Biography of Alice in Wonderland Alice Liddle Hargreaves Part 1

About the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland Alice Liddle Hargreaves, biography and history of Lewis Carroll's muse.


ALICE LIDDELL HARGREAVES (1852-1934), Alice in Wonderland

On July 4, 1862, the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a 30-year-old mathematics lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, and a colleague named Robinson Duckworth took three little girls on a rowboat trip up the Thames River to Godstow, where they planned to picnic. To entertain the girls on the journey, Dodgson told a fanciful tale about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole into a strange land. The outing was a great success, and the three girls--Alice, Lorina, and Edith Liddell--were held spellbound by Reverend Dodgson's story. Upon returning home, Alice asked Dodgson to write it down, which he did under the pen name Lewis Carroll. Today, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is considered by many to be the greatest children's book ever written.

Alice Liddell, age 10 at the time, was Dodgson's favorite of the three Liddell girls, so he named his heroine after her. She was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church, and his wife, Lorina, who had moved to Oxford in 1855. Alice had large blue eyes and a cherubic oval face. She and her sisters were practically the only children in the vicinity of Christ Church, but Charles Dodgson was always available as their playmate.

Dodgson, an introverted man with a scholarly disposition, was one of England's early photographers. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he preferred children as models. For Dodgson, "children" meant little girls exclusively. "Boys are not in my line: I think they are a mistake: girls are less objectionable," he once wrote. His fondness for prepubescent females was the nearest thing to passion in this Victorian bachelor's existence. As far as we know, Dodgson remained a virgin all his life. While he protested that his fondness for little girls was strictly platonic, he worried more than a few suspicious mothers. In the late 1860s he began photographing some of his little female friends in the nude. Alice was not one of these, though Dodgson photographed her often and occasionally let her come into his darkroom. Alice later told her son, "Much more exciting than being photographed was being allowed to go into the darkroom and watch him develop the large glass plates."

It was perhaps inevitable that Dodgson should appoint himself "uncle" to the Liddell children. He was particularly attracted to Alice because of her trusting nature and her eagerness to accept even the wildest improbabilities. On the day after the picnic, he outlined "Alice's Adventures under Ground" and subsequently presented the little girl with the first version of his masterpiece. It was a 92-page manuscript, hand-lettered by Dodgson and illustrated with his own crude but effective drawings. The author had no thought of publishing the work, but novelist Henry Kingsley, who read the manuscript on a visit to the Liddells, convinced him to reconsider. Dodgson enlarged the story from 18,000 to 35,000 words, and it was promptly accepted by Macmillan. John Tenniel of Punch magazine was commissioned to illustrate it.

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