How the story began
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll, the author) often told stories to his child-friends, amongst which Alice and her sisters. Sometimes these stories, which he made up on the spot, were told when they were visiting him in his rooms, sometimes on other occasions, like river picknicks.
The first version of the story of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” arose at 4 July 1862. Charles Dodgson, his friend reverend Canon Duckworth, and the sisters Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell were on one of their boat trips on the river Isis (the local name for the stretch of the Thames that flows through Oxford) from Oxford to Godstow. Alice grew restless and begged Dodgson for a story “with lots of nonsense in it”. Dodgson began, and, as usual, invented the story while he was telling it. Much of the story was based on a picnic a couple of weeks earlier when they had been caught in the rain.
Several times Dodgson tried to break off the story (‘all until next time’), but the children were not to be put off. They didn’t return at the Deanery until late in the evening.
This is how Duckworth described the trip afterwards:
“I rowed stroke and he rowed bow (the three little girls sat in the stern) … and the story was actually composed over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell, who was acting as ‘cox’ of our gig … I remember turning round and saying, ‘Dodgson, is this an extempore romance of yours?’ And he replied, ‘Yes, I’m inventing it as we go along.’ “
On two other boat trips, Dodgson continued the series of ‘Alice stories’. At that point, they were more a collection of individual tales than one integral story.
Read how Dodgson described the trip and the invention of the story, in his article ‘Alice on the Stage‘.
It is not known how long exactly Dodgson took to finish his tale. More than a month later, on 6 August 1862, he records in his diary that he took the girls on another boat trip and “had to go on with my interminable fairy-tale of ‘Alice’s Adventures.'”.
In an article in the New York Times of April 4th 1928, Alice Liddell recalled:
“The begining of Alice was told to me one summer afternoon ,when the sun was so hot we landed in the meadows down the river, deserting the boat to take refuge in the only bit of shade to be found, which was under a newly made hayrick. Here from all three of us, my sisters and myself, came the old petition, ‘Tell us a story’ and Mr. Dodgson began it. Sometimes to tease us, Mr. Dodgson would stop and say suddenly, ‘That’s all till next time.’ ‘Oh,’ we would cry, ‘it’s not bedtime already!’ and he would go on. Another time the story would begin in the boat and Mr. Dodgson would pretend to fall asleep in the middle, to our great dismay.”
Normally, after a story had been told, it vanished in air as quickly as Dodgson had invented them. However, Alice must have liked these particular stories very much, because she asked Dodgson to write the story down for her. Initially, he was hesitant, but eventually he gave in to Alice’s pleads. Dodgson stayed up late that night to jot down the main events, and sketched an initial outline of the story the day after, during a train journey.
He started the writing of the full text on 13 November 1862, and completed it on 10 February 1863 (source). Dodgson expanded the story somewhat when writing out his oral tales. In the article ‘Alice on the Stage‘ he tells us: “In writing it out, I added many fresh ideas, which seemed to grow of themselves upon the original stock”.
When the story was finished, he copied it out again, more carefully and in a hand that Alice would find legible, and left spaces for pictures of his own drawings. He called this manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground“. Before he added the drawings, he practiced first by creating several sketches. On 13 September 1864 he had finished the pictures, and thereby completed the manuscript.
Dodgson retained the manuscript version for reference as he expanded the book into “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (see below). (source) He finally presented the finished manuscript, a leather booklet, to Alice as a Christmas gift, on 26 November 1864.
Publishing the story
Dodgson’s friend and novelist Henry Kingsley saw the manuscript text and encouraged him to publish the book. Dodgson asked advice from his other friend, George MacDonald, an author of children’s books. MacDonald took the manuscript home to read it to his children, and his six-year-old son Greville declared that he “wished there were 60,000 copies of it”, so Dodgson decided to publish it, and finance the whole project himself. This happened sometime early in 1863.
Before doing so, Dodgson revised the story by cutting out the references to the previous picnic and expanded the original tale considerably; he added some chapters, altered some poems and added jokes that had occurred to him later. The first version had not included “The Caucus Race”, “Pig and Pepper” and “A Mad Tea-Party”. The Cheshire Cat had not been invented, the Ugly Duchess was called “the Marchioness of Mock Turtles”, the part of the Mock Turtle’s schooldays lacked and the greater part of the Trial scenes was written later. The Mouse Tale was different.
The story also got a new title. In a letter to a friend Dodgson explained that he feared that “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” might appear to be a book containing ‘instruction about mines’ and therefore suggested:
“Alice among the elves / goblins” or
“Alice’s hour / doings / adventures in elf-land / wonderland”
He personally preferred “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, so this became the final title.
