Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 English novel by Lewis Carroll. A young girl named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures. It is seen as an example of the literary nonsense genre.
|Followed by||Through the Looking-Glass|
|Text||Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at Wikisource|
One of the best-known works of Victorian literature, its narrative, structure, characters and imagery have had huge influence on popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre. The book has never been out of print and has been translated into 174 languages. Its legacy covers adaptations for screen, radio, art, ballet, opera, musicals, theme parks, board games and video games. Carroll published a sequel in 1871 entitled Through the Looking-Glass and a shortened version for young children, The Nursery "Alice", in 1890.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was inspired when, on 4 July 1862, Lewis Carroll and Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed up The Isis in a boat with three young girls. The three girls were the daughters of scholar Henry Liddell: Lorina Charlotte Liddell (aged 13; "Prima" in the book's prefatory verse); Alice Pleasance Liddell (aged 10; "Secunda" in the verse); and Edith Mary Liddell (aged 8; "Tertia" in the verse).
The journey began at Folly Bridge, Oxford, and ended 5 miles (8.0 km) away in Godstow, Oxfordshire. During the trip Carroll told the girls a story that he described in his diary as "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" and which his journal says he "undertook to write out for Alice". Alice Liddell recalled that she asked Carroll to write it down: unlike other stories he had told her, this one she wanted to preserve. She finally got the manuscript more than two years later.
4 July was known as the "golden afternoon", prefaced in the novel as a poem. In fact, the weather around Oxford on 4 July was "cool and rather wet", although at least one scholar has disputed this claim. Scholars debate whether Carroll in fact came up with Alice during the "golden afternoon" or whether the story was developed over a longer period.
Carroll had known the Liddell children since around March 1856, when he befriended Harry Liddell. He met Lorina by early March as well. In June 1856, he took the children out on the river. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, who wrote a literary biography of Carroll, suggests that Carroll favoured Alice Pleasance Liddell in particular because her name was ripe for allusion. "Pleasance" means pleasure and the name "Alice" appeared in contemporary works including the poem "Alice Gray" by William Mee, of which Carroll wrote a parody; and Alice is a character in "Dream-Children: A Reverie", a prose piece by Charles Lamb. Carroll, an amateur photographer by the late 1850s, produced many photographic portraits of the Liddell children—but none more than Alice, of whom 20 survive.
Carroll began writing the manuscript of the story the next day, although that earliest version is lost. The girls and Carroll took another boat trip a month later, when he elaborated the plot to the story of Alice, and in November he began working on the manuscript in earnest.
To add the finishing touches he researched natural history in connection with the animals presented in the book, and then had the book examined by other children—particularly those of George MacDonald. Though Carroll did add his own illustrations to the original copy, on publication, he was advised to find a professional illustrator so the pictures were more appealing to its audiences. He subsequently approached John Tenniel to reinterpret Carroll's visions through his own artistic eye, telling him that the story had been well liked by the children.
On 26 November 1864, Carroll gave Alice the handwritten manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by Carroll himself, dedicating it as "A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer's Day".
The published version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is about twice the length of Alice's Adventures Under Ground and includes episodes, such as the Mad Tea-Party, that did not appear in the manuscript. The only known manuscript copy of Under Ground is held in the British Library. Macmillan published a facsimile of the manuscript in 1886.
Carroll began planning a print edition of the Alice story in 1863, before he gave Alice Liddell the handwritten manuscript. He wrote on 9 May 1863 that MacDonald's family had suggested he publish Alice. A diary entry for 2 July says that he received a specimen page of the print edition around that date.
Chapter One – Down the Rabbit Hole: Alice, a seven-year-old girl, is feeling bored and tired while sitting on the riverbank with her elder sister. She notices a talking, clothed white rabbit with a pocket watch run past. She follows it down a rabbit hole where she suddenly falls a long way to a curious hall with many locked doors of all sizes. She finds a little key to a door too small for her to fit through, but through it, she sees an attractive garden. She then discovers a bottle on a table labelled "DRINK ME," the contents of which cause her to shrink too small to reach the key which she had left on the table. She subsequently eats a cake labelled "EAT ME" in currants as the chapter closes.
Chapter Two – The Pool of Tears: The chapter opens with Alice growing to such a tremendous size that her head hits the ceiling. Unhappy, Alice begins to cry and her tears literally flood the hallway. After she picks up a fan that causes her to shrink back down, Alice swims through her own tears and meets a mouse, who is swimming as well. Alice, thinking he may be a French mouse, tries to make small talk with him in elementary French. Her opening gambit "Où est ma chatte?" (transl. "Where is my cat?"), however, offends the mouse, who then tries to escape her.
