'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.' - author Jackie French

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Shout Out: The Original Handwritten ‘Alice’

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Classic children’s stories often have fascinating origins. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland started life as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. The original manuscript is now part of the British Library’s historical collections, and they’ve made it available to read online.

Last year, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, two special editions, reproductions of the original Alice’s Adventures Under Ground manuscript, were produced with the support of the British Library, and funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

The result is a beautiful little book, in keeping with the original, with gold foil embossed writing on a black leather cover. Lewis Carroll’s handwriting is extraordinarily neat, quite easy to read, and complemented by decorative chapter headings. The title page has been carefully illustrated, and there are also 37 black and white illustrations, again all by Lewis Carroll. He was quite an accomplished artist!

It’s fascinating to see this story the way the author originally intended it to be. It was first told to the Liddell sisters, Alice, Lorina, and Edith. They loved it so much he was convinced to write it down, at which time he added the illustrations we see in the reproduction today. The handwritten story, in a bound leather book and ninety pages in length, was given to Alice Liddell as a Christmas gift in 1864. Lewis Carroll was later convinced to have it published, following some re-writing, under the title we all now know, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, a reproduction of the original handwritten manuscript, can be found at the Alice's Adventures Under Ground website. There’s a premium edition and a limited edition. They each come with a numbered certificate of authenticity, a pair of white gloves and a companion booklet. The limited edition also has a handmade box. Visit the website for full details, or to read blog posts about Alice and the journey to reproducing the manuscript.

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Did you know?

  • Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who was the eldest of eleven children.
  • Charles Dodgson was a talented mathematician who taught at Christ Church, Oxford and invented the Nyctograph, “a special type of card grid consisting of symbols which allowed one to write in the dark so as not to have to light up a lantern if a quick idea arose.”
  • When her family fell on hard times, Alice Liddell was forced to sell the original Alice manuscript. It was bought by an American dealer and after an exhibition in the 1930s, Alice was inundated by fan mail from people who wanted to “know the real Alice.”
  • Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for the published edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were drawings on paper which were “then etched onto woodblocks and recreated as metal electrotype reproductions for print.”
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is today available in 176 different languages.

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