The Duck and the Dodo: References in the Alice books to friends and family

Copyright 1997 by Cathy Dean (source of this article)
This text is reproduced on this site with permission from the author

From the prefatory verse of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where Carroll refers to Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell as Prima, Secunda, and Tertia respectively, to the closing poem of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, which is an acrostic on the name Alice Pleasance Liddell, the Alice books are filled with numerous references to those with whom Alice and Carroll were familiar. While it makes sense that a story told for the amusement of one family would contain inside jokes, it is interesting that Carroll would choose to retain most of them in the general release of Wonderland and incorporate many more into its sequel.

The majority of Carroll’s personal references in Wonderland take place during the Caucus-Race, in fact all of the people who made up the boating expedition from which Wonderland arose are represented there. They are all, in fact, represented in one sentence toward the end of the second chapter:

“It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures.”

Alice is, of course, represented by herself; the Duck is Reverend Duckworth of Trinity College who accompanied them on the journey; the Dodo is Dodgeson himself, a name derived from the effect that his own stuttering had on how he pronounced his own name; the Lory, a kind of Australian parrot is Lorina; the Eaglet is Edith (Carroll The Annotated Alice 44).

Alice’s comment in Alice’s Adventures under Ground, which was deleted in later versions of the story and does not appear in Wonderland adds to this idea. After driving all of the animals away with her tales of Dinah, her cat, Alice laments,

“I do wish some of them had stayed a little longer! and I was getting to be such friends with them–really the Lory and I were almost like sisters! and so was the dear little eaglet.” (Carroll Alice’s Adventures under Ground 8).

It is also interesting to note that the mouse in this chapter who attempts to dry the party off by reciting the driest thing it knows, a passage from Havilland Chepmell’s Short Course of History, is most likely based on Carroll’s sister Frances who was very fond of history (Mavis Batey The Adventures of Alice 40).

Carroll also managed to work the names of the Liddell girls into the text several times. Lorina, Alice, and Edith appear most often. In addition to the above examples, there is another reference, by the Dormouse, during his story of the sisters who lived in a treacle well told during the Mad Tea-Party.

“‘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–‘” (Carroll The Annotated Alice 100).

The fact that Carroll refers to the three girls as “little sisters” is a play on the sound of the name “Liddell” which we know rhymed with fiddle thanks to the poetic skills of Oxford students who composed the following rhyme: “I am the Dean and this is Mrs. Liddell./ She plays the first, and I the second fiddle.” Elsie, or L. C., stands for Lorina Charlotte; Tillie is short for Matilda, the family nickname for Edith; and Lacie is an anagram for Alice (Carroll The Annotated Alice 100). There were, in addition to these three, two younger Liddell sisters who appear only once in either Alice book, as flowers in the garden of live flowers.

“It’s my opinion that you never think at all,” the Rose said, in a rather severe tone.
“I never saw anybody that looked stupider,” a Violet said, so suddenly, that Alice quite jumped; for it hadn’t spoken before.

The Rose is Rhoda Liddell; the Violet is Violet Liddell who was just a baby at the time of the publication of Through the Looking-Glass.

Some have even suggested that Carroll loved both word play and Alice Liddell so much that he based his name on hers. He was, after all, fascinated by mathematics and logical games, and the names “Lewis Carroll” and “Alice Liddell” do appear suspiciously similar; they both have the same number of letters in the first and last names and the order of consonants and vowels and postition of doubled letters in the last names is identical.

However, any resemblance is purely coincidental as Dodgson first published poetry under the name of Lewis Carroll several years before he met Alice. It is believed that his nom de plume was derived from his mother’s maiden name, Lutwidge, the German for which is Lewis, and the Latin for Charles, Carolus (Batey 3).