Regarded by many lovers of the curious and the crazy as one of the best children?s books of all time, Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland is the subject of much speculation and excitement, even 152 years after it was first published..
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In August 2014, the website lovereading.co.uk reported that Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland has sold 100 million copies and is translated into 97 different languages. On top of that, the book has been turned into multiple film adaptations, including the Disney and the Johnny Depp versions, and multiple stage adaptions, the big one of the times being Alice?s Adventures Underground.
Yet, as much as the story lives within our hearts as a fond childhood memory, there are several facts, and the odd speculation, circling the book, that are not so well known, and could hold the power to shatter our dearest memories.
Copyright: ?Alice in Wonderland? 1951
For example, many literature boffs believe the Queen of Hearts, an angry red queen who screams for blood and who comes into Alice?s life when she is just coming of age, is a representation of menstruation.
Oh yes. And it only gets weirder.
According to research, Lewis Carroll was a paedophile, and the ?real? Alice was one of his victims.
Here?s the theory.
Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was born with a stutter, and as a result, suffered an unhappy childhood. Despite this, he did well at school, and in 1855, he became mathematical lecturer at Oxford University. He was also an avid photographer.
This is where he met Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of the University, and her sisters. He had been lecturing for two years when, on an outing to photograph the cathedral, he met with Alice, her sisters and their governess. In his diaries, he claimed, ?we became excellent friends ? We tried to group them in the foreground of the picture, but they were not patient sitters? (Dodgson, Diaries, 1.83). At the time, he would have been twenty-four, Alice not quite four.
Since that day, Carroll became a regular visitor to Alice and her sisters, entertaining then with crocket, boating trips and picnics. It was on one of these picnics (4th July 1862), when Alice was aged ten years old, that Carroll created the story of Alice in Wonderland. Following pleas from Alice to write it down, Carroll did so, and the story that we know today was published 1865.
But within this time, all ties between the Liddell family and Charles Dodgson had been cut off, and the pages of Carroll?s diary that could hold clues mysteriously ripped out, most likely by a Dodgson decedent. There are many theories surrounding this, but the main theory is that Alice received a proposal from Dodgson in this time, and her family, outraged by the unsuitability of the match, ended all contact.
Melanie Benjamin?s novel Alice I Have Been, published in 2009, retells the story of Alice Liddell?s unique friendship and, yes, potential romance, with Lewis Carroll, and if you want to learn more about the ?real? Alice, and her relationship with Carroll, this is an excellent start.
So was Carroll really a paedophile and was Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland the result of an illicit affair? Certainly the very recent research would have us believe so, but the truth us, what really happened will probably never be known for sure. What you can go on is the little evidence that we do have.
Photographs taken of Alice Liddell and her sisters around the time, which see the girls placed in suggestive poses.
The original illustrations that accompanied Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland, drawn by Sir John Tenniel but influenced by Carroll?s own early sketches. While the illustrations don?t particularly resemble Alice Liddell that accurately, the illustrations can be interpreted by some as suggestive, with Alice being sexualised by her slim waist, and her mature facial features, including long lashes, which make her look much older than she would have been. She is also drawn to be holding a baby (well, a pig, but you get the idea).
While not directly linked to Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland, Dodgson?s 1862 poem Stolen Waters follows a youth who finds salvation for his sins through repentance. There is a mention of a child whose youth must be treasured, and who seems to tempt the speaker in some way, possibly in a ?burning kiss?. While the poem is too long to print in full here, you can read the text at Classic Literature.
Similarly, in the third edition of Alice?s Adventure?s in Wonderland, Carroll published a acrostic poem, spelling out Alice Pleasance Liddell, in which the S forms the line ?Still she haunts me?, a line which Katie Roiphe adopts for the title of her book, also about the relationship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson.
It seems that if Dodgson did feel any unsavoury inclinations to Alice or her sisters, or any other child he had befriended, he was strict enough with himself never to give in. As a deeply religious man, it was likely that he felt the weight of his conscience heavy upon him.
In the end, with the little evidence we have, based mostly on speculation, it seems we will never truly know. What do you think? Was Lewis Carroll a paedophile?
One last thing you might not have known about Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland: Despite the loss of contact and the abrupt end of a long and intense friendship, Alice Liddell chose to name her third and youngest son Caryl. Now what do you make of that?
With thanks to @Ellena Restrick, and Tom Crawshaw.
Just a few other important sources when writing this article were:
Morton N. Cohen, ?Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge [Lewis Carroll] (1832-1898)?, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7749, accessed 6 Nov 2017]
Morton N. Cohen, ?Hargreaves [Liddell], Alice Pleasance (1852-1934)?, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/55226, accessed 6 Nov 2017]