The Alice Behind Wonderland
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The Alice Behind Wonderland

3.18 of 5 stars 3.18  ·  rating details  ·  295 ratings  ·  95 reviews
On a summer's day in 1858, in a garden behind Christ Church College in Oxford, Charles Dodgson, a lecturer in mathematics, photographed six-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the college dean, with a Thomas Ottewill Registered Double Folding camera, recently purchased in London.





Simon Winchester deftly uses the resulting image--as unsettling as it is famous, and the su...more
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Published May 24th 2011 by HarperAudio (first published February 11th 2011)
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Jim Coughenour
A pleasant harmless book that fails to live up to either its subject or its author's reputation. There's little here about the "the original Alice" and what there is is fairly dismissive. Two pages from the end, Winchester writes that "Alice's later years were suffused with a terrible sadness" – which seems sweeping and idiotically glib when he continues "She missed something, and we all may like to imagine precisely what that something was: long-ago golden Oxford summer afternoons, that time of...more
John Keahey
This is a nicely done book by a master storyteller. Simon Winchester looks into the photograph of the real Alice -- Alice Liddell, the young daughter of a dean at Oxford -- to whom he told the original story of a young girl "Underground" named Alice. (It didn't become "Wonderland" until the book was published.) Winchester writes about how Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, learned the new art of photography and how, through his friendship with young children, turned into a master portrait ph...more
Joe
This is the first of Winchester's books I've read that has really disappointed me.

Winchester is known for picking an event and exploring it exhaustively, showing the circumstances that led up the event, and its repercussions. His books about natural disasters (Krakatoa, the San Francisco Earthquake) are among his best; his analysis in these explores both human and scientific (specifically geological) sides, and balances them really well.

This book has none of that. His writing style is there; it...more
Maya Panika
A very slim volume – just 100 pages – detailing Charles Dodgson’s fascination with the then, very new art/science of photography, and his subsequent relationship with Alice Liddell, who he was to immortalise as the central character in Alice in Wonderland.

The book is full of detail on Dodgson’s love of taking pictures; it scrupulously avoids passing judgement on just why Dodgson’s subject-of-choice was of very young girls, often in strangely provocative poses. The author prefers to dodge the us...more
Terry
If this was written by one of my students, I might put "Erm, a bit...overwritten" in the margins. Ha. Winchester is quite a delightful and erudite writer and I enjoyed his voice. I think this book very clearly takes A Side and sticks with it and either ignores or dismisses any criticism of a figure Winchester obviously finds completely sympathetic. Hmmm. I read DeSalvo's biography of Virginia Woolf which talked at some length about British/Victorian attitudes toward children and it quite ruined...more
Greg
There's some interesting information in this book including some fascinating background that quite probably combined a number of disparate factors to come together in Charles Dodgson's head to produce that magical book which Alberto Manguel called "a miracle of literature". Two factors of which were his interest in the new art of photography which he shared with his uncle Robert Skiffington, who was a Govt. appointed Commissioner in Lunacy.

The book also gives a clear look at the Victorian era e...more
Joanna
More than the title suggests, this book is not only about the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland, but also about the history of photography and the making of "Lewis Carroll." Charles Dodgson is an interesting character, whom Winchester takes some pains to explain through his relationship with the Liddell family, particularly its younger members. The story that he tells gives the reader the picture of a playful man with an imagination and charm that draw children towards him (and vice versa)....more
Spotsalots
I received my copy as a thank-you from OUP for taking a rather long survey about my teaching; the book looked the most tempting of the thank-you gift options. When it arrived, I realized it might not have been the best choice, being that it is a slim volume by the author of the engaging but problematic The Professor and the Madman.

