A Girl Called Alice


    As Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland reaches 150 years of capturing imaginations, we look back at the inspiration behind the tale and where to join in with the celebrations!

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is etched on the memories of countless children and adults thanks to fantastical scenes featuring anthropomorphic creatures attending mad tea parties, Cheshire cats and no end of lyrical nonsense, all of which encouraged young imaginations to flourish for generations.

    So ingrained is the work of literature on the public consciousness that the term ‘down the rabbit-hole’, referring to the book’s opening chapter, is now a popular metaphor for taking adventurous leaps into the unknown. But how was this story, that has endured for 150 years, imagined? And who was the real Alice?

    In 1856 Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) had become a mathematic don at Christ Church, Oxford. He was a keen photographer and quickly bonded with the college’s dean Henry Liddell, who was also fascinated by this exciting new art form.

    Dodgson was soon tasked with photographing Liddell’s three eldest daughters: Lorina, Alice and Edith, and so began a close relationship between the two families, with the writer often spending time with the girls, usually accompanied by their governess, Miss Prickett.

    On a summer’s day in July 1862, Dodgson and his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth took a boat ride to Godstow with the girls on the River Thames and told a story in which Alice was the central character who discovers a magical world down a rabbit hole. The 10 year old enjoyed the tale so much that she implored him to write it down and the next day he began writing the first draft of the book under its original title Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and presented Alice with a manuscript of it in 1864.


    Although highly exaggerated, many of the characters and events in the story were inspired by real people, and things that Alice and Dodgson encountered – indeed the Dodo is a caricature of Dodgson himself as it was Alice’s nickname for him. When the Mock Turtle describes “an old conger eel”, a drawing master who visited once a week, it is thought he is referring to the eminent art critic John Ruskin, who also studied at Christ Church and who taught the Liddell sisters drawing, while in the book’s sequel Through the Looking Glass the Red Queen is quite clearly based on the children’s governess – with her “thorny side” a nod to the name the girls gave her: Pricks.

    The book was first published in 1865, with additions such as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, although the name of the book had now changed on the recommendation of Alice’s father. Also, notably the illustrations by Sir John Tenniel depicted a very different looking Alice, with long fair hair held in place with an Alice band – a far cry from the short brown bob of Alice Liddell. This change was perhaps due to pressure from Alice’s parents who did not wish for their daughter to be immortalised in this fashion.

    But while her image may have been changed, Alice – who kept hold of her manuscript for most of her life – was forever known as the ‘real Alice’.



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