Chapter Three – The Caucus Race and a Long Tale: The sea of tears becomes crowded with other animals and birds that have been swept away by the rising waters. Alice and the other animals convene on the bank and the question among them is how to get dry again. Mouse gives them a very dry lecture on William the Conqueror. A dodo decides that the best thing to dry them off would be a Caucus-Race, which consists of everyone running in a circle with no clear winner. Alice eventually frightens all the animals away, unwittingly, by talking about her (ferocious) cat.
Chapter Four – The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill: White Rabbit appears again in search of the Duchess's gloves and fan. Mistaking her for his maidservant, Mary Ann, Rabbit orders Alice to go into the house and retrieve them. Inside the house she finds another little bottle and drinks from it, immediately beginning to grow again. The horrified Rabbit orders his gardener, Bill the Lizard, to climb on the roof and go down the chimney. Outside, Alice hears the voices of animals that have gathered to gawk at her giant arm. The crowd hurls pebbles at her, which turn into little cakes. Alice eats them, and they reduce her again in size.
Chapter Five – Advice from a Caterpillar: Alice comes upon a mushroom and sitting on it is a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. Caterpillar questions Alice, who begins to admit to her current identity crisis, compounded by her inability to remember a poem. Before crawling away, the caterpillar tells Alice that one side of the mushroom will make her taller and the other side will make her shorter. She breaks off two pieces from the mushroom. One side makes her shrink smaller than ever, while another causes her neck to grow high into the trees, where a pigeon mistakes her for a serpent. With some effort, Alice brings herself back to her normal height. She stumbles upon a small estate and uses the mushroom to reach a more appropriate height.
Chapter Six – Pig and Pepper: A fish-footman has an invitation for the Duchess of the house, which he delivers to a frog-footman. Alice observes this transaction and, after a perplexing conversation with the frog, lets herself into the house. The Duchess's cook is throwing dishes and making a soup that has too much pepper, which causes Alice, the Duchess, and her baby (but not the cook or grinning Cheshire Cat) to sneeze violently. Alice is given the baby by the Duchess and, to Alice's surprise, the baby turns into a pig. The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.
Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party: Alice becomes a guest at a "mad" tea party along with the March Hare, the Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse, who falls asleep frequently only to be violently awakened moments later by the March Hare and the Hatter. The characters give Alice many riddles and stories, including the famous "why is a raven like a writing desk?." The Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because Time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 pm (tea time). Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves, saying it is the stupidest tea party that she has ever been to.
Chapter Eight – The Queen's Croquet Ground: Alice leaves the tea party and enters the garden where she comes upon three living playing cards painting the white roses on a rose tree red because The Queen of Hearts hates white roses. A procession of more cards, kings and queens and even the White Rabbit enters the garden. Alice then meets the King and Queen. The Queen, a figure difficult to please, introduces her signature phrase "Off with his head!" which she utters at the slightest dissatisfaction with a subject. Alice is invited (or some might say ordered) to play a game of croquet with the Queen and the rest of her subjects but the game quickly descends into chaos. Live flamingos are used as mallets and hedgehogs as balls and Alice once again meets the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts then orders the Cat to be beheaded, only to have her executioner complain that this is impossible since the head is all that can be seen of him. Because the cat belongs to the Duchess, the Queen is prompted to release the Duchess from prison to resolve the matter.
Chapter Nine – The Mock Turtle's Story: The Duchess is brought to the croquet ground at Alice's request. She ruminates on finding morals in everything around her. The Queen of Hearts dismisses her on the threat of execution and she introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle is very sad, even though he has no sorrow. He tries to tell his story about how he used to be a real turtle in school, which the Gryphon interrupts so they can play a game.
Chapter Ten – Lobster Quadrille: The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon dance to the Lobster Quadrille, while Alice recites (rather incorrectly) "'Tis the Voice of the Lobster". The Mock Turtle sings them "Beautiful Soup" during which the Gryphon drags Alice away for an impending trial.
Chapter Eleven – Who Stole the Tarts?: Alice attends a trial whereby the Knave of Hearts is accused of stealing the Queen's tarts. The jury is composed of various animals, including Bill the Lizard, the White Rabbit is the court's trumpeter, and the judge is the King of Hearts. During the proceedings, Alice finds that she is steadily growing larger. The dormouse scolds Alice and tells her she has no right to grow at such a rapid pace and take up all the air. Alice scoffs and calls the dormouse's accusation ridiculous because everyone grows and she cannot help it. Meanwhile, witnesses at the trial include the Hatter, who displeases and frustrates the King through his indirect answers to the questioning, and the Duchess's cook.
