Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester

In the summer of 1858 in the garden behind Christ Church College in Oxford a shy, stammering, half-deaf mathematics don named Charles Ludwidge Dodgson, whom posterity would remember as beloved children’s book author Lewis Carroll, photographed the dean’s six-year-old daughter, Alice, costumed as a beggarmaid, in bare feet and rags with her hand out as though hoping some passerby will come along and drop some pennies in her cupped palm. There is just something about that picture--a rather disturbing, strikingly mature, knowing look in young Alice Liddell’s eyes that still captivates and unsettles viewers. Some even note an exposed nipple to further fuel debate about whether or not Lewis Carroll harbored pedophiliac tendencies.

This brief book is a combination biography of Lewis Carroll, history of photography and cameras, an analysis of the Beggarmaid photo and its inspirations, his friendship with Alice, and the beloved children’s classic that made her immortal. Even after she grew up, married, and had children of her own, even when she was an old gray-haired lady Alice would always be haunted by the ghost of her own childhood self.

This is a very straightforward, down-to-earth book not given to wild flights of fantasy or lurid speculation about its subjects. Though it contains only 100 pages of text, it crams a lot between the covers, and is a great start for anyone curious about the relationship between the author and his child-muse but uncertain how deeply they want to delve into the story.

1 comment:

Brasil said...

This little story is well researched and well written. Winchester wrote a biography of the author of Alice in Wonderland,Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The story is really about Dodgson's love of photography and is full of descriptions of photographs. Alas, there are no photographs in the book. Other than that it is a good story.