Alice Pleasance Liddell was one of Charles Dodgson’s (the real name of Lewis Carroll) many child friends. She was his main inspiration for the stories “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there”. Dodgson told her many stories, and the Wonderland story was one of the tales he invented to amuse her and her sisters.
- Full name: Alice Pleasance Liddell (Hargreaves, after marriage)
- Date of birth: 4 May 1852
- Date of death: 15 November 1934
Alice was born on 4 May 1852 and was the 4th 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’. We know this 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.”
The older brothers and sister were Edward Henry (called 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 (called Eric, 1865) and Lionel (1868). She had one more little brother named James, who also 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.
From 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 limited his access to Alice and her sisters. From July until December 1863 he did not see them at all, and after that he saw them rarely. He sent her his books, with nostalgic dedications in it. The reason of the break between Dodgson and Alice has been the source of much speculation.
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.
In 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.
Gardner, Martin. The Annotated Alice. Wings Books, 1998.