November 26: Alice’s Adventures inWonderland made its first appearance on this day in 1864, in the form of ahandmade, author-illustrated, one-copy book titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground given by Charles Dodgson totwelve-year-old Alice Liddell as a Christmas present. Dodgson had begun tellingthe story to Alice and her sisters some twenty-eight months earlier; by thetime of the Christmas gift, so many had heard and liked the story that Dodgsonwas well along with his plans to publish. The first commercial edition came outin time for Christmas the following year, selling out immediately.
Dodgson was an Oxfordlecturer in mathematics, but one bitten by the new craze for portraitphotography. As remembered by Liddell, Dodgson’s storytelling was a habitdeveloped as part of his photographic technique, something to relax and occupyhis young models while waiting for the right pose or for the chemicals to work:
We used to go to his rooms. . . escorted by our nurse. When we got there, we used to sit on the big sofaon each side of him, while he told us stories, illustrating them by pencil orink drawings as he went along. When we were thoroughly happy and amused at hisstories, he used to pose us, and expose the plates before the right mood hadpassed. He seemed to have an endless store of these fantastical tales….Sometimes they were new versions of old stories; sometimes they started on theold basis, but grew into new tales owing to the frequent interruptions whichopened up fresh and undreamed of possibilities. In this way the stories, slowlyenunciated in his quiet voice with its curious stutter, were perfected….
From such snapshots theusual portrait of Dodgson has been drawn: the stuttering bachelor andduty-bound don, sitting perhaps too closely to the pre-pubescent girls whosecompany he liked to keep but expressing his innermost feelings within enjoyableparameters, whether photograph, cryptogram, satiric poem, or fantasyliterature. In the Shadow of theDreamchild, Karoline Leach’s provocative 1999 biography, interprets newevidence to suggest that, for all his casual attraction to his young girls,Dodgson expressed a deeper interest in a number of adult women, Mrs. Liddellamong them.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.