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Background


Christ Church, Oxford
  Alice's Adventures were born in Oxford, the home of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell. Dodgson was working as a sub-librarian at Christ Church college, where Alice's father, Henry Liddell was the Dean. It was on 25th April 1856, when Dodgson tried to photograph the Cathedral from the Deanery garden, that he met Alice, then three years old, and her two sisters, Lorina and Edith. They immediately became "excellent friends", and this friendship flourished over the following eight years, with many visits, outings and activities, all accompanied by the children's favourite entertainment: stories.

  On 4th July 1862, Dodgson took the three Liddell sisters on a river picnic to Godstow. This was the "golden afternoon" on which he first told the story of Alice's adventures ungerground. The story's heroine was named after Alice, the Eaglet was Edith, the Lory, Lorina, and the Duck, Duckworth, Dodgson's friend and oarsman on their river excursions. Dodgson made fun of his own speech impediment by representing himself as the Dodo. It is said that the tale of the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon had been invented earlier, the characters having been inspired by Dodgson's brothers Wilfred and Skeffington, who had also rowed for the Liddell sisters during their own studies at Christ Church. In fact, all of the events in Alice's adventures seem to be rooted firmly in real experiences at and around the college.

  One of these inspirational occurences took place on 17th June, less than a month before the "golden afternoon". Dodgson's sisters, Fanny and Elizabeth, who were visiting Oxford, joined their brother, Duckworth and the Liddell sisters on a boating trip. Unfortunately, it began to rain so heavily that the party had to abandon ship and take to the shore. No doubt Alice began to cry and was teased for adding even more wetness to the situation, hence "the pool of tears". Duckworth did his best to raise spirits by singing Star of the Evening (which became Beautiful Soup in the story), Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat) and The Spider and the Fly (The Lobster Quadrille). Their drenching walk to a little cottage where they dried off appears in the original version of the Alice story, Alice's Adventures Underground, a manuscript written and illustrated by Dodgson and given to Alice, who had enjoyed the 4th July's narrative so much that she implored him to write it down. However, this account was considered too true to life for the published version and was replaced by the more imaginative Caucus-race.

Alice's Shop, Oxford
  Many other allusions to real-life events, people and places are included in the final, printed version of the stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the subsequent Through the Looking-Glass; Alice's eighth birthday party reportedly inspired the Mad Tea Party, a game of croquet on 3rd July 1862 prompted the Queen's Croquet Ground and the Red Queen is based on the Liddell children's governess, Miss Prickett (Dodgson later described the character as "formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the 10th degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!"). The White Queen, meanwhile, seems to be a caricature of their old nurse, Phoebe Hall. Some of the references to life in Oxford appear exclusively in Tenniel's illustrations (Dodgson originally intended to illustrate the published book himself, but ultimately decided to enlist a professional); the shop featured in the Looking-Glass chapter Wool and Water is unmistakeably the one across the road from Christ Church, where the Liddell children liked to buy sweets, and further Oxford sights and landmarks can be glimpsed throughout the books, such as the eel traps behind Father William and the Botanic Garden's Lily House in the Queen of Hearts's garden.

  It is widely accepted that the White Knight's farewell to Alice in Through the Looking Glass was Dodgson's way of saying goodbye to his child friend as she became an adult. Their last excursion together had been in June 1863, to Nuneham, apparently the setting of the scene in which the knight escorts Alice safely to the end of the wood, where they will part and she will become a Queen. The "happy summer days" of childhood were over in reality, but captured forever in these truly inspired stories.

FURTHER READING: The Adventures of Alice (Mavis Batey, 1991, Macmillan), The Annotated Alice (Martin Gardner, 1965, Penguin), Alice's Adventures in Oxford (Mavis Batey, 1980, Pitkin Pictorials), The World of Alice (Mavis Batey, 1998, Pitkin Guides), The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland (Cristina Bjork and Inga-Karin Eriksson, 1993, R & S Books)

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