Chapter Twelve – Alice's Evidence: Alice is then called up as a witness. She accidentally knocks over the jury box with the animals inside them and the King orders the animals to be placed back into their seats before the trial continues. The King and Queen order Alice to be gone, citing Rule 42 ("All persons more than a mile high to leave the court"), but Alice disputes their judgement and refuses to leave. She argues with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings, eventually refusing to hold her tongue, only to say in the process, "It's not that I was the one who stole the tarts in the first place." Finally, the Queen confirms that Alice was the culprit responsible for stealing the tarts after all (which automatically pardons the Knave of Hearts of his charges), and shouts, "Off with her head!", but Alice is unafraid, calling them just a pack of cards; although Alice holds her own for a time, the card guards soon gang up and start to swarm all over her. Alice's sister wakes her up from a dream, brushing what turns out to be some leaves and not a shower of playing cards from Alice's face. Alice leaves her sister on the bank to imagine all the curious happenings for herself.
The main characters in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are the following:
In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner provides background information for the characters. The members of the boating party that first heard Carroll's tale show up in chapter 3 ("A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale"). Alice Liddell herself is there, while Carroll is caricatured as the Dodo (because Carroll stuttered when he spoke, he sometimes pronounced his last name as "Dodo-Dodgson"). The Duck refers to Robinson Duckworth, and the Lory and Eaglet to Alice Liddell's sisters Lorina and Edith.
Bill the Lizard may be a play on the name of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. One of Tenniel's illustrations in Through the Looking-Glass—the 1871 sequel to Alice—depicts the character referred to as the "Man in White Paper" (whom Alice meets on a train) as a caricature of Disraeli, wearing a paper hat. The illustrations of the Lion and the Unicorn (also in Looking-Glass) look like Tenniel's Punch illustrations of William Ewart Gladstone and Disraeli, although Gardner says there is "no proof" that they were intended to represent these politicians.
Gardner has suggested that the Hatter is a reference to Theophilus Carter, an Oxford furniture dealer, and that Tenniel apparently drew the Hatter to resemble Carter, on a suggestion of Carroll's. The Dormouse tells a story about three little sisters named Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie. These are the Liddell sisters: Elsie is L.C. (Lorina Charlotte); Tillie is Edith (her family nickname is Matilda); and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.
The Mock Turtle speaks of a drawling-master, "an old conger eel", who came once a week to teach "Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils". This is a reference to the art critic John Ruskin, who came once a week to the Liddell house to teach the children drawing, sketching, and painting in oils.
Carroll wrote multiple poems and songs for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, including:
Carroll's biographer Morton N. Cohen reads Alice as a roman à clef populated with real figures from Carroll's life. The Alice of Alice is Alice Liddell; the Dodo is Carroll himself; Wonderland is Oxford; even the Mad Tea Party, according to Cohen, is a send-up of Alice's own birthday party. The critic Jan Susina rejects Cohen's account, arguing that Alice the character bears a tenuous relationship with Alice Liddell.
Beyond its refashioning of Carroll's everyday life, Cohen argues, Alice critiques Victorian ideals of childhood. It is an account of "the child's plight in Victorian upper-class society" in which Alice's mistreatment by the creatures of Wonderland reflects Carroll's own mistreatment by older people as a child.
In the eighth chapter, three cards are painting the roses on a rose tree red, because they had accidentally planted a white-rose tree that The Queen of Hearts hates. According to Wilfrid Scott-Giles, the rose motif in Alice alludes to the English Wars of the Roses: red roses symbolised the House of Lancaster, while white roses symbolised their rival House of York.
Alice is full of linguistic play, puns, and parodies. According to Gillian Beer, Carroll's play with language evokes the feeling of words for new readers: they "still have insecure edges and a nimbus of nonsense blurs the sharp focus of terms". The literary scholar Jessica Straley, in a work about the role of evolutionary theory in Victorian children's literature, argues that Carroll's focus on language prioritises humanism over scientism by emphasising language's role in human self-conception.
