Saturday, March 27

Will The Real Alice Please Stand Up?

Lewis Carroll had many talents besides his famous books. He was a mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, poem writer, a good artist and photographer. Lewis Carroll is the pseudonym of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. 

Before Lewis Carroll wrote his books about Alice In Wonderland he already had a girl in mind for his character. She was actually a neighborhood girl he was infatuated with and her name was Alice Liddell.

Alice Liddell was not at all like the “Alice” we now are used to seeing with golden locks of hair brushed back from her blue eyed face. When Carroll thought of his Alice he pictured Alice Liddell. And his book was to start with her name.

Even thought Carroll was an artist and did his own drawings for the very first book that he presented to Alice Liddell, when he finished his book to be published he had John Tenniel do the artwork for it.

John Tenniel was a cartoonist and his work was satirical, often radical for doing a book like Carroll’s but he did the drawings for Carroll’s works nonetheless and Carroll was not happy with the results.

Tenniel's pictures of Alice were not pictures of Alice Liddell, who had dark hair cut short with straight bangs across her forehead. Carroll sent Tenniel a photograph of Mary Hilton Babcock, another child-friend, recommending that he use her for a model, but whether Tenniel accepted this advice is a matter of dispute. That he did not is strongly suggested by these lines from a letter Carroll wrote some time after both Alice books had been published. The letter is quoted by Mrs. Lennon in her book on Carroll;

"Mr. Tenniel is the only artist who has drawn for me, who has resolutely refused to use a model, and declared he no more needed one than I should need a multiplication table to work a mathematical problem! I venture to think that he was mistaken and that for want of a model he drew several pictures of "Alice" entirely out of proportion-head decidedly too large and feet decidedly too small."

From The Life Of Lewis Carroll by Florence Becker Lennon

The symbol at the lower right corner, which you see on all of Tenniel's drawings, is a monogram of his initials, J.T.

I must say that I can see what Carroll means about Tenniel’s drawings. It does look like a “caricature” of Alice although I rather liked the strange drawings from the books. When I first read Alice In Wonderland I had no idea that a “real” Alice existed nor that Carroll didn’t like the art in the book.

The comparison with the fictional Alice has been a very controversial one. There are at least three direct links to Liddell in the first two books. First, he set them on May 4th, (Liddell's birthday) and November 4th, (her "half-birthday") and in Through the Looking-Glass the fictional Alice declares that her age is "seven and a half exactly", the same as Liddell on that date. Second, he dedicated them "to Alice Pleasance Liddell". Third, there is an acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. Reading downward, taking the first letter of each line; spells out Liddell's full name. The poem has no title in Through the Looking-Glass, but is usually referred to by its first line, "A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky".

A Boat Beneath A Sunny Sky

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily In an evening of July--
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear--
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantom wise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?

In "Alice On Stage," an article cited in the first note on the prefatory poem, Carroll gave the following description of his heroine's personality:

What art thou, dream-Alice, in thy foster-father's eye? How shall he picture thee? Loving, first, loving and gentle: loving as a dog (forgive the prosaic simile, but I know no earthly love so pure and perfect), and gentle as a fawn: then courteous-courteous to all high or low, grand or grotesque, King or Caterpillar, even as though she were herself a King's daughter and her clothing of wrought gold: then trustful, ready to accept the wildest impossibilities with all that utter trust that only dreamers know; and lastly, curious-wildly curious, and with the eager enjoyment of Life that comes only in the happy hours of childhood when all is new and fair, and when Sin and Sorrow are but names-empty words signifying nothing!

Hearing Carroll describe his creation, "Alice" in his own words is such a treat! Through the many years since his writings have been out "Alice" has held the imaginations and fantasies of more people than even he could ever have imagined. Through fan art "Alice" has had many personalities and faces and will continue to be with us forever.

Keep On Bloggin'!

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I hope you like the geekiness of my Wonderland. This blog has been around for a long time and used to be a MySpace until I moved it over to Blogger. I wrote about a plethora of subjects and still post here today. Wonderland has a special place in my heart it taught me so much about writing, websites, and people. I like comments so don't be shy about what's on your mind but I do moderate them so give me time to answer.