with Alice and other children of the family became formal and rare. Descendants described Mrs. Liddell as "snobbish"; she destroyed most of Carroll’s photos and letters to Alice: she was no longer a child, and the strict requirements of Victorian morality came into full force.
Photo of Alice Liddell by Carroll in the summer of 1858
Drawing by Lewis Carroll in his manuscript
Our contemporaries are haunted by the missing pages of the writer’s diary — the notes made in 1858—1862 were destroyed
In the BBC film about Carroll, which was released in 2015, they talk about a shocking photo: "nude" of Lorina, Alice’s older sister. The picture was found in one of the French museums and attributed as taken by Lewis Carroll. As for the various photographs of other girls that Carroll took, he stopped his photography in 1880 and handed out the pictures to the parents of his young models. Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, added a fly in the ointment of the mathematician storyteller’s reputation by the very fact of his translation of the book into Russian: the book "Anya in Wonderland" was published in 1924. But all this — from lifetime rumours to posthumous debates — happened much later than the time when the young heroine, the girl Alice inspired the young writer to write books about Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Carroll told stories — that’s all. There is no other evidence either in the case of Alice or in the case of other girls.

Adult Alice. No longer a fairy tale

The last photo of Alice Liddell, taken by Lewis Carroll, dates back to 1870 (it is shown below). The girl is 18 years old, in 10 years she would marry Reginald Hargreaves, landowner, cricketer, former student of Carroll (one of many who attended his classes). The couple would have three sons — Alan, Leopold and Caryl (full name — Caryl Liddell Hargreaves. Did they name their children in honour of Carroll? The Liddells denied this).
Photo of Alice Liddell by Carroll made on 25 June 1870
Alice invited Carroll to be the godfather of their youngest child, however, upon learning that the baby was a boy, he refused. There were many dramatic twists in the fate of Alice: her friendship with Prince Leopold, the son of Queen Victoria, who adored the Alice from the book and did not accept the real one, is a separate story. For Alice’s wedding, Leopold gave her a precious horseshoe, decorated with diamonds and rubies, and later he gave his daughter the name Alice. We also know the name of Alice’s second son…

Well, Lewis Carroll met with Alice and her husband in 1881, and he wrote in his diary afterwards: "It was not easy for me to associate this new face with the one I remember for a long time in my mind — this stranger with that ‘Alice' whom I knew so well and loved and whom I will always remember as an infinitely charming seven-year-old girl."

In this photo, certainly taken not by Carroll, is Alice Liddell, who lived for 82 years; he outlived the writer for 36 years. To pay off her debts after her husband’s death, she had to sell the manuscript of the famous fairy tale — they paid 15,400 pounds for it at Sotheby’s.

The masterpiece went to the American Rosenbach, and in 1948 the manuscript was bought and transferred to England — in recognition of the important role of this country in the victory in World War II.

Alice Liddell’s heirs and legacy

Alice Liddell’s two sons, Alan and Leopold, were victims of the First World War. They fought in France and Alan died on the battlefield, and Leopold died of his wounds. Caryl continued the dynasty. His daughter’s name was Mary Jane, and the name of his granddaughter (Alice's great-granddaughter) is Vanessa Tite. In 2015, she published a book about Alice Liddell, "The Looking Glass House", in which she cited archival data, shared her mother’s memories and her own thoughts and impressions: "My grandfather kept all the relics… All that belonged to her (Alice Lindell — ed.). Everything, from checks to wedding rings… I could walk into the room and touch things. Her gloves, beautiful dress… He made a treasure of the very connection with the greatest children’s book… "

Most of these items, once owned by Alice Liddell, were auctioned off in 2001.
According to the testimony of descendants, the real Alice was a domineering nature, with some snobbery (she did not approve of the marriage of her youngest son, who married a widow with two children), and, at the same time, over the years she did not lose the liveliness of the character of young Alice, who once captivated Lewis Carroll. "She stopped attempts of my mother’s father (Caryl — ed.) to become a concert pianist — it was his dream… And she stopped the engagement announcement of her another son by kicking him under the table at lunchtime," wrote Vanessa Tite. And here is an excerpt from Alice’s letter to her husband: "My Dear, I think you would have laughed if you only saw how your wife plays blind man’s buff, like a child." Well, Alice always remained Alice — the very girl who once discovered Wonderland.

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Photos of Lewis Carroll in the material: National Portrait Gallery, National Media Museum, Metropolitan Museum. Also shown (in the slider) are photos of the manuscript’s page spreads, illustrations — screenshots of the electronic version of the manuscript posted on the British Library website. Materials: open sources, the Lewis Carroll book (N. Demurova, ZhZL series, 2013), blog of Vanessa Tite