In the second chapter, Alice initially addresses the mouse as "O Mouse", based on her memory of the noun declensions "in her brother's Latin Grammar, 'A mouse – of a mouse – to a mouse – a mouse – O mouse!'" These words correspond to the first five of Latin's six cases, in a traditional order established by medieval grammarians: mus (nominative), muris (genitive), muri (dative), murem (accusative), (O) mus (vocative). The sixth case, mure (ablative) is absent from Alice's recitation. Nilson has plausibly suggested that Alice's missing ablative is a pun on her father Henry Liddell's work on the standard A Greek-English Lexicon since ancient Greek does not have an ablative case. Further, Mousa (meaning muse) was a standard model noun in Greek books of the time in paradigms of the first declension, short-alpha noun.
Mathematics and logic are central to Alice. As Carroll was a mathematician at Christ Church, it has been suggested that there are many references and mathematical concepts in both this story and Through the Looking-Glass. Literary scholar Melanie Bayley asserted in the magazine New Scientist that Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in its final form as a satire of mid-19th century mathematics.
Carina Garland notes how the world is "expressed via representations of food and appetite", naming Alice's frequent desire for consumption (of both food and words), her 'Curious Appetites'. Often, the idea of eating coincides to make gruesome images. After the riddle "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?", the Hatter claims that Alice might as well say, "I see what I eat…I eat what I see" and so the riddle's solution, put forward by Boe Birns, could be that "A raven eats worms; a writing desk is worm-eaten"; this idea of food encapsulates idea of life feeding on life itself, for the worm is being eaten and then becomes the eater – a horrific image of mortality.
Nina Auerbach discusses how the novel revolves around eating and drinking which "motivates much of her [Alice's] behaviour", for the story is essentially about things "entering and leaving her mouth". The animals of Wonderland are of particular interest, for Alice's relation to them shifts constantly because, as Lovell-Smith states, Alice's changes in size continually reposition her in the food chain, serving as a way to make her acutely aware of the 'eat or be eaten' attitude that permeates Wonderland.
Alice is an example of the literary nonsense genre. According to Humphrey Carpenter, Alice's brand of nonsense embraces the nihilistic and existential. Characters in nonsensical episodes such as the Mad Tea Party, in which it is always the same time, go on posing paradoxes that are never resolved.
Wonderland is a rule-bound world, but its rules are not those of our world. The literary scholar Daniel Bivona writes that Alice is characterised by "gamelike social structures". She trusts in instructions from the beginning, drinking from the bottle labelled "drink me" after recalling, during her descent, that children who do not follow the rules often meet terrible fates. Unlike the creatures of Wonderland, who approach their world's wonders uncritically, Alice continues to look for rules as the story progresses. Gillian Beer suggests that Alice, the character, looks for rules to soothe her anxiety, while Carroll may have hunted for rules because he struggled with the implications of the non-Euclidean geometry then in development.
The manuscript was illustrated by Carroll himself who added 37 illustrations—printed in a facsimile edition in 1887. John Tenniel provided 42 wood engraved illustrations for the published version of the book. The first print run was destroyed (or sold to the US) at Carroll's request because he was dissatisfied with the quality. There are only 22 known first edition copies in existence. The book was reprinted and published in 1866.
Tenniel's illustrations of Alice do not portray the real Alice Liddell, who had dark hair and a short fringe. Alice has provided a challenge for other illustrators, including those of 1907 by Charles Pears and the full series of colour plates and line-drawings by Harry Rountree published in the (inter-War) Children's Press (Glasgow) edition. Other significant illustrators include: Arthur Rackham (1907), Willy Pogany (1929), Mervyn Peake (1946), Ralph Steadman (1967), Salvador Dalí (1969), Graham Overden (1969), Max Ernst (1970), Peter Blake (1970), Tove Jansson (1977), Anthony Browne (1988), Helen Oxenbury (1999), and Lisbeth Zwerger (1999).
Carroll first met Alexander Macmillan on 19 October 1863. His firm, Macmillan Publishers, agreed to publish Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by sometime in 1864. Carroll financed the initial print run, possibly because it gave him more editorial authority than other financing methods. He managed publication details such as typesetting and engaged illustrators and translators.
Macmillan had published The Water-Babies, also a children's fantasy, in 1863, and suggested its design as a basis for Alice's. Carroll saw a specimen copy in May 1865. 2,000 copies were printed by July but John Tenniel, the illustrator, objected to their quality and Carroll instructed Macmillan to halt publication so they could be reprinted. In August, he engaged Richard Clay as an alternative printer for a new run of 2,000. The reprint cost £600, paid entirely by Carroll. He received the first copy of Clay's reprint on 9 November 1865.
