Alice’s adventures, funny, inventive and disturbing, have fascinated children and adults alike since their publication. This is a new unabridged recording using many voices to take the parts of The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat – and, of course, Alice herself. It makes for a roller-coaster ride of delightful fantasy.
The unabridged Alice in Wonderland is read by David Horovitch with other voices playing the characters. Alice actresses can be twee and precocious but Jo Wyatt is utterly convincing.
Sue Arnold, The Guardian
‘I sent my heroine down a rabbit-hole… without the least idea what was to happen afterwards,’ said Lewis Carroll when describing the origins of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In fact what did eventually happen was that this story and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, became two of the most famous and well-loved stories in English literature.
Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and he was born on January 27th 1832. At that time the family lived at the parsonage in Daresbury in Cheshire, and Charles was the third born, and first son, of eleven children. Their strict father educated the children at home for many years and it was not until the family moved to Croft on Tees in Yorkshire in 1844 that young Charles first attended Richmond School. As well as entertaining his siblings with games and puppet shows, Charles also enjoyed writing jokes and parodies for them in their family magazine. This was not an unusual activity within large families at that time, and many famous authors began their writing this way. Certainly for Charles it set the tone for later when, as an adult, he would excel at inventing fantasy worlds for an audience of children.
Up until this time children’s books had been strictly instructive
In 1846 Charles became a boarder at Rugby School, an experience he did not much enjoy. He disliked the sports which the school encouraged, although he did shine academically. Consequently his education was continued at Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied mathematics and classics. In 1855 his First Class degree in maths won him a post as a maths lecturer at Christ Church, a position he retained for the rest of his life, although he was not known as a particularly inspirational tutor. He was also a stickler for detail, someone who required order and control in his life, and this made him rather unpopular with the other staff at his college, and probably with the students too.
In the company of children Charles was much more relaxed and possibly rather wished he was still a child himself. In 1856 he wrote wistfully in a poem entitled Solitude, the first poem published under the name of Lewis Carroll, ‘To be once more a little child/For one bright summer-day.’ 1861 saw Charles ordained as a deacon but he did not ever take up a priest’s duties, due mainly to the fact that, like most of his siblings, he suffered from a stammer. He often introduced himself as ‘Do- Do-Dodgson’ and when he wrote about the rather sad character of the do-do in Alice, he was probably parodying himself. The stammer miraculously disappeared in the company of children, however, and Charles began to entertain the children of his friends in much the same way as he had entertained his own siblings, commenting that children were ‘three fourths of my life’.
Charles’s first meeting with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, was in 1856 in the Deanery garden, when he was indulging in another of his interests, photography. He excelled in this new art-form and specialised particularly in portraits of children, especially girls, often inventing stories in order to stop his subjects from fidgeting during photo sessions. Their friendship flourished and during a boating trip with the girls on the River Thames in 1862 Charles, or perhaps Lewis Carroll as we should now call him, first related the adventures of Alice, named after his favourite young friend, Alice Liddell. She begged him to commit the story to paper and thus Alice’s Adventures Underground was born. Lewis Carroll revised this original, renaming it Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and included the illustrations by John Tenniel with which we are all now familiar. Sadly, by the time the work was published in 1865 a disagreement between Lewis Carroll and Alice’s parents had resulted in his being banned from seeing the children. This particularly upset him and it has been said that his anger towards Mrs Liddell may have resulted in his portraying her in the story as the unpleasant Queen of Hearts.
Deeper meanings have also been attributed to other characters and events in the story, and certainly it can be viewed as a sophisticated piece of writing. However, whether seen in this light or as a highly imaginative, humorous and nonsensical fantasy which appeals to children and adults alike, its popularity on publication was without question. Up until this time children’s books had been strictly instructive and consequently Alice represented a turning point in children’s literature.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a humorous story and Lewis Carroll, himself trained in formal logic, used logic to create some of that humour. Examples can be seen in Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat when they discussed in which direction Alice should go, and in the King’s explanation of his comment that ‘there is nothing like eating hay when you’re faint.’ Carroll also used puns: the names for the watery lessons, for example reeling and writhing, are puns on the names of lessons such as reading and writing which Alice Liddell herself would have studied. In addition, many of the poems included in the story are parodies of instructive Victorian children’s poetry which the children would have had to learn and recite. For example ‘You are old, Father William’ parodies ‘The Old Man’s Comforts’ by Robert Southey, and ‘Speak roughly to your little boy’ is a parody of ‘Speak Gently’ by David Bates.
Through the Looking-Glass, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was published in 1871 and the success of the Alice stories transformed Lewis Carroll’s life. It is said that he received an invitation to meet Queen Victoria and that she requested a copy of his next published work. She was probably rather disappointed that it was a maths text book! He was, however, never to repeat the success of the Alice stories and lived the rest of his life in their shadow. He died in 1898 and is buried in Guildford Cemetery.