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The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland
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The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  379 ratings  ·  75 reviews
Following his acclaimed life of Dickens, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst illuminates the tangled history of two lives and two books. Drawing on numerous unpublished sources, he examines in detail the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories, and analyzes how this relati ...more
Hardcover, 428 pages
Published June 1st 2015 by Belknap Press (first published March 26th 2015)
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Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: Where did Alice stop and 'Alice' begin?

Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage - a shortcut for all that is beautiful and confusing; a metaphor used by artists, writers and politicians for 150 years.

But beneath the fairy tale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. The story of Charles Dodgson the quiet academic, and his second self Lewis Carroll - storyteller, innovator
Anne Rioux
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating biography of a book, a genre I am intensely interested in right now, as I am writing one myself (on Little Women). This is a great example, thoroughly absorbing and full of fascinating detail. Mine is going to be quite a bit different, but it did inspire me.
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Where did Alice stop and 'Alice' begin?

Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage - a shortcut for all that is beautiful and confusing; a metaphor used by artists, writers and politicians for 150 years.

But beneath the fairy tale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. The story of Charles Dodgson the quiet academic, and his second self Lewis Carroll - storyteller, innovator and avid collector of child-friends. And
Robin Stevens
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic biography which helpfully reminded me that Lewis Carroll was, like many other Victorian men, Just The Worst. (14+)

*Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. If you use it in any marketing material, online or anywhere on a published book without asking permission from me first, I will ask you to remove that use immediately. Thank you!*
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
As someone who is Alice-obsessed, I'm amazed that I had not ventured into the backstory until now. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst does a wonderful job of balancing the biographies of both Carroll and Alice Liddell/Hargreaves, as well as presenting all of the information he has within the context of the period; I appreciated that he does not definitely try to fill in the gaps of his narrative and, instead, merely presents theories and likelihoods with each detail he presents. I now have a much broader ...more
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like many children, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” were books I loved as I was growing up and I have since read Alice’s adventures to my own children. As I got older, I gradually became aware of their author – Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of Oxford academic, Charles Dodgson. This book tells the story of Dodgson’s life and interweaves it with that of Alice Liddell; who inspired that story so many years ago.

I was fascinated to read of Charles Dodgson’s
Aug 14, 2015 rated it liked it
As Carroll would have likely appreciated, this is more accurately the story of three Alices--the books, their eponymous inspiration, and the fictional character, who went on to have quite a life of her own. The books' origin story is well known--as is Dodgson's admittedly icky fascination with little girls--and Douglas-Fairhurst trots out enough sad evidence that in another time and place would have landed Dodgson in court if not jail. It's painful to read his woefully misguided correspondence t ...more
T.E. Shepherd
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't read nearly as much non-fiction as I should, and hardly any biographies. Usually when I do read biographies I start off with enthusiasm only to flail and fall flat about 70-100 pages in (aka. get bored).

Not so with this all to readable new biography of Lewis Carroll, which I chanced upon when I heard it serialised on the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week strand. It's actually more, the story of the real Alice (or Alices) behind the Wonderland book, and through her the life of the man who wrote,
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Of the biographies of Lewis Carroll I've been reading, this one is definitely one of the best. It's very clearly written, with good explanations of things like Oxford studentships and interesting discussions of things going on at the time. For instance, I appreciated the discussion of what children's books were like when Dodgson was writing Alice, and it really gives you an idea of how revolutionary and refreshing it must have been. Even today there's a real modern quality to Alice--the books no ...more
Dec 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This took a long time to read mostly because I didn't make it a priority, but also because it's not the easiest book to read. My one, serious complaint is that the chapters are given only numbers, not headings. I really would have loved some guideposts for the chapters, which all ended up being themed or coming to a central point. I had to blindly trust the author to show - eventually - the importance of the numerous details presented to me. Though this book's main title is The Story of Alice, t ...more
Ralph Britton
May 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
A thoughtful and sympathetic treatment of Carroll - his life and work. I had not realised that he had written other works for children besides the 'Alice' books. The author has done a lot of research, though better informed judges than I say he has sometimes accepted dubious hearsay - I thought it thorough and well balanced. Carroll's attitude to children has seemed more questionable to later generations than it was to him, although he was aware of possible disapproval of his nude photographs, w ...more
Jul 11, 2015 rated it liked it
I am really glad that I read this book, but it was a tedious read at times. The life of Lewis Carroll is indeed a fascinating one and his unusual infatuation with young girls has long been a debate of appropriate behavior. Douglas-Fairhurst does an excellent job describing the setting and circumstances of how the lives of Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll intersect at Oxford. The book also does a good job of describing Carroll's odd personality and how his eccentricities clearly result in the wond ...more
Rosario (
I read (or attempted to read) this for my book club. We wanted to choose a biography and the shortlists for the Costa Book Awards had just come out, so we picked one from there. This one sounded interesting to most people, so we went with it.

As the title indicates, this is the story of Alice in Wonderland. It's the story of the book, but also of its author and of the girl that inspired it.

I did not get on with it at all and neither did my fellow book clubers... so much so that we had to cancel
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it

Here's what the book offers:

A study and a combined biographies of Lewis Carroll and Alice Lidell with the background to the Alice books and its afterlife.

Insight to Lewis Carroll: He was an oddity, a scholar of mathematics, lecturer of Christ Church, Oxford, had a curious habit of always wearing cotton gloves, extremely shy, terrified of being photographed, collected musical-boxes, liked little girls in a sentimental way, obessessed with number forty-two, made a lot of fuss about tea, bread & butter etc. etc.

