Who could have imagined that a mathematician named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson could write such an endearing children's story book that would endure for over a century and shows no sign of declining in popularity? On November 26, 1862, Dodgson sent a handwritten manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground to the ten-year-old daughter of a colleague.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the son of a conservative clergyman of the Angelican Church. Dodgson excelled in academics, especially mathematics and was a great story teller. He was the third child of eleven and like his siblings developed a stammer that seems to have bothered him more than it was noticed by others. Until the age of 12, Dodgson was educated at home; by seven years old, he was reading The Pilgrim's Progress. In 1851 he went to Oxford and attended his father's college, Christ Church where he later became a professor of mathematics and taught for over twenty years though he found the job boring.
In 1856, Henry Liddell became Dean of Christ Church and he had a family of three daughters and one son. Dodgson became close friends with Mrs. Liddell, Lorina, and the children, especially the daughters, Lorina, Alice, and Edith. He often took the children on outings, usually on rowing trips, during which he told stories to the children.
It was during one of these trips, in 1862, that Dodgson told the story of Alice's adventures. Alice Liddell so loved the tale that she begged Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised, but it took him two years to do so. On November 26, 1862, Dodgson presented Alice with a handwritten and self- illustrated manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground.
The previous year, the family of another friend of Dodgson, George McDonald, had read the incomplete manuscript of the work and the children enjoyed the story so immensely, it encouraged Dodgson to seek publication of the work. Publisher Macmillan liked the story and after several alternate titles, the work was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland under Dodgson penname of Lewis Carroll. The illustrations for the published book were completed by Sir John Tenniel.
The first print of the book in 1865 was for 2,000 copies, but was held back because Tenniel thought the print quality was poor. At the end of the year a new edition was released but carried the print date as 1866. However, Dodgson had given permission for the original print to be sold to Appleton Publishing House in New York. It was identical in its binding to the 1866 Macmillan version except for the publisher's name on the spine. The title page of the Appleton book reflected the New York Publisher's name and the 1866 published date.
The book sold out quickly and was a huge hit with children and adults. It is reported Queen Victoria enjoyed it so much she suggested he dedicate his next book to her. The young Oscar Wilde was also among the first to read Alice. To date, the book has never been out of print and has been translated into 125 languages. There are over one hundred editions of the book and it has been adapted for theater and film, the most recent starring Johnny Depp as the mad hatter.
Dodgson, under the penname of Lewis Carroll penned a sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and, What Alice Found There. While there is much conjecture that the character of Alice in both stories is fashioned after Alice Liddell, Dodgson denied repeatedly that his heroine was based on any real child.
As with many historical figures, Dodgson's life is surrounded by myths, exaggerations and speculations. Many question his fascination with young girls and suggest some mental illness around the "obsession." Questions arise concerning his possible preference for the company of children over adults. Some researchers cite the fact that Dodgson never married and did not seem to have intimate relationships with any women of his age. However, numerous writers and scholars challenge those views as there is no evidence to support claims of any inappropriate behavior. They contend that Dodgson's life has been simplified, his biography inaccurately presented, and that by the time evidence to debunk myths was found the myths had already been ingrained and remained unquestioned.
Children's story books take children to new worlds and allow them to explore their own imaginations. Characters such as the Cheshire cat remain part of the child's world; the child can enact her own mad hatter tea party. Adults can read the story of Alice and renew their childhood for a brief moment. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she takes readers to a fantasy world like no other. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. It influenced multitudes of writers and continues to do so.
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