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 story “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 Carroll described the trip and the invention of the story, in his article ‘Alice on the Stage‘.

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 the next day she asked Dodgson to write the story down for her. In the beginning, he was hesitant, but eventually he gave in to Alice’s pleads.

According to Duckworth, Dodgson sat up all night and sketched an initial outline. Later he expanded it on a train journey with some adventures that had been told on other occasions. 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 it “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground“. Dodgson presented the manuscript, a green leather booklet, to Alice as a Christmas gift, on 26 November 1864.

Publishing the story

Later, Dodgson’s friend and novelist Henry Kingsley saw the manuscript and encouraged him to publish the book. Dodgson asked advice from his other friend, George MacDonald, an author of children’s stories. 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.

alice-head-coloredDodgson 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, Carroll provided Tenniel with detailed instructions how to draw them.

The book was published by Macmillan on 4 July 1865, exactly 3 years after the famous boat trip.

Carroll 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 first edition consisted of 2000 copies, but because of Tenniel’s dissatisfaction with the printing of the pictures they were fetched back within a month. All but about 15 to 22 copies were successfully recalled and donated to children’s hospitals and the like. The new ‘first edition’ was published in November 1865 (but dated 1866). By the end of 1866, 5000 copies had been sold.

In March 1885 Dodgson asked Alice’s permission to publish a facsimile of the original manuscript “Alice’s Adventures under Ground”. It appeared on 22 December 1886 in an edition of 5,000 copies.

Carroll 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, Carroll 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.

Carroll 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 probably 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 manuscriptDring 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. The hammer fell, and Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, bidding in anticipation of finding a buyer, was 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.

In 1946, ‘Alice’ 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 to raise the money to purchase the book for the Library of Congress who would, then, donate it to the British Museum as an expression of international good will. This succeeded, and Luther Evans, the Librarian of Congress, took the manuscript back to England. It can now be seen in the British Museum.
(source: Edwin Wolf, ‘Rosenbach: a biography’ (1960) and http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/4354/janlithistp3.html)

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)