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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’.

H.B. Doherty later reconstructed the weather maps for the day using the detailed weather report that appeared in ‘The Times’ every morning. He states:

On the 4th an active quasi-stationary front lay along the south coast of England. […] It must have rained during the night at Oxford, but cleared by lunchtime, as the front drifted further south. In the afternoon they enjoyed the nearly cloudless skies and very light winds associated with a weak ridge on the north side of the front. The sub of early July would be hot, especially in a boat.

The ‘Volume of Meteorological Observations for the Radcliffe Observatory Oxford 1858-65’ mentioned for 4 July 1862 a shade minimum and maximum of 52 / 68 degrees Fahrenheit (11 / 20°C), and a solar maximum of 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29°C). So despite the starting of the day with rain, it was a ‘golden afternoon’ after all! (Doherty 75-78)

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.”

(Urban Legends Reference Pages and Lovett Stoffel 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.) 

Dinah and Villikens

The Liddells actually had a kitten named Dinah, and also a second one, named Villikens. Villikens was given to Harry, but died young because of poison. Dinah was given to Ina, and became the special pet to which Alice was devoted (Cohen 83).

The kittens were tabbies and were named after a then very popular song, called “Villikins and his Dinah” (Graham).

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.

(Gardner 196)

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 editions of the books based on his textual revisions from 1897, 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”.”

Also typically Carroll is the frequent use of long dashes (called ’em dashes’), which he sometimes doubles.

Carroll appears to have preferred using two words for words we nowadays write as one, like ‘any one’ instead of ‘anyone’, ‘some one’ instead of ‘someone’, and ‘every thing’ instead of ‘everything’ – although he was not always consisent in this (Carroll, ‘Reflecting Alice’ 5).

Typeface / font

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact typeface in which the Clarendon Press printed the 1865 edition and in which Richard Clay printed the 1866 edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. In the 19th century, there were no typefaces with branded names as we now know them. The style of the typeface in the books is very generic: typical of the mid-19th century and similar to many other produced typefaces, and unfortunately never recorded or preserved.

According to Stephen Coles, editorial director and associate curator of San Francisco’s Letterform Archive, the best approximations in digital form are probably Monotype Modern (“al little too light for most texts, but closer in shape”) or Century Expanded (“more contemporary, but better for text”). (Anonymous 52)

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.

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, as is the case with the Dormouse and the White Knight’s horse. Snowdrop starts out as female, but in the final chapter she is neuter, while Kitty always remains neuter. Curiously, the Red Queen chesspiece is also refered to as ‘it’.

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.

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.

(Carroll, ‘Elucidating Alice’ and ‘Reflecting Alice’ 145/178/179)

Works cited

Anonymous. “Just a type” in “Carrollian Notes”. Knight Letter, Lewis Carroll Society of North America, fall 2023, Volume III, issue 11, no. 111.

Carroll, Lewis. Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015.

Carroll, Lewis. “Reflecting Alice. A Textual Commentary on Through the Looking-Glass“. Introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2021.

Cohen, Morton N. Lewis Carroll. Interviews and Recollections. University of Iowa Press, 1989.

Doherty, H.B. “The Weather on Alice in Wonderland Day, 4 July, 1852.” Weather, vol.23, February 1968.

Gardner, Martin. The Annotated Alice. Wings Books, 1998.

Graham, E.. “Lewis Carroll and the writing of Through the Looking Glass”. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, Penguin books.

Lovett Stoffel, Stephanie. Lewis Carroll in Wonderland. The life and times of Alice and her creator. Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

“Urban Legends Reference pages”. www.snopes.com/language/literary/carroll.htm.