Like other readers here, I had mixed feelings about the book. It's poetic and provides considerable interesting detail about Dodgson/Carroll's growth as a photographer...more
Shawn Thrasher
Disappointing - from the title, I thought I was going to be reading a book about Alice Liddell, her relationship with Charles Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, the books, and what happened afterwards (which from little I have read before is an interesting story). Instead, this is sort of a history of the beginnings of Victorian photography as art and science and its relationship with Charles Dodgson. Maybe if that is what I had wanted to read I might have liked this a bit more. But it wasn't, and I didn't...more
Rebecca
This brief book explores the history behind Lewis Carroll's famous image of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired 'Alice in Wonderland.' The first part covers Dodgson's (Carroll's) life until he arrived at Oxford, the second part covers the history of photography up until Dodgson got involved, and the last part covered Dodgson's relationship with the Liddells and his photography portraiture hobby. It specifically focuses on the famous image of Alice as a beggar maid, but covers other photographs...more
Beth G.
Yet, for most, even after the book is finally shut and put back, the memory of the image proves hauntingly and lingeringly distracting, and for a long while.

Winchester begins this slim volume with a description of a photograph Charles Dodgson (better known today as Lewis Carroll) took of then-six-year-old Alice Liddell, after a discussion of how the photo ended up in a library at Princeton. This first chapter is a good indication of what is to come: a curiously circuitous look at the life of Dod...more
Jeslyn
This is an odd offering. For a book that comes in at less than 100 pages, Winchester touches on multiple topics - Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll); the Dodgson photography archives at Princeton, UT Austin, etc.; social/academic/religious expectations at Oxford/Christ Church; the birth of photography; Dodgson and photography; Alice Liddell. I haven't included Dodgson's writing of Alice In Wonderland, since it is barely referenced. Given the breadth of topic, each is shallowly attended at best.

Winc...more
Deanna
Simon Winchester is a man who believes a good story should be told completely, and in the process, tells a story like no one else has done. This small book (110 pages, with the index) is centered around the photograph on the cover of Alice Liddell, the Alice for whom "Alice in Wonderland" was created. But it is not a story of the creation of that children's novel except that it shows the character of the man, Charles Dodgson, who became Lewis Carroll, from a fascinating and different way than ha...more
Wayne
Feb 03, 2012 Wayne rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Alice fans, fanatics or obsessives
Recommended to Wayne by: a great photographic gift from Steph
THE LUST FOR ALICE...lick your speculating chops!!!

This book is about one single photograph ostensibly.
As well you get an excellent biography of Charles Dodgson and a short but very absorbing history of the invention of photography by three men really.
Still, it was difficult to grasp what the book was getting at...UNTIL!!!

REVELATION I
UNTIL...the ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...at the end of the book
where the author,entertaining historian Simon Winchester,
refers to "this photographic series" published by
"the...more
Lauren Strickland
I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but I'm trying to teach myself to read outside my comfort zone. While wandering into Alice-in-Wonderland territory isn't exactly exotic for me (I collect copies of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass, as well as other writing on these texts, and random bits of Alice merchandise too!), reading factual accounts of past events - in full, not just a photocopied chapter here or there - is new for me. Simon Winchester's examination of a famous C...more
Janet


I was underwhelmed by this book; it felt a little underdone. In particular, it is often repetitive, as though Winchester thinks his audience will forget salient details - a central character's nickname, for example - and must therefore repeat them with every reference. In a work of 100 pages it seems a low risk.

Several reviews here are critical of the fact that the book doesn't explore Alice Liddell's life in more detail. This is an unreasonable expectation - the subject of the book is not, in...more
Bryna Kranzler
The question of Who was the ‘Alice’ who inspired Alice in Wonderland? has been answered before, but the title of this slim book led me to expect an understanding of how she inspired Lewis Carroll’s (nee Charles Dodgson, whose day job was as an Oxford mathematician) remarkable and timeless story.

We begin with a glimpse of Alice as Carroll photographs her (photography having been a relatively recent invention and an obsession for Dodgson), then scroll back in time to reveal the confluence of posi...more
Susannah
This book is about Lewis Carroll, or rather Charles Dodgson, his hobby as a photographer, and an infamous photo he took of Alice Liddell. Rather than dwelling on the legend of Dodgson's famous book, Alice in Wonderland, it explores his history, his childhood, and his relationship with the Liddell's and what his photographs said about his life. The history of early photography was especially interesting, but unfortunately, for a book about Dodgson's photographs, the only photo featured in it is t...more
Julie
At 100 pages, this was a very quick little read, giving insight into Charles Dodgson's work as a photographer and his depictions of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.

