This weekend it will be 150 years since the first publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale, Alice in Wonderland.
It tells the story of a little girl called Alice, who, startled to see a white rabbit reading a pocket watch and disappearing down a giant hole, follows it into a world of madness and wonder. Famous for its Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, and magical food and drink, it was first begun in 1862 for ten year old Alice Pleasance Liddell.
On 4th July, 1862, Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) was taking a boat trip with his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth, in Oxford. With them were the three daughters of another friend, Henry Liddell; Alice, Lorina and Edith. It was during this trip that Carroll told the girls a story that featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure. The girls loved it, and Alice Liddell asked Carroll to write it down for her.
Carroll began writing the manuscript of the story the next day, but that earliest version no longer exists. In fact, that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland made it to light at all is a miracle. The first edition in 1865, of which only 20 copies are known to exist, was rejected because of printing flaws. So Carroll took huge gamble: he used nearly a whole year’s salary to get it printed himself. He hoped that he would sell 4,000 so he could break even.
Originally the story was called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, but this wasn’t liked, so Carroll considered a few other names to change it to. Alice’s Doings in Wonderland and even Alice’s Hour in Elf-Land, were considered- but Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was eventually chosen. This wasn’t the only change that Carroll made before Alice Liddell received her own copy of the story. Carroll had expanded the 15,500 word original to 27,500 words, and added in chapters about the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter’s Tea-Party.
Lewis Carroll died wealthy and famous at 65 in 1898, leaving behind one of the best loved children’s stories of all time.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.