Alice in Wonderland trivia

On this page you can find several interesting tidbits of information about the Alice books.

The weather on the day the story was told

All the involved persons remember the 4th July, the day the story arose, as a beautiful sunny day. However, Helmut Gernsheim, the historian from the Victorian photography and author of the book ‘Lewis Carroll, photographer’, found out that this day was not sunny or beautiful at all; according to him it was ‘cool and rather wet’.

Apparently the day had started and ended with rain, but around lunch time it cleared for some time and the temperature could have reached as high as 84°F (29°C). (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

Lewis Carroll vs. Charles Ludwidge Dodgson

Dodgson rarely publicly acknowledged that he was also Lewis Carroll. He seldom signed his books, and never gave away his portrait.

colored-mock-turtleDodgson did acknowledge his pen name among his friends (especially in the letters to his child-friends which he signed with that name) but publicly denied any connection with the Alice books. He made some exceptions though, especially when he thought the name ‘Lewis Carroll’ would facilitate his reception when meeting new people.

He regularly returned strangers’ mail addressed to him as Lewis Carroll with a printed leaflet that asserted, “Mr. Dodgson is so frequently addressed by strangers on the quite unauthorized assumption that he claims or at any rate acknowledges the authorship of books not published under his name, that he has found it necessary to print this, once and for all, as an answer to all such applications. He neither claims or acknowledges any connection with any pseudonym, or with any book that is not published under his own name.”

(source: Rackin, D., Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Nonsense, Sense and Meaning, 1991, p.15)

Queen Victoria

The story runs that Queen Victoria, after she had enjoyed ‘Alice in Wonderland’, wrote to Dodgson because she wanted to read more of his work. To her great surprise she received his most recent mathematic book.

However, Dodgson contradicted the tale in a note appended to ‘Symbolic Logic’:

“I take this opportunity of giving what publicity I can to my contradiction of a silly story, which has been going the round of the papers, about my having presented certain books to her Majesty the Queen. It is so constantly repeated, and is such absolute fiction, that I think it worth while to state, once and for all, that it is utterly false in every particular: nothing even resembling it has occurred.”

(source: Urban Legends Reference Pages and Stoffel, S. Lovett, Lewis Carroll in Wonderland. The life and times of Alice and her creator, 1997, p.91)

The Mad Hatter’s riddle: why is a raven like a writing desk?

In a new preface that Carroll wrote for the 1896 edition of Alice, he gave what he considered to be the best answer to the Mad Hatter’s riddle. This is what he wrote:

“Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle as originally invented, had no answer at all.”

Note the spelling of “never” as “nevar” (discovered by Denis Crutch). Carroll intended to spell “raven” backwards. The word was corrected to “never” in all later printings, perhaps by an editor who thought he had found a printer’s error.

Because Carroll died soon after this “correction” had destroyed the ingenuity of his answer, the original spelling was never restored. Whether Carroll was aware of the damage done to his clever answer is not known. (If you want to know other solutions for the riddle, visit this page at the Lewis Carroll homepage.) 

The photograph in Alice’s Adventures under Ground

On the last page of the original manuscript, Dodgson had stuck an oval photograph of Alice Liddell. An American Carroll expert, Morton N. Cohen, discovered that beneath the photograph lay a drawing of Alice from Carroll.

Dinah and Villikins

The Liddells actually had a kitten named Dinah, and also a second one, named Villikins. They were not black and white (Dodgson probably gave them that color to fit into the chess game), but tabbies. This is the song after which the Liddells kittens have been named:

‘As Villikins was a-val-i-king in his garding one day,
He called his dear Dinah and to her did say:
Go dress yourself Dinah in gorg-e-ous array,
And I’ll bring you a hus-i-band both lov-er-ly and gay!
Singing tooral-i-tooral-i-ay.’

