January 16, 2018
Charles Dodgson's AliceOn this day in 1862, while rowing on the Thames at Oxford, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) began to tell the three Liddell sisters the story that would become Alice in Wonderland. Alice, the ten-year-old middle sister, was so taken with this improvisation that she badgered Dodgson to complete it; when he had it done two and a half years later he presented it to her, with his own illustrations and bound in leather, as a Christmas gift. By this time many friends had read or listened to the story with enthusiasm, and Dodgson was already well along with his plans to publish. When the book came out in 1865, most critics seemed relieved to find a children's book that was not preachy-sugary, nor yet more Grimm, but a tale of "nonsense so graceful and so full of humor that one can hardly help reading it through." Alice in Wonderland and its sequels were wildly popular throughout Dodgson's lifetime, and remain among the top handful of all-time best-sellers.
Dodgson was an Oxford lecturer in mathematics, but one bitten by the new craze for portrait photography. As remembered by Alice Liddell, Dodgson's storytelling was a habit developed as part of his photographic technique, something to relax and occupy his young models while waiting for the right pose or for the chemicals to work:
But Dodgson delights in leading those who would know him or his book a merry dance. Speaking of which, to one of his young friends: "As to dancing, my dear, I never dance, unless I am allowed to do it in my own peculiar way.... The last house I tried it in, the floor broke through. But then it was a poor sort of floor -- the beams were only six inches thick, hardly worth calling beams at all: stone arches are much more sensible, when dancing, of my peculiar kind, is to be done." And speaking of the Lobster Quadrille, to Alice:
"There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle -- will you come and join the
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the
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