A great deal of what would become Alice in Wonderland was told in one creative burst on the instigation of Alice Liddell on the river one summer afternoon more than 150 years ago.
Alice pestered Lewis Carroll to write her story down. He took more than two years, but eventually, in 1864, he presented it to her for an early Christmas present. It was something she treasured all her life. My mother remembers her father Caryl (Alice’s youngest son) telling her that this priceless piece of children’s literature was kept in the anteroom of Cuffnells, the house they lived in, for anyone to have a look.
It’s obvious that Carroll took a lot of pain with his Christmas gift: it’s all handwritten of course, but he also illustrated it himself, with his own scratchy pen. But he’s more of a photographer than an artist. In the final chapter of The Looking Glass House I imagine him trying – and failing – to get a likeness of his “dreamchild” down on paper. His attempt at Alice looks scratchy and annoyed:
Not at all like the real little Alice Liddell. He grew so disconsolate that he gave up and stuck a photograph of the beautiful little girl that he loved over the top.
The original drawing wasn’t discovered until 1977. Now, in the printed version of the manuscript once owned by Alice, the photograph is attached by a flap so that the drawing underneath can be seen.
It reminds me of Wonderland: go deeper down the rabbit hole and you will discover the truth. And by the by you will also discover that there is no truth to discover!