Happy Birthday Alice Pleasance Liddell. An Excerpt from My e-book Tribute to the Girl from Wonderland.
It’s the fourth of May – and happy 165th birthday to Alice Pleasance Liddell. “Who?” I hear some of you asking. And, well you might, for many people don’t know there was an actual girl (named Alice) who inspired the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.”
But, there was such a girl, a lifelong friend of Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and subject of my latest e-book, which covers both Alice’s life and the generation of the two books.
In it, you’ll read about how Carroll met and became friends with Alice; how the stories arose; who may have helped Carroll create the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter; why Alice of the illustrations is a long-haired blonde, when Alice Liddell (at least at the time) was a short-haired brunette; who the model(s) for Alice of the illustrations may have been; why certain illustrations were likely an inside joke between Carroll and Alice; how the real-life Alice had a love affair with a prince; who talked Carroll into making Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a story for all children, not just the Liddell sisters; and so much more.
The following are excerpts from the portion looking at a rift between Carroll and Alice’s family that never fully healed and almost caused Carroll to give up on the Wonderland stories.
Why was there a rift? What happened?
(hint: it wasn’t about Alice) The featured illustration is a lithograph taken from a painting by William Blake Richmond of the three older Liddell sisters – with Alice lounging left, Alice’s older sister, Lorina Charlotte, seated center, and Edith Mary, Alice’s next younger sister, kneeling at right]
June 27-29 1863, encompasses an episode of great consequence in Carroll’s relations with the Liddell family. It is nearly a year since the day he first told the Alice story. The book is still in preparation and his friendship with “Ina” [Lorina Charlotte, Alice’s older sister], “Tillie” [Edith Mary, Alice’s next younger sister], and especially Alice, is both predominant and crucial in his life. His diary records ”continuous” meetings with them, river-trips, and visits to their home at the Deanery. On 25 June there’s a big excursion on the river involving the three girls, the Dean and Mrs. Liddell, Carroll and two other young men. It’s apparently a happy day.
On 27 June, he records writing to Mrs. Liddell, “urging her either to send the children to be photographed…” The sentence is unfinished; it comes at the end of the page and the following page is missing, cut out by an unknown hand. The word “either” has been crossed out, in different ink, in a clumsy attempt to disguise a redaction. The record resumes on 30 June. Carroll notes the Liddells are leaving for summer holiday. There’s no further mention of them until 5 December, when he records meeting Mrs. Liddell and the children at some theatricals, “but I held aloof from them, as I have done all this term.”
Obviously, the missing page records a rift with Alice’s family.
No one has ever known what lay behind this falling-out. . . . That it was sensitive, possibly scandalous seems implicit, and it’s been assumed the crisis concerned Carroll’s’ relationship with Alice.[ . . .]
Let’s go back to [Carroll’s niece] Violet Dodgson’s notes:
“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 [unintelligible] to be courting Ina”.
We can safely assume that, as a result of Carroll’s letter to Mrs. Liddell on 27 June, she either wrote to him or summoned him to the Deanery. In either case she told him there were rumors circulating about him and the governess and Ina.. He was either told to stay away, or they agreed that it would be safest for him to do so for a while. There’s no mention of Alice, nothing to suggest that the business had anything to do with her at all. The rumors about Carroll and the governess were old news – they’d been circulating for years, and even Mrs. Liddell knew they had no basis in fact. The governess was one Miss Prickett, known in certain quarters as “Pricks.” She was an unprepossessing woman with a personality that Carroll would later adapt and adopt for the Red Queen in “Through the Looking Glass.”
The significant individual is Ina.
In June 1863 she was 14 years old, tall, highly developed for her age, and quite a striking; young woman, not a child. She’d already been allowed into Carroll’s company a good deal longer than Victorian convention considered proper. He was young, tall, handsome and unmarried. Carroll mentions her in his journal at this time in ways setting her apart from Alice or Tillie.
In this era, girls were legally marriageable at 12; many were married by Ina’s age. Yet this bright, “imperious” creature was still accompanying her younger sisters on long unchaperoned river trips with the 31-year-old Carroll. The idea of a courtship between the two seems a bit absurd – and rather creepy. But, Ina was “of age” and a 17-year age difference, while at the far end of “normal,” even for the time, wouldn’t, of itself, have raised many eyebrows. Indeed, there was a 15-year age difference between Dean and Mrs. Liddell, who herself had become engaged in her teens.[ . . . ]
But, consensus among historians is that the attachment was of Ina’s to Carroll, not the other way around, and that she, not Carroll, initiated whatever went on between them.
Certainly, it’s Ina who invites Carroll to visit her at her grandparents’ house in April 1863, Ina, again who writes and asks him to come help out at a charity bazaar where she and her sisters are running a stall. On 17 April 1863, Carroll notes for the first time that Mrs. Liddell is insisting on a chaperone. Is it a sign that the mother was becoming suspicious of the exact nature of the relationship between Carroll and her eldest daughter? Did she watch them together – and alone together – a few weeks later, during the otherwise happy outing of 25 June, and draw her own conclusions? Is this why, two or three days afterwards, she warned him off?
© 2017 G. H. McCallum. Like what you’re reading? The e-book (copiously illustrated) is free – no charge. Visit my website at http://g-h-mccallum.com and leave your first name and email address in the opt-in box. I’ll send you a copy (those of you who’ve already opted in don’t need to do a thing; you’ll receive an e-book shortly).
Serialising Volume One of The Bluebottle Boys resumes next Tuesday. The book is available now from Amazon. Volume Two is due out in September.
G. H. McCallum
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