Today, on the birthday of one of the greatest writers of all time, Lewis Carroll, we bring to you some facts you might not have heard of the book that gave him legendary status.
Alice in Wonderland came out in 1865 and was an instant success. The book is widely credited with changing the landscape of children’s literature, adding nonsensical fun to what had been a genre obsessed with moralizing.
1. The illustrator and the first edition.Prominent English illustrator John Tenniel was commissioned to create the accompanying art for the story. When he saw an early copy of the book, Tenniel was upset with how badly his drawings had been reproduced forcing Carroll to spend almost half of his annual salary to get it reprinted. Luckily, once it was published, Alice in Wonderland was an instant success. The rejected printings were later sold in the U.S.
2. The real Alice.Alice was the name of the daughter of Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church College at Oxford, where Carroll taught mathematics. Carroll met the dean and Alice’s older brother first and that was how he came to know the entire family.
3. Alice’s Hour in Elfland.Carroll was inspired to write the story when he was coming up with a story for the young Alice Liddell on a boating trip. He tried out a few different titles for his novel, the original – presented to the 10-year-old Liddell was ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground.’ When it was picked up he decided to call it Alice’s Hour in Elfland. Another rejected idea was ‘Alice Among the Fairies’.
4. Carroll and the newfangled mathematical theories.Carroll was a very conservative mathematician and he detested the new forms of math emerging at the time compared to the algebra and Euclidian geometry he favoured. Mathematicians say that riddles like the one the Mad Hatter asks Alice about a raven being like a writing desk, were a reflection on the increasing abstraction that was going on in mathematics in the mid-1800s.
5. The original manuscript.The original manuscript – the hand-written and illustrated version, belongs to the British Library and it rarely leaves London. When New York City’s Morgan Library managed to get hold of it for an exhibition, here’s what The New York Times had to say about it:
[I]t is accompanied by security measures whose details are cloaked in obfuscation befitting Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Jamie Andrews, the head of cultural engagement for the British Library, said that it was not checked on the flight over (‘We don’t freight things like that’), but he would not say exactly where it was on the plane or who exactly was with it
It did cause a minor stir at the airport. “I showed the customs form to the customs guy at J. F. K.,” Mr. Andrews said. The man looked at the declared value of the manuscript, a number Mr. Andrews would not divulge. “And he said, ‘Jeez, son, what have you got in there, the crown jewels?’ And in a sense it is our crown jewels.”
6. Alice and brand licensing.Carroll was one of the first authors to work with manufacturers to bring out related products. This is one of the main reasons why Alice’s tale is so popular, even amongst people who haven’t read it. He understood the importance of tie-ins, designed a postage stamp case decorated with images of Alice and allowed her image to adorn cookie tins and other products.
For fans eager to learn more about the origins of Alice’s tale, he produced a facsimile of the original manuscript, a rare move for an author of his day. Later, he even created a shorter version of the book for toddlers.
7. Alice in Wonderland has never been out of print…..It has also been translated into 176 languages. The sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, sold out within seven weeks of its publication.
The popularity of Alice in Wonderland, even after more than 150 years, reminds us that Lewis Carroll’s magnum opus has passed the test of time. We hope these facts serve to make you admire him more.