Alice Liddell

Alice Liddell

Infobox Person
name = Alice Pleasance Liddell

image_size = 200px
caption = Alice Liddell, age 7, photographed by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in 1860.
birth_date = birth date|1852|5|4
birth_place = Westminster, London
death_date = death date and age|1934|11|15|1852|05|04
death_place = Westerham, Kent, England
occupation =
spouse = Reginald Hargreaves

Alice Pleasance Liddell (May 4, 1852 – November 16, 1934) was the inspiration for the children's classic "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll. Her surname "Liddell" is pronEng|ˈlɪdəl (rhymes with "fiddle").

Origin of "Alice in Wonderland"

On July 4, 1862, in a rowing boat travelling on The Isis from Folly Bridge, Oxford to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson (More commonly known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll) to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (age 8) and Lorina (age 13), with a story. As the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell into a rabbit-hole. The story was not unlike those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Alice asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented Alice with the manuscript of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" in November 1864.

In the meantime, Dodgson had decided to rewrite the story as a possible commercial venture. Probably with a view to canvassing his opinion, Dodgson sent the manuscript of "Under Ground" to a friend, the author George MacDonald, in the spring of 1863 [Dodgson's MS diaries, vol.8, p. 89, British Library] . The MacDonald children read the story and loved it, and this response probably persuaded Dodgson to seek a publisher. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published in 1865, under the pen name Lewis Carroll. A second "Alice" book, "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There", followed in 1871. In 1886, a facsimile of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground", the original manuscript that Dodgson had given Alice, was published.


Alice Liddell was a daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his wife Lorina Hanna, "née" Reeve. Alice was the fourth child. She had two older brothers, Harry (born 1847) and Arthur (born 1850, died of scarlet fever in 1853), and an older sister, Lorina (born 1849). She also had six younger siblings, including her sister Edith (born 1854) with whom she was very close. One of her younger brothers died as an infant.

At the time of her birth, Alice's father was the Dean of Westminster School but was soon after appointed to the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford. The Liddell family moved to Oxford in 1856. Soon after this move, Alice first met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who encountered the Dean's family while he was photographing the cathedral on April 25, 1856. Alice was almost four. He became a close friend of the Liddell family in subsequent years (see Relationship with Lewis Carroll below).

Alice grew up primarily in the company of the two sisters nearest to her in age: Lorina, who was three years older, and Edith, who was two years younger. She and her family regularly spent holidays at their holiday home Penmorfa, which later became the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, on the West Shore of Llandudno in North Wales.

, but the evidence for this is sparse. It is true that Leopold's first child was called 'Alice' and that he acted as godfather to Alice's son, Leopold Reginald Hargreaves. (Leopold's most recent biographer suggests it is far more likely that Alice's sister Edith was the true recipient of Leopold's attention. [cited in Leach, Karoline "In the Shadow of the Dreamchild",p.201] )

Alice married Reginald Hargreaves on September 15, 1880, at the age of 28 in Westminster Abbey. They had three sons: Alan Knyveton Hargreaves and Leopold Reginald "Rex" Hargreaves (both were killed in action in World War I); and Caryl Liddell Hargreaves, who survived to have a daughter of his own. Alice denied that the name 'Caryl' was in any way associated with Charles Dodgson's pseudonym. Reginald Hargreaves inherited a considerable fortune, and Alice became a noted society hostess.

After Reginald Hargreaves' death, the cost of maintaining their home, Cuffnells, was such that Alice deemed it necessary to sell her copy of "Alice's Adventures Under Ground". The manuscript fetched nearly four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby's auction house and sold for £15,400. It became the possession of Eldridge R. Johnson and was displayed at Columbia University on the centennial of Carroll's birth. (Alice was present, aged 80, and it was on this visit to America that she met Peter Llewelyn-Davies, one of the brothers who were the inspiration for J. M. Barrie's "Peter Pan"). At Johnson's death, the book was purchased by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people "in recognition of Britain's courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war." The manuscript now resides in the British Library.

After her marriage Alice Liddell lived in and around Lyndhurst in the New Forest, and is buried in the graveyard of the church of St. Michael & All Angels, Lyndhurst.

Relationship with Lewis Carroll

The relationship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson has been the source of much controversy. Many biographers have supposed that Dodgson was romantically or sexually attached to the child, though there has never been any direct proof for this and more benign accounts assume merely a platonic fondness. [Wallace, Irving. "The Sex Lives of Famous People"] Karoline Leach has claimed this supposition is part of what she terms the "Carroll Myth" and thus wildly distorted. [Leach, Karoline "In the Shadow of the Dreamchild", London 1999, “The Unreal Alice”] It is certainly true that the evidence pool on which any claims can be based is very small and that many authors writing on the topic have tended to indulge in a great deal of undocumented speculation.

Dodgson met the Liddell family in 1855. He first befriended Harry, the older brother, and later took both Harry and Ina on several boating trips and picnics to the scenic areas around Oxford. Later, when Harry went to school, Alice and her younger sister Edith joined the party. Dodgson entertained the children by telling them fantastic stories to while away the time. He also used them as subjects for his hobby, photography. It has often been stated that Alice was clearly his favorite subject in these years, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is so. Dodgson's diaries from April 18, 1858 to May 8, 1862 are missing and were, presumably, destroyed by his heirs. They would have covered his close friendship with the Liddells and many other experiences. No one knows how or why they went missing.

"Cut pages in diary"

The relationship between the Liddells and Dodgson suffered a sudden break in June 1863. There was no record of why the rift occurred, since the Liddells never openly spoke of it, and the single page in Dodgson's diary recording June 27-29 1863 (which seems to cover the period of the break) was missing. Until recently, the only source for what happened on that day had been speculation (of which there was plenty), and all centered on the idea that Alice Liddell was, somehow, the cause of the break. It was long suspected that Alice's mother, Lorina Liddell, disapproved of Dodgson's interest in her daughter as she saw him as an unfit companion for her very young child, then only 11.