A lite
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As well as being a biography of Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, this is also the story of his most famous book and a biography of his muse Alice Liddell. This was really well-written and very interesting. I liked how the author didn't automatically jump on the paedophile bandwagon but instead presented the information in an unbiased manner. The evidence does suggest though that Carroll had paedophilic tendencies, even if he didn't go any further with his little girl-friends than kisses and words ...more
Annie Cole
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alice, non-fiction
As a little girl, my parents read me Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it instantly became my favourite book. I was enthralled by the absurdity and madness of wonderland. I literally dreamed of talking animals and of finding the garden of live flowers. I regularly puzzled over the impossibility of crying enough tears to swim in; a baby morphing into a pig; a cat disappearing all but its smile. Undoubtably, though, the most significant thing in the book was Alice herself. I grew my hair long a ...more
A frustrating book to review. On one hand, the writing style is clear and engaging. The author has a lively interest in his subject and his enthusiasm comes through.

On the other, the book is so full of guess-work, supposition, occasional inaccuracy and stretching a point beyond reason that it was impossible to read without yelling every few pages. (Although, to be honest, I quite enjoyed the yelling.)

However, this book would have been much better had the writer said "it m
Feb 14, 2016 rated it liked it
This is an unusual though not unpleasant hybrid of traditional biography of Dodgson/Carroll with more thematic essays about his life and work. (Note that this is pointedly not a biography of Alice Liddell: despite the title and a few chapters focusing on her life, she mostly is thoroughly peripheral, and when she does appear, Douglas-Fairhurst seems to find her bourgeois conventionality rather dull.) That is, the chapters generally go in chronological order, and many of them are standard-issue b ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shelf
Had a long think about this book and have decided that it is time I put my thoughts down.
I enjoy Alice in Wonderland and Through the looking-glass. They both are some of my favourite books while I was growing up.
One the one hand it was interesting learning about how the story came to be. I knew she was based on a real girl, but it was nice learning bits and pieces that I didn't know. My copy is full of post-it-notes annotating some quotes or things I found interesting about his life and experi
Jason Bergman
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How much you enjoy this book will be directly in proportion to your interest in the subject matter. If, like me, you are slightly obsessed with Alice and all things Carroll, then you will find much to love here. If not...well, you've been warned.

But if you are interested, there's so much great stuff in here. It does an admirable job at trying to parse out the life and times of Charles Dodgson, Oxford professor, author, and unusual person. Douglas-Fairhurst doesn't shy away from any potential
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
I should propbably start my review by stating that I have never read a biography before. I think it may have been the case that I was put off by their inevitable endings. However, when this book turned up at work, I just had to get it.

I have always had a fascination with Alice in Wonderland. The stories have been with me since I was very young and still hold great interest for me in my 20's as I imagine they always will. Naturally curiosity pulled me in.
I have a love of victorian literature bu
Laura Ruetz
Jan 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have long had a love affair with all things Alice in Wonderland and while I had a passing knowledge of Lewis Carroll, most of the history of the books was unknown to me.

I'm not a huge biography fan, or non fiction reader but this book was enthralling. It is do much more than a simple biography. It is a history of the book, the author's life that led to it, and how the books built their place in the world.

It was fascinating to discover all of the links to the books that exist. This book was v
Michael Brown
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it
A very slow read. Lots of detail but also lots of speculation as the early like of the author we know as Lewis Carroll which was not very well documented. This lets the author guess as to some of the motivations and rationalizations of why / how Carroll developed his style. We learn of his quirks and habits and how these formulated his tales for Alice and her family and friends. We learn a good deal about Alice and her influence upon and reaction to the Carroll stories she plays a role in. Dry a ...more
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
If I had been an English lit major I would have enjoyed parts of this more but the detail on Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was more than I wanted to know. However, the personal lives of Carroll and the real Alice were very interesting and worth the time to read the book. I had no idea the influence Carroll's works had on literature both Victorian and modern as well as the careers of Roy and Walt Disney.
Susan Gemperline
Aug 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
I cannot understand how someone can take the story of the writing of Alice in Wonderland and make it so tedious and uninteresting, with an overload of unnecessary information. After describing historical events coinciding with the life of Lewis Carroll in a flat journalistic style, the author then makes fanciful remarks like, "It must have seemed like a WONDERLAND," and other speculative theories about inspirations for different aspects of the Alice Adventures.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very in depth and unbiased exploration of Rev. C Dodgson. Not a casual biography, but for people with a genuine interest. Occasionally waxes lyrical when it could be more succinct, and lacking in detail in some surprising areas (although this may be as much dur to lack of existing information as anything else)
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book - very thought provoking. Paints a(n incomplete) picture of an elusive man & asks more questions of the reader than it answers! That given, it really is a fascinating insight into his life & also to the era in which he lived.
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst isn't the most comprehensive biography of Lewis Carroll out there. That's not the author's intention. Rather, he seeks to explore the available material on Carroll and Alice Liddell—much of which has never been published—as well as their historical context, to trace these elements to the genesis, content, and legacy of Carroll's most famous works.

This is the biography of a literary creation more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished, history
From the prologue, it seems to be the book I expect: a perspective on how Alice in Wonderland was created and its influence on the culture and society. However, the writing style is so archive-like, it reaches the level of being exhausting. It is as if every single tiny bits of Lewis Carroll's life has been recorded and quoted by the author, and the point to be made is frequently lost in the jungle of details. A better approach would be making the point first and then elaborating with supporting ...more
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Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is a Fellow and Tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he has been since 2002.

Prior to that date his background was Pembroke College, Cambridge: BA (1990), MA (1994), PhD (1998); Procter Visiting Fellow, Princeton University, 1991-1992; Junior Research Fellow, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 1995-1996; Fellow and Tutor, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1996-2002.
“Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised some people prefer books.' A story reflects life but also redeems it: assembled on the page, even unpredictable events can be plotted, their random scatter made part of a meaningful design.” 2 likes
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