(source: Graham, E., Lewis Carroll and the writing of Through the Looking Glass, as an introduction in a Penguin edition of the Alice books)

The frontispiece illustration

Tenniel’s illustration of the Jabberwock was originally intended as the book’s frontispiece, but it turned out to be so horrible that Carroll thought it might be better to replace it with another one. Therefore, he conducted a private poll of about thirty mothers by sending them the following letter:

“I am sending you, with this, a print of the proposed frontispiece for Through the Looking Glass. It has been suggested to me that it is too terrible a monster, and likely to alarm nervous and imaginative children: and that at any rate we had better begin the book with a pleasanter subject.

So I am submitting the question to a number of friends, for which purpose I have had copies of the frontispiece copied off.

We have three courses open to us:

  1. To retain it as the frontispiece
  2. To transfer it to its proper place in the book (where the ballad occurs which it is intended to illustrate) and substitute a new frontispiece.
  3. To omit it altogether.

The last named course would be a great sacrifice of the time and trouble which the picture cost, and it would be a pity to adopt it unless it is really necessary.

I should be grateful to have your opinion, (tested by exhibiting the picture to any children you think fit) as to which of the courses is best.”

Apparently most mothers chose the second course, for the picture of the White Knight on horseback became the frontispiece. (source: Gardner, M., The Annotated Alice, 1998, p.196)

The pronunciation of the name ‘Liddell’

We know how the name ‘Liddell’ was pronounced thanks to a couplet, which was
composed in Carroll’s day by the students at Oxford. It went as followed:

“I am the Dean and this is Mrs. Liddell.
She plays the first, and I the second fiddle.”

(source: Gardner, M., The Annotated Alice, 1998, p.100)

Carrollian spelling

alice-with-bottleIn the Victorian age, spelling was different than it is nowadays. However, Lewis Carroll also had his own thoughts about what proper spelling should be. Therefore, in the original editions of the books you’ll see spelling that may appear to be incorrect.

In his preface to ‘Sylvie and Bruno’, Carroll explains his choices:

“Other critics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as “ca’n’t”, “wo’n’t”, “traveler”. In reply, I can only plead my firm conviction that the popular usage is wrong.

As to “ca’n’t”, it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in “n’t”, these letters are an abbreviation of “not”; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, “not” is represented by “‘t”! In fact “can’t” is the proper abbreviation for “can it”, just as “is’t” is for “is it”.

Again, in “wo’n’t”, the first apostrophe is needed, because the word “would” is here abridged into “wo”: but I hold it proper to spell “don’t” with only one apostrophe, because the word “do” is here complete.

As to such words as “traveler”, I hold the correct principle to be, to double the consonant when the accent falls on that syllable; otherwise to leave it single. This rule is observed in most cases (e.g. we double the “r” in “preferred”, but leave it single in “offered”), so that I am only extending, to other cases, an existing rule. I admit, however, that I do not spell “parallel”, as the rule would have it; but here we are constrained, by the etymology, to insert the double “l”.”

Mistakes in the text

Although Carroll scrutinized and revised his story over and over again until his death, he still overlooked several errors.

In chapter 2, the White Rabbit exclaims: “Oh! the Duchess, the Duchess! Oh! won’t she be savage if I’ve kept her waiting!” and repeats a similar line in chapter 4. This should be the Queen of Hearts, not the Duchess. It is a left over from the original version of the story, before publication, in which there was no Queen of Hearts but a ‘Marchioness of Mock Turles’. This may also explain the Queen’s question to Alice whether she has yet seen the Mock Turtle. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

Carroll isn’t always consisted with the genders of the inhabitants of Wonderland. The White Rabbit one time is referred to as ‘he’, but another time he is neuter. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

The White Rabbit’s exclaims ‘Oh my fur and whiskers’ in chapter 3, but earlier he used the expression ‘my ears and whiskers’. This may be either a mistake of the author, or the Rabbit just uses variations of this saying. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

Gryphons have claws and turtles have flippers, and Tenniel’s illustration indeed clearly shows those on the Gryphon and Mock Turle. Still, Carroll refers to their front limbs as ‘paws’ in chapter 9. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)