Alice Liddell - the original Alice

It shall not touch with breath of bale
The pleasance of our fairy-tale.
-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934) was the middle of three daughters of Dean Liddell (Dr Henry Liddell, former head of Westminster School, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford). In 1880 she married Reginald Hargreaves. Alice was a distant relative of Queen Elisabeth II, her great-grandfather was brother of the ninth Earl of Strathmore, from whom Elisabeth II is directly descended.

Alice Liddell was the original Alice of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

One summer's day in July 1862, Lewis Carroll (Oxford Mathematics Lecturer, the Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) took three little girls, Alice and her two sisters, on a boating trip. To keep them amused he told a delightful tale involving Alice and a White Rabbit. That Christmas it was presented to Alice as A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer Day, later published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, the original version was illustrated by Lewis Carroll.

What follows contains hidden information to be found in the two stories. You may wish to read the stories first.

Alice Liddell was born 4th of May 1852, later christened at Westminster Cathedral.

Alice Liddell's birthday is mentioned or alluded to twice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The first occasion was in 'Pig and Pepper' on meeting the Cheshire Cat.

"I've seen hatters before," she said to herself; "the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps, as this is May, it won't be raving mad - at least not so mad as it was in March."

The second was at the Mad Hatters Tea-Party in 'A Mad Tea-Party'.

The Hatter was the first to break the silence. "What day of the month is it?" he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily ... Alice considered a little, and then said, "The fourth."

At the Mad Hatters Tea Part both Alice and her sisters are woven into the story, that is in addition to the presence of Alice as herself, when the Dormouse tries to tell the tale of the three little sisters.

"Once upon a time there were three little sisters," the Dormouse began in a great hurry; "and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well ..."

The eldest of the Liddell sisters was Lorina Charlotte, initials L C, Alice the middle (try anagram), and Edith the youngest was affectionately known to her sisters as Tillie.

The twenty-one letters of Alice Pleasance Liddell are spelled out in the twenty-one lines of the Epilogue to Through the Looking-Glass, a mournful reminisce of a summer day, long, long gone.

The initial letter of the surname Liddell is spelled out in the the chapter 'Looking Glass Insects' in the wood where things have no names.

"This must be the wood," she said thoughtfully to herself, "where things have no names. I wonder what'll become of my name when I go in? I shouldn't like to lose it at all ..." She stood silent for a minute, thinking: then she suddenly began again. "Then it really has happened, after all! And now, who am I? I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it!" But being determined didn't help her much, and all she could say, after a great deal of puzzling, was, "L, I know it begins with L."

Alice also gets a mention in the last two lines that introduces Through the Looking-Glass.

Besides Lewis Carroll and the three Liddell sisters, they were also accompanied on their boat trip by Canon Duckworth. They all make an appearance towards the end of the second chapter, 'The Pool of Tears', in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with all the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there were a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way and the whole party swam to the shore.

The Duck was Canon Duckworth, Dodo Do-do-Dodgson (who sometimes spoke with a st-st-stammer), Lory Lorina, and Eaglet Edith.

Many of the verses were parodies of the prevailing verse for children or mocked their regimented rote learning, something his young audience would have understood and appreciated.

... for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them ...

Epilogue to Through the Looking-Glass

A boat, beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

She still haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden gleam -
Life, what is it but a dream?

Literature ~ Lewis Carroll
(c) Keith Parkins 1998 -- April 1998 rev 0