Winchester writes a book that is easy to digest and packs a lot of information into it. I feel like I learned a lot about Dodgson's life. However, he made a reference in the afterword to "quasi-academic scholarship" on the subject of Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, and that's what this felt like to me. In between...more
Sue
Bought on a whim when Amazon sent me a list of books for 99c. Which seems a disgracefully small amount for a book, even an e-book, written by such a well-respected author. But there you have it! At least it brought it to my attention, though how much of the 99c Winchester would have received is a mystery. Not enough to buy even a newspaper. It tells the story of the real life Lewis Carroll, Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician, and his relationship with Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dea...more
Doug
This short book mostly concerns Charles Dodgson's (Lewis Carroll) fascination with photography using the famous photo of Alice Liddell pictured on the cover as a starting point. As always with Winchester's books, the language is lyrical and at the same time erudite. The book is as much about the emergence of photography as an art form as anything else. Again, its 100 pages is chock-full of information on the controversy about Dodgson's relationship with Alice, Ina, the Liddell parents, the break...more
Stephanie McCown
This book is as it says, which is an examination of who Alice Liddell was, and what her relationship with Lewis Carroll/Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was. The author does not shy away from the many rumors relating to LC/CDL, and examines each one to give it the merit it is due...which, more often than not, is no merit at all.

I think this book is a "must read" for any die hard Lewis Carroll fan. It will answer some questions and raise others, perhaps sending one on a quest to further understand the e...more
Judy
At only 100 pages, this seems more like a book proposal than a full study. While I thought that the book was going to be about Alice Liddell, the six year old whose image was captured in an iconic photograph (dressed as a beggar girl with cupped hands and a dress that had slipped off one shoulder and exposed half of her chest) and who was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, she wasn't the main focus. Instead, Charles Dodgson, a mathematics lecturer at Christ College, Oxford University, and...more
Bludhaven
This is probably closeer to three stars. A 2.5 maybe? I enjoyed reading and there were some facts that I did find very interesting, but ultimately I had expected a comletely different book. There isn't very much new information about the "Alice Behind Wonderland" here. There isn't that much information about Alice at all and not too much about Lewis Caroll either.

This is really about photography as a developing art and a hobby in the times of Lewis Caroll. It does describe how potography connect...more
Vicky
I have read several of Winchester's books, my favorite being "The Professor and the Madman", the story of the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary. This one seemed a bit unfinished to me; I think he could have written more about the real Alice. The book is primarily about "Lewis Carroll" as a photographer (and hi splace in the history of photography), specifically the very famous/infamous photograph which appears on the cover of the book. I had no idea Dodgson was such an important photograh...more
Sarah
A quick read exploring Lewis Carroll's photography hobby, with an emphasis on his famous portrait of Alice Liddell. I thought it was quite interesting, especially the section on the development of photography and how early photographs were taken. However, there was surprisingly little about Alice herself (and what there was made me sad for her -- it sounds like she did not have the life Carroll surely would have wished for her), but the main thing the book was lacking was photographs! There was...more
Stefan
I’ve always liked Simon Winchester’s works, particularly for highlighting bits of history hidden far off the beaten track. However, I was a bit let by The Alice Behind Wonderland. I was expecting a biography of sorts, but didn’t really get a fully-fleshed impression of the man. Several parts of the story (such as the introduction describing a room in the Harvard Library) could have been cut out. Other parts of the book, such as Winchester’s examination of the various interpretations of Carroll’s...more
Meaghan Steeves
It was good but left me feeling rather melancholy, and looking for answers. I also expected a bit more backdrop of the creation of the story. Can't win 'em all I suppose!
Carina
I'm a great fan of Winchesters' creative non-fiction works, but this one was sadly disappointing to me.

I was curious to hear more of the story behind Wonderland, but there is surprisingly little in this book about this. There is perhaps a few paragraphs covering the writing of Alice. There is instead an intense concentration on Dodgson's photography hobby, (how/what/when he acquired cameras) and detailed descriptions of unprovided photographs. These form the core content of the book and felt to...more
Hope Huntington
a delightful book. well written. somewhat tedious in photography section, but some would love it. Makes me want to go and read Alice in Wonderland
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel and his articles appear in several travel publi...more
More about Simon Winchester...
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology A Crack in the Edge of the World The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

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