About Alice Liddell

Inspiring the story

Alice Pleasance Liddell was one of Charles Dodgson’s many child friends. She was his main inspiration for the stories “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll) told her many stories, and the Wonderland story was one of the tales he invented to amuse her and her sisters.

Parents, brothers and sisters

Alice was born on 4 May 1852 and was the 4rd child and second daughter of the Dean from the Christ Church College in Oxford, Henry George Liddell, and Lorina Liddell. ‘Liddell’ is pronounced to rhyme with ‘fiddle’.

The older brothers and sister were Harry (1848), Lorina (1849), and Arthur (1850, but died in 1853). Her sister Edith was born two years later, in 1854. Her other brothers and sisters were Rhoda (1858), Violet (1864), Frederick (Eric) (1865) and Lionel (1868). She had one more little brother, who died young. It was with Lorina and Edith that Alice went on the famous boat trip, and these sisters appear in the story too.

In 1876 Edith died, aged only 22 and just before she was to be married. This was a huge shock for the family.

Alice and Charles Dodgson

On 25th February 1856, Henry Liddell, the new Dean, moved into the Deanery at Christ Church. At this time Dodgson was sub-librarian and the window of his room overlooked the Deanery garden, where Alice and her sisters played. Dodgson came in contact with the Liddell’s via the Dean’s niece, Fredrika Liddell, whom he had sketched. He met the Liddell family in February 1856 during a train trip. Two months later, on 25 April, he met Alice during a photo session with his friend Reginals Southey, on which occasion he was photographing Christ Church Cathedral. He was able to meet her and her sisters properly on 3 June when he photographed them.

Photograph of Alice LiddellFrom then on, Alice, Lorina and Edith visited Dodgson regularly, and Dodgson formed a strong friendship with them, but his relation with Mrs. Liddell and the Dean was not very heartily.

By the latter part of 1856 Mrs. Liddell had asked Dodgson not to take anymore photographs, and he understood that he was intruding too much. But when the Liddell’s went on a vacation and left the children in the care of their governess, Miss Prickett (it was rumoured that Dodgson had an affair with her, but he wrote in his diary that he thought it ‘so groundless a rumour’), she let Dodgson visit the children again, and this continued when their parents returned.

During the period of publishing ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, Dodgson’s relationship with Alice began to diminish; her mother became concerned about their friendship and limited his access to them. From July until December 1863 he did not see them at all, and after that he saw them rarely.

The Liddell-Riddle

Hundredths of letters from Dodgson to his child friends have been kept, but the letters to Alice Liddell have disappeared. Moreover, parts of his diary which concerned his friendship with Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell in the crucial years 1858-1862 are missing. This is called the Liddell-Riddle. The pages were about the following:

Alice and Edith were sent to Dodgson to organize a boat trip to Nuneham. Dodgson wrote in his diary:”a pleasant expedition, with a very pleasant conclusion”. He wrote this, because he went back by foot with Alice, Lorina and Edith. Two days later, he sent a letter to Mrs. Liddell ‘urging her to send the children over to be photographed’, something he very often did.

What happened after that has been a source of speculation for quite some time; after Dodgson’s death, these pages have been ripped out the diary and the previous page has been altered by another hand to hide the disappearance of the chapter. The result of these days was the break between Dodgson and the Liddells. Mrs. Liddell tore up all the letters of Dodgson to Alice.

In another (surviving) part of Carroll’s diary, he mentions being out of Mrs. Liddell’s good graces “ever since Lord Newry’s business”. Newry was an undergraduate at Christ Church and Mrs. Liddell hoped he might marry one of her daughters. When Lord Newry wanted to give a ball, which was against college rules, Carroll voted against his petition. (source: Gardner M., “The Annotated Alice – the definitive edition”, introduction to More Annotated Alice) However, it is not certain that this was the cause of the break.

As mentioned before, Dodgson kept in contact with Alice, but they saw each other rarely. He sent her his books, with nostalgic dedications in it.

Some time ago, more information about the possible contents of these pages has emerged.

Love and marriage

Alice was 20 years old when Prince Leopold (the youngest son of Queen Victoria) arrived at Christ Church, as an undergraduate from 1872 until 1876. It is rumoured that there was a romance, but Alice was a ‘commoner’ and a marriage was not allowed.

Photograph of Alice LiddellIn 1880 Alice married Reginald Hargreaves. Dodgson was not present at her wedding, but did sent her, together with a friend, a present.

She had three sons, of which two died in WWI. She lived until her death at the estate Cuffnells, in Hampshire. It’s amusing to know that Alice called her first son Leopold (Prince Leopold became his godfather) and Leopold called his daughter Alice…

Alice was an educated woman, she painted and moreover lived the life of a land-lady.


In 1928, Alice sold her manuscript of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”, because she needed the money to pay death duties. Sotheby’s suggested a reserve of only £4,000, but in the event it fetched £15,400 (an enormous amount of money for those days: it was then equivalent to £77,000) and it went to America.

End of life

In 1932, when she was 80, Alice published her memoirs. She also went to New York because of the centenary of Dodgson’s birth and was made a Doctor in Literature by Columbia University. This was her last engagement on behalf of Wonderland, because at that age she got really exhausted of being ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

Alice died on 15 November 1934.