Dodgson liked to draw himself, and originally wanted to use his own illustrations for the published edition, but eventually admitted that his talents lay in directions other than those of a draughtsman. Around 25th January 1864 he approached Sir John Tenniel, a cartoonist for the magazine ‘Punch’, to draw the illustrations. Dodgson provided Tenniel with detailed instructions how to draw them. Read more about the illustration process.
Dodgson was very concerned about how his book would look, and discussed the options extensively with his publisher. He chose the color bright red for the cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On 11 November 1864, Dodgson wrote to Macmillan:
“I have been considering the question of the colour of Alice’s Adventures, and have come to the conclusion that bright red will be the best – not the best, perhaps, artistically, but the most attractive to childish eyes. Can this colour be managed with the same smooth, bright cloth that you have in green?”
The very first edition did not have gilt edges. Dodgson wrote to Macmillan on May 24th, 1865:
“As I want it to be a table-book, I fancy it would look better with the edges evenly cut smooth, and no gilding”
The book was ready on 4 July 1865, exactly 3 years after the famous boat trip. The first edition consisted of 2,000 prints, but because of Tenniel’s dissatisfaction with the printing of the pictures and because of ink bleed on the pages, all 50 (presentation) copies that had been bound by that time, were recalled within a month. All but about 23 copies were successfully fetched back and donated to children’s hospitals and the like. (For a detailed description of all known presentation copies, see ‘Census of copies of the suppressed 1865 Alice by Selwyn Goodacre’, in: ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, an 1865 printing re-described and newly identified as the Publisher’s ‘File copy’, by Justin Schiller. The Jabberwocky, 1990‘.)
In a second attempt, again 2,000 copies were produced, using a new printer (Richard Clay of Bungay, in stead of Oxford University Press) and paper of better quality. (source: ‘Census of copies of the suppressed 1865 Alice by Selwyn Goodacre’, in: ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, an 1865 printing re-described and newly identified as the Publisher’s ‘File copy’, by Justin Schiller. The Jabberwocky, 1990) This new ‘first edition’ was published on 18 November 1865 (but dated 1866) – although often the date of 26 November is mentioned. (source: C. Lovett, Knight Letter, Lewis Carroll Society of North America, nr. 95). Copies mainly have light blue end papers, or sometimes dark green end papers. (source) Its paper quality, as well as its typesetting, are obviously better than the original first edition. This new first edition did have gilded edges, as Macmillan advised Dodgson to adopt this. It sold for 7s 6d. (source: Zoe Jaques and Eugene Gidders, “Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. A Publishing History”, Ashgate Studies in Publishing History, Ashgate Publishing, 2016)
Dodgson was not only very particular about the printing of his book, but also kept a tight reign on how Macmillan was promoting the volume, and wanted to be kept informed about how it was selling. He also tried to influence its pricing several times, and thought about making it available in different formats, like a cheap edition for middle class children.
As the book was an immediate success, a second edition was printed soon, consisting of two print runs of 2,000 each in September 1866. It was published in November 1866. By the end of 1866, 5,000 copies had already been sold. The third edition (2,000 copies) therefore appeared in 1867, as did the fourth (2,500 copies). The fifth appeared in 1868. (source: Zoe Jaques and Eugene Gidders, “Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. A Publishing History”, Ashgate Studies in Publishing History, Ashgate Publishing, 2016)
Since the second edition, issues of the Macmillan books have the date and number of the ‘thousand’ on the title page, as was a binding convention, up to the 98th thousand in 1932. This number indicates the number of issued books in thousands. For example, if the 1st and 2nd edition had consisted of 6,000 copies, and the 3rd edition would consist of 3,500 copies, books from the 3rd edition would be copies of the 6th thousand to the 9th thousand. So copies of the 7th and 8th thousand are from different print runs, but from the same edition. It also means that copies of the same thousand can be from different editions.
Dodgson kept scrutinizing all editions of his tale, complaining often to Macmillan about the quality of the printing, pictures, and typesetting. It was very obvious that he was more concerned about the look of his book than of the profit he was making. In one of his letters to Macmillan he wrote: “So long as it is really handsome, its paying or not is a matter of minor importance.”
Macmillan’s last reprint was in 1942. (source)
Even after publishing the story, Dodgson kept improving it. Every new edition showed some small changes compared to the previous one, which Dodgson called ‘errata’.
Up to 1868, the text was printed in letter press, so Dodgson was able to make corrections easily. After 1868, the pages were set in electrotype, which meant only minor corrections were possible. (source)
Besides many minor changes in a.o. punctuation, typesetting, grammar and spelling, there sometimes were some more noticeable changes. For example, in the seventy-ninth thousand 6s edition, issued in December 1886, the poem “‘Tis the Voice of the Lobster” was expanded. Also the shape of the mouse’s tail poem was altered. Dodgson made about 400 changes to the 1886 edition, which is an enormous amount and must have been a lot of work.
