About the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

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.”


Reproduction of the manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”

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.

Carroll 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”

The writing of the manuscript text was started on 13 November 1862, and Dodgson completed it on 10 February 1863 (source). 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 the manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground“. Before he added the drawings, he practiced first by creating several sketches.

Dodgson retained the manuscript version for reference as he expanded the book into “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (see below). (sourceHe 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.

Before doing so, Dodgson revised it 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. On the advice of Duckworth he chose Sir John Tenniel, a cartoonist for the magazine ‘Punch’, to draw the illustrations. However, Dodgson provided Tenniel with detailed instructions how to draw them.

Dodgson chose the color bright red for the cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On 11 November 1864, he 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 original first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The book was printed by Macmillan 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 fetched back within a month. All but about 23 copies were successfully recalled and donated to children’s hospitals and the like.

In a second attempt, again 2,000 copies were produced, using a new printer (Richard Clay of Bungay). (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)

By the end of 1866, 5000 copies had been sold.

Later issues of the English Macmillan edition have the date and number of the ‘thousand’ on the title page up to the 98th thousand in 1932. 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.  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. (sourceIn the 1890s, Dodgson made major revisions to the story, which were published in 1897. The 9th edition from 1897 (the ’86th thousand’) is his last revised edition and is being seen als the definitive edition of the book. This one is commonly used by translators.

Other publications

In April 1866, the remaining printed but unbound copies of the recalled 1865 edition were sold to the American firm D. Appleton & Co.. The sheets were bound in England, the edges were gilded, and the book was published 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.

photo of the original manuscript

Inside of the manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”, in the British Library

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. After the Bible, Koran and Shakespeare, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is the most frequently quoted and best known in the world.

The story has been translated into 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)

Further reading

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
    In this book, the authors offer amongst others a detailed account of the initial publication of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” and list the differences between the manuscripts and printed editions.
  • 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.