Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Literary Pilgrimage: Alice

On our day trip from London to Oxford, we went in search of a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole into Wonderland. Well, we went in search of the shy, stammering mathematician at Christ Church College who formed a warm friendship with the three young daughters of Dean Henry Liddell: the middle one was named Alice. A devotee of the new art form of photography, he also photographed the girls. Here, Alice posing as "The Beggar Maid."
On the "golden afternoon" of July 4, 1862, Charles Dodgson, who wrote witty verse under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, took the Liddell girls on a boat ride on the Thames. As they drifted along the river, he told them the story of Alice's adventures "underground." Alice begged him to write it down for her, and he did, giving her a handwritten copy of the story, with his own illustrations, for Christmas, 1864. It was then expanded and published with the illustrations by John Tenniel (Alice now blond instead of brunette) in 1865, under the title Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The students and I saw the continuing 150th anniversary exhibit of Alice at the British Library, with original manuscripts of both editions on display.

At Oxford we toured Christ Church College:
The grand staircase and great hall have a non-accidental resemblance to Hogwarts:

Here is the quad where lifelong bachelor Dodgson had his rooms (it was a condition of his academic appointment that he remain unmarried).
Later in the day I also remembered C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien when I treated myself to hot mulled wine at the Eagle and Child pub where they met together every Tuesday with their fellow Inklings for decades.

But it was this moment of the day that meant the most to me, when I wandered alone down to the river, in the fading glow of this wintry afternoon, and remembered the summer afternoon boat ride where the story began.

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