Then, in 1996, Karoline Leach found what became known as the "Cut pages in diary" document" [cite web|url=|title=Cut pages in diary|date=2004-03-04|accessdate=2006-07-09] — a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson's niece, Violet Dodgson, summarizing the missing page from June 27–29 1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads: :"L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess - he is also supposed soon to be courting Ina" (Leach, 1999).

It is uncertain who wrote the note. Leach has said that the handwriting on the front of the document most closely resembles that of either Menella or Violet Dodgson, Carroll's nieces. However, Morton N. Cohen says, in an article recently published in the "Times Literary Supplement", [Cohen, Morton N., "When Love was Young", "Times Literary Supplement, October 2003] that, in the 1960s, Philip Dodgson Jacques told him that he had written the note himself based on conversations he remembered with his nieces. Cohen's article offered no evidence to support this, however, and known samples of Jacques' handwriting do not seem to resemble the writing of the note. [See discussion on the [ Lewis Carroll e-list] , Autumn 2003] Precisely what this note means has yet to be determined. However, it seems to imply that the 'break' between Dodgson and the Liddell family was caused by concern over alleged 'gossip' linking Dodgson to the family governess and to 'Ina' (presumably Alice's older sister). Whether there was any foundation to any of this gossip has not been determined.

After this incident, Dodgson avoided the Liddell home for some six months but eventually returned for a visit in December 1863. However, the former closeness does not seem to have been re-established, and the friendship gradually faded away, possibly because Dodgson was in opposition to Alice's father, Dean Liddell, over college politics. ["Christ Church & Reform"] Other explanations involving romantic entanglements and broken hearts have also been put forward, but while there is some evidence to suggest these as possibilities, nothing definite is known. After the rift between Dodgson and the Liddells, Alice and her sisters pursued a similar relationship with John Ruskin, as detailed in Ruskin's autobiography "Praeterita"; however, that biography may not be entirely factual.

Comparison with fictional Alice

The extent to which Carroll's "Alice" may be identified with Alice Liddell is controversial. The two Alices are clearly not identical, and though it was long assumed that the fictional Alice was based very heavily on Alice Liddell, recent research has contradicted this assumption. Dodgson himself claimed in later years that his "Alice" was entirely imaginary and not based upon any real child at all; and it is clear that Alice Liddell did not inspire the illustrations of "Alice" in the published books.

There was, in fact, a rumour that Dodgson sent Tenniel a photo of one of his other child-friends, Mary Hilton Badcock, suggesting that he used her as a model, [ Gardner, Martin, "The Annotated Alice" 1970, chap. 1 ] but attempts to find documentary support for this theory have proved fruitless. No one knows what (if any) model Tenniel used for his Alice. Moreover, even Dodgson's own drawings of "Alice" in the original manuscript, "Alice's Adventures under Ground", show little resemblance to Alice Liddell.

Alice biographer Anne Clark suggested he might have used Alice's younger sister Edith as a model for his drawings [Clark, Anne, "Lewis Carroll"1982, p. 91] but this remains mere speculation with no available factual support.

Whatever the inspiration for the fictional Alice, there are at least two pieces of evidence that show Carroll had Alice Liddell in mind when he wrote the two books. First, he set them on May 4 (the "real" Alice's birthday) and November 4 (her "half-birthday"), respectively, and in "Through the Looking-Glass" the fictional Alice declares that her age "seven and a half exactly", just as the "real" Alice might have been on that date. Second, he "dedicated" the books to Alice Pleasance Liddell. There is an acrostic poem at the end of "Through the Looking-Glass". Reading downward, taking the first letter of each line, spells out Alice's name in full. 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, 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, phantomwise, 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?

Alice Liddell in other works

More than one contemporary writer has written a fictional account of Alice Liddell. She is one of the main characters of the Riverworld series of books, by Philip José Farmer. Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster also wrote a collection of poems, "White Stone", based on her. Katie Roiphe has written a fictional (claimed to be based on fact) account of the relationship between Alice and Carroll, titled "Still She Haunts Me". The 1985 movie "Dreamchild" deals with Alice Liddell Hargreaves' trip to America for the Columbia University presentation described above. Through a series of flashbacks, it promotes the popular assumption that Dodgson was romantically attracted to Alice. Most recently, Frank Beddor has written "The Looking Glass Wars", which reimagines the Alice in Wonderland story and includes real-life characters such as the Liddells and Prince Leopold. Liddell and Carroll are used as protagonists in Bryan Talbot's 2007 graphic novel "Alice in Sunderland" to relay the history and myths of the area. [cite news|first=Ross|last=Robertson|title=News focus: Alice in Pictureland|url=|work=Sunderland Echo|date=2007-03-27|accessdate=2007-03-29] The 2008 opera by Alan John and Andrew Upton "Through the Looking Glass" covers both the fictional "Alice" and Liddell.


* Gardner, Martin (1965). Introduction to "Alice's Adventures under Ground by Lewis Carroll". Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-21482-6.
* Gardner, Martin (ed.) (2000). "The Annotated Alice" (The Definitive Edition). Allen Lane The Penguin Press. ISBN 0-713-99417-7.
*Gray, Donald J. "The Norton Critical Edition of Alice in Wonderland", edited by Donald J. Gray [] .
* [ Official website]

External links

* [ More about Alice Liddell and 'Alice in Wonderland']
* [ Alice Liddell]
* [ Photograph of her grave in Lyndhurst]
* [ In the Shadow of the Dreamchild:] Karoline Leach's reassessment of the Carroll/Alice relationship

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