Interestingly, when he made the final changes to his book in 1897 (Dodgson died in 1898, preventing him from making even more), many of these earlier corrections were omitted in the final version. This was probably by accident: Dodgson thought it a waste to spoil the printer’s file copies of the most recent version by marking and correcting them, and therefore worked from old copies he had received from a child-friend. These copies consisted of the 1882 edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the 1880 edition of “Through the Looking Glass”, bound in a single volume, which therefore did not contain all his most recent corrections. Apparently he had forgotten about them. (source: Zoe Jaques and Eugene Gidders, “Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. A Publishing History”, Ashgate Studies in Publishing History, Ashgate Publishing, 2016, p. 101)
His final changes were also extensive, and included changing all instances of “won’t”, “can’t” and “shan’t” to include an additional apostrophe (“wo’n’t”, “ca’n’t”, “sha’n’t”). The Dormouse was now referred to as ‘he’ in stead of ‘it’ (although not everywhere in the book).
As the 9th edition from 1897 (the ’86th thousand’) was Dodgson’s last revised edition, it is being seen as the definitive edition of the book. This one is commonly used by translators. Although one could argue that the ‘real’ definitive edition should be the 1886 edition combined with the changes made for the 1897 edition.
Selwyn Goodacre has meticulously listed all changes between the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th editions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and also changes in “Though the Looking Glass”. See:
- “The Textual Alterations to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865-1866″, S. Goodacre, Jabberwocky, Winter 1973
- “The Textual Alterations to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1866-1867″, S. Goodacre, Jabberwocky, Winter/Spring 1988
- “The Textual Alterations for the 4th Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1867/1868″, S. Goodacre, The Carrollian, Issue 22, Autumn 2008-published September 2011
- “The Textual Alterations for the 5th Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1868″, S. Goodacre, The Carrollian, Issue 22, Autumn 2008-published September 2011
- “Lewis Carroll’s 1887 Corrections to Alice”, S. Goodacre, The Library, 28.2, 1975, p. 135
- “Lewis Carroll’s Alterations for the 1897 6s. Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, S. Goodacre
- “The Textual Alterations for the 1897 6s Edition of Through the Looking Glass“, S. Goodacre, The Carrollian, Issue 22, Autumn 2008-published September 2011
If you want to study the exact changes, you can order these issues from the Lewis Carroll Society.
Although Dodgson was very picky about the looks of his book in the UK, he was much less concerned about the quality of the books that were sold in America. Apparently he did not have a high opinion of the US book market. To limit his loss on the recalled first edition, he allowed the remaining printed but unbound copies of the recalled 1865 edition to be sold to the American firm D. Appleton & Co. in April 1866. The sheets were bound in England, the edges were gilded, and the book was published in May 1866 under the Appleton imprint with a cancel title page. These copies are generally known as ‘the Appleton Alice’. (source)
In 1887, Macmillan issued cheaper versions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, styled as ‘People’s Edition’ in green pictorial cloth.
In March 1885 Dodgson asked Alice’s permission to publish a facsimile of the original manuscript “Alice’s Adventures under Ground”. He wanted any profits that might arise from the book to be given to Children’s Hospitals and Convalescent Homes for Sick Children. The publication did not go very smoothly, because there were problems with the creation and delivery of the zinc-blocks, which eventually led to a lawsuit. (source: “The life and letters of Lewis Carroll” by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood) The facsimile finally appeared on 22 December 1886 in an edition of 5,000 copies, published by Macmillan & Co, and bound in red cloth. Eldridge Johnson, a later owner of the manuscript, published a facsimile of the volume in 1936. A number of other facsimiles have been printed since.
Dodgson later completely rewrote the tale and called it “The Nursery Alice“. It was a shortened and simplified version for very small children ‘from nought to five’, without the puns and irony in the original tale. According to his diary, Dodgson first conceived the idea of a nursery version of Alice in the beginning of 1881, and it was published in 1889. It contained 20 of Tenniel’s illustrations enlarged and colored, and had a new cover illustration by E. Gertrude Thomson.
