Jeslyn's Reviews > The Alice Behind Wonderland

The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester
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's review
Jan 10, 12

Read from January 05 to 09, 2012

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.

Winchester also commits what I consider the cardinal sin of non-fiction writing: filling in the blanks of history with supposition and assumption. Disappointing, to say the least.

Lastly: one photograph??? This made no sense to me, particularly given the fact that Winchester describes in minute detail another photo of Alice that Dodgson shot the same day, prior to "The Photo", key to his assertion that it is a major departure from the controversial photograph included in the book. This major oversight leaves the reader to trust Winchester's assessment that Alice's expression is significantly different than any other photos. A simple Google search quickly brings up the other photographs in question, and Alice's expression looks quite consistent in each of them.

Winchester doesn't fall in with the opinion that Dodgson's photography was pedophilic, or that he was inappropriately enamored of Alice or the other young children he befriended, which I appreciated. However, the best part of this book was the "Suggestions For Further Reading", this quote in particular:

"It is testament to the enduringly enigmatic nature of the two Alice books that so much precious and quasi-academic scholarship now enfolds their study, with the years bringing groanings of new works - perhaps this one included, of course - that each adds but minutely to the patina of knowledge."

Minutely, indeed.


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