Macmillan finally published the revised first edition, printed by Richard Clay, in November 1865. Carroll requested a red binding, deeming it appealing to young readers. A new edition, released in December of the same year for the Christmas market, but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed. The text blocks of the original edition were removed from the binding and sold with Carroll's permission to the New York publishing house of D. Appleton & Company. The binding for the Appleton Alice was identical to the 1866 Macmillan Alice, except for the publisher's name at the foot of the spine. The title page of the Appleton Alice was an insert cancelling the original Macmillan title page of 1865, and bearing the New York publisher's imprint and the date 1866.
The entire print run sold out quickly. Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. Oscar Wilde was a fan. Queen Victoria reportedly enjoyed Alice enough that she asked for Carroll's next book, which turned out to be a mathematical treatise; Carroll denied this. The book has never been out of print. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into 174 languages.
The following list is a timeline of major publication events related to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
Alice was published to critical praise. One magazine declared it "exquisitely wild, fantastic, [and] impossible". In the late 19th century, Walter Besant wrote that Alice in Wonderland "was a book of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete".
F. J. Harvey Darton argued in a 1932 book that Alice ended an era of didacticism in children's literature, inaugurating a new era in which writing for children aimed to "delight or entertain". In 2014, Robert McCrum named Alice "one of the best loved in the English canon" and called it "perhaps the greatest, possibly most influential, and certainly the most world-famous Victorian English fiction". A 2020 review in Time states: "The book changed young people's literature. It helped to replace stiff Victorian didacticism with a looser, sillier, nonsense style that reverberated through the works of language-loving 20th-century authors as different as James Joyce, Douglas Adams and Dr. Seuss."
Books for children in the Alice mould emerged as early as 1869 and continued to appear throughout the late 19th century. Released in 1903, the British silent film, Alice in Wonderland, was the first screen adaptation of the book.
In 2015, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in The Guardian wrote,
Since the first publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 150 years ago, Lewis Carroll's work has spawned a whole industry, from films and theme park rides to products such as a "cute and sassy" Alice costume ("petticoat and stockings not included"). The blank-faced little girl made famous by John Tenniel's original illustrations has become a cultural inkblot we can interpret in any way we like.
Labelled "a dauntless, no-nonsense heroine" by The Guardian, the character of the plucky, yet proper, Alice has proven immensely popular and inspired similar heroines in literature and pop culture, many also named Alice in homage. The book has inspired numerous film and television adaptations which have multiplied as the original work is now in the public domain in all jurisdictions.
The first full major production of 'Alice' books during Lewis Carroll's lifetime was Alice in Wonderland, an 1886 musical play in London's West End by Henry Savile Clark (book) and Walter Slaughter (music), which played at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Twelve-year-old actress Phoebe Carlo (the first to play Alice) was personally selected by Carroll for the role. Carroll attended a performance on 30 December 1886, writing in his diary he enjoyed it. The musical was frequently revived during West End Christmas seasons during the four decades after its premiere, including a London production at the Globe Theatre in 1888, with Isa Bowman as Alice.
As the book and its sequel are Carroll's most widely recognised works, they have also inspired numerous live performances, including plays, operas, ballets, and traditional English pantomimes. These works range from fairly faithful adaptations to those that use the story as a basis for new works. Eva Le Gallienne's stage adaptation of the Alice books premiered on 12 December 1932 and ended its run in May 1933. The production has been revived in New York in 1947 and 1982. Joseph Papp staged Alice in Concert at the Public Theater in New York City in 1980. Elizabeth Swados wrote the book, lyrics, and music. Based on both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Papp and Swados had previously produced a version of it at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Meryl Streep played Alice, the White Queen, and Humpty Dumpty. The cast also included Debbie Allen, Michael Jeter, and Mark Linn-Baker. Performed on a bare stage with the actors in modern dress, the play is a loose adaptation, with song styles ranging the globe. A community theatre production of Alice was Olivia de Havilland's first foray onto the stage.
The 1992 musical theatre production Alice used both Alice books as its inspiration. It also employs scenes with Carroll, a young Alice Liddell, and an adult Alice Liddell, to frame the story. Paul Schmidt wrote the play, with Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan writing the music. Although the original production in Hamburg, Germany, received only a small audience, Tom Waits released the songs as the album Alice in 2002.
The English composer Joseph Horovitz composed an Alice in Wonderland ballet commissioned by the London Festival Ballet in 1953. It was performed frequently in England and the US. A ballet by Christopher Wheeldon and Nicholas Wright commissioned for The Royal Ballet entitled Alice's Adventures in Wonderland premiered in February 2011 at the Royal Opera House in London. The ballet was based on the novel Wheeldon grew up reading as a child and is generally faithful to the original story, although some critics claimed it may have been too faithful.