Dodgson again was dissatisfied with the printing quality of the illustrations, so after a prolonged negotiation with MacMillan, 4.000 copies were sold to America. Of the remaining 6.000 sheets, a portion were issued in 1891 as a “People’s Edition” and the remainder were issued in 1897 as a cheap issue. The new edition was published on March 25 1890, also in an edition of 10.000 copies. (Source: Charles C. Lovett and Stephanie B. Lovett, “Lewis Carroll’s Alice ~ An Annotated Checklist of The Lovett Collection”)
Sale of the manuscript
The original manuscript of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” was sold for the 1st time at Sotheby’s (Lot # 319) in 1928. The popular, but maybe untrue, story surrounding the sale is that Alice Liddell Hargreaves, then an almost seventy-year-old widow, needed money, so approached Sotheby’s about selling the original manuscript. The tension and excitement surrounding this auction was incredible.
Dring of Quaritch’s bidding on behalf of the British Museum went up to £12,500. B.D. Maggs, representing the American dealer Gabriel Wells, dropped out at £15,200. Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, bidding in anticipation of finding a buyer, became the new owner for £15,400 (then equivalent to $77,000). After the sale, Rosenbach offered the manuscript at cost to the British Museum. The funds to keep this work in England could not be raised, so Rosenbach took the manuscript back to America. (Wolf, p. 287). It was almost immediately sold to Eldridge Johnson for ‘cost plus ten’ (Wolf, p. 297). Johnson kept the manuscript for 20 years, displaying it once at Columbia University’s Carroll Centernary Exhibition. He also published a facsimilie of it.
In 1946, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground was sold by Johnson’s heirs at a Parke-Bernet auction. Again, it was knocked down to Rosenbach, but this time for $50,000. A campaign was initiated by several American business men to raise the money to purchase the book. In 1848, they donated it to the British Museum as an expression of international good will. (source: Edwin Wolf, ‘Rosenbach: a biography’ (1960) and http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/4354/janlithistp3.html)
The manuscript currently is on permanent display in the British Museum.
Copyrights and translations
The British copyright on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” expired in 1907.
In Dodgson’s time, there were no international copyright laws as we know them now. This meant that foreign publishers were legally allowed to produce their own copies, without requiring permission or paying Dodgson or Macmillan for it. Although the first US edition (by Appleton) was published with permission and with payment for the original printed sheets, soon other unauthorized copies started to appear on the American market.
The first German, French, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Russian, and (abbridged) Dutch translations were supervised by Dodgson and published by Macmillan. Dodgson selected the translators himself. By circulating copies among friends, colleagues, and advisors before having them printed, he tried to ascertain whether the verses, puns, and other elements were properly translated. The very first translation appeared in Germany in February 1869. In the summer of that same year, the first French translation was published. The Swedish one appeared in 1870, and in 1872 an Italian one followed. There was an abbridged Dutch version in 1875 in which the name ‘Alice’ was changed to ‘Marie’. In that same year the Danish translation was published. The Russion translation appeared in 1879. Unfortunately, the translations did not sell very well. (source: Zoe Jaques and Eugene Gidders, “Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. A Publishing History”, Ashgate Studies in Publishing History, Ashgate Publishing, 2016, p. 109-113)
By now, the story has been translated into more than 174 different languages, including Korean, Japanese, Egyptian and Arabic. In 2015, 7,609 published editions have been identified all over the world, and the number keeps increasing. (source: “Alice in a World of Wonderlands”, J.A. Lindseth and A. Tannenbaum, Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, 2015)
After the Bible, Koran and Shakespeare, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is the most frequently quoted and best known in the world.
If you want to know more details about the transformation of the story from oral tales into a manuscript and into a printed version, or about printing and publishing details, I recommend reading the following excellent sources:
- “From Under Ground to Wonderland“, Matt Demakos, Knight Letter, Spring 2012, Volume II Issue 18, nr. 88 and “From Under Ground to Wonderland Part II“, Matt Demakos, Knight Letter, Winter 2012, Volume II Issue 19, nr. 89
These articles analyse in detail which additions were made and what was changed to the original manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”, to become the published version “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.
- “Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: A Publishing History“, Zoe Jaques and Eugene Giddens, Routledge, 2013
An in-depth overview of the publication process of both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”, the creation of the illustrations, printing problems, pricing, publications abroad, and Carroll’s additional publications like ‘The Nursery Alice’.
- “A Note on Macmillan’s Lewis Carroll Bindings“, Robert J. Milevski, Knight Letter, Spring 2014, Volume II issue 22, Nr. 92
About the different tickets (‘Bound by Burn’ stickers) that can be found in Carroll’s and MacMillan’s publications bound by James Burn & Co, which may help with identifying an edition.
- “Alice in Many Tongues: The Translation of Alice in Wonderland“, Warren Weaver
A history of translations of Alice In Wonderland, and a (by now outdated) bibliography of foreign editions. For a more recent and complete bibliography, see “Alice in a World of Wonderlands“.