“Alice in Wonderland,” directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, topped the box office this weekend but for a more authentic view of the real Alice (originally entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”), readers can virtually turn the pages of the original manuscript on the British Library’s website. The manuscript, written and illustrated by Lewis Carroll, (the pen name of Charles Dodgson), is one of the library’s best-loved treasures and is currently on display in their rare treasures gallery, along with Lewis Carroll’s diaries, the ‘Wonderland’ Postage Stamp-Case designed by him, illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Salvador Dalí and some of the original costume designs for the new film.
Lewis Carroll, an Oxford mathematician, was fond of children and became friends with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the daughters of the dean of his college. One summer day in 1862, he entertained them on a boat trip with the story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world entered by a rabbit hole. The ten-year old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him awhile to pen the tale and complete his own set of 37 illustrations for it (the published version was illustrated by artist John Tenniel ) but Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated ‘to a dear child, in memory of a summer day’, in November 1864.
Many years later, Alice was forced to sell her precious manuscript at auction. It was bought by an American collector, but returned to England in 1948, when a group of American benefactors presented it to the British Library in appreciation of the British people’s role in the Second World War.
By viewing the manuscript virtually, you can see the ‘hidden’ picture of the real Alice on the last page. At the end of his manuscript, Carroll drew a pencil portrait of Alice Liddell, copied from a photograph he had taken of her aged seven. Unhappy with the illustration, he pasted a photograph of Alice over it. The hidden drawing was only uncovered in 1977.
[image of “Alice Grows Taller” from the manuscript by Lewis Carroll courtesy of the British Library.]