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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, #1)
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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells of a young girl named Alice falling through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. Its narrative course, structure, characters, and imagery have been enormously influential in both popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre.

How the story began

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) often told stories to his child-friends, amongst which Alice and her sisters. Sometimes these stories, which he made up on the spot, were told when they were visiting him in his rooms, sometimes on other occasions, like river picknicks.

The first version of the story of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” arose on 4 July 1862. Carroll, his friend Reverend Canon Duckworth, and the sisters Alice, Lorina, and Edith Liddell were on one of their boat trips on the river Isis (the local name for the stretch of the Thames that flows through Oxford) from Oxford to Godstow. Alice grew restless and begged Carroll for a story “with lots of nonsense in it”. Carroll began, and, as usual, invented the story while he was telling it. Much of the story was based on a picnic a couple of weeks earlier when they had been caught in the rain.

This is how Duckworth described the trip afterward:

“I rowed stroke and he rowed bow (the three little girls sat in the stern) … and the story was actually composed over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell, who was acting as ‘cox’ of our gig … I remember turning round and saying, ‘Dodgson, is this an extempore romance of yours?’ And he replied, ‘Yes, I’m inventing it as we go along.’ “

On two other boat trips, Carroll continued the series of ‘Alice stories’. At that point, they were more a collection of individual tales than one integral story. It is not known how long exactly Dodgson took to finish his tale. More than a month later, on 6 August 1862, he records in his diary that he took the girls on another boat trip and “had to go on with my interminable fairy-tale of ‘Alice’s Adventures.'”.

In an article in the New York Times of April 4th, 1928, Alice Liddell recalled:

“The beginning of Alice was told to me one summer afternoon, when the sun was so hot we landed in the meadows down the river, deserting the boat to take refuge in the only bit of shade to be found, which was under a newly made hayrick. Here from all three of us, my sisters and myself, came the old petition, ‘Tell us a story’ and Mr. Dodgson began it. Sometimes to tease us, Mr. Dodgson would stop and say suddenly, ‘That’s all till next time.’ ‘Oh,’ we would cry, ‘it’s not bedtime already!’ and he would go on. Another time the story would begin in the boat and Mr. Dodgson would pretend to fall asleep in the middle, to our great dismay.”

Normally, after a story had been told, it vanished in the air as quickly as Carroll had invented them. However, Alice must have liked these particular stories very much, because she asked Dodgson to write the story down for her. Initially, he was hesitant, but eventually, he gave in to Alice’s pleads. Carroll stayed up late that night to jot down the main events, and sketched an initial outline of the story the day after, during a train journey.

He started the writing of the full text on November 13, 1862, and completed it on 10 February 10, 1863. Carroll expanded the story somewhat when writing out his oral tales. In the article ‘Alice on the Stage‘ he tells us: “In writing it out, I added many fresh ideas, which seemed to grow of themselves upon the original stock”.

When the story was finished, he copied it out again, more carefully and in a hand that Alice would find legible, and left spaces for pictures of his own drawings. He called this manuscript “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground“. Before he added the drawings, he practiced first by creating several sketches. On September 13, 1864, he had finished the pictures and thereby completed the manuscript.


Carroll retained the manuscript version for reference as he expanded the book into “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” He finally presented the finished manuscript, a leather booklet, to Alice as a Christmas gift, on November 26, 1864.

Publishing the story

Carroll’s friend and novelist Henry Kingsley saw the manuscript text and encouraged him to publish the book. Carroll asked advice from his other friend, George MacDonald, an author of children’s books. MacDonald took the manuscript home to read it to his children, and his six-year-old son Greville declared that he “wished there were 60,000 copies of it”, so Carroll decided to publish it, and finance the whole project himself. This happened sometime early in 1863.

Before doing so, Carroll revised the story by cutting out the references to the previous picnic and expanded the original tale considerably; he added some chapters, altered some poems and added jokes that had occurred to him later. The first version had not included “The Caucus Race”, “Pig and Pepper” and “A Mad Tea-Party”. The Cheshire Cat had not been invented, the Ugly Duchess was called “the Marchioness of Mock Turtles”, the part of the Mock Turtle’s schooldays lacked and the greater part of the Trial scenes was written later. The Mouse Tale was different.

The story also got a new title. In a letter to a friend Carroll explained that he feared that “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” might appear to be a book containing ‘instruction about mines’ and therefore suggested: “Alice among the elves / goblins” or “Alice’s hour / doings / adventures in elf-land / wonderland.” He personally preferred Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so this became the final title.

Carroll liked to draw himself, and originally wanted to use his own illustrations for the published edition, but eventually admitted that his talents lay in directions other than those of a draughtsman. Around 25th January 1864 he approached Sir John Tenniel, a cartoonist for the magazine ‘Punch’, to draw the illustrations. Carroll provided Tenniel with detailed instructions on how to draw them.

Carroll was very concerned about how his book would look, and discussed the options extensively with his publisher. He chose the color bright red for the cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On November 11, 1864, Carroll wrote to Macmillan (publisher):

“I have been considering the question of the colour of Alice’s Adventures, and have come to the conclusion that bright red will be the best – not the best, perhaps, artistically, but the most attractive to childish eyes. Can this colour be managed with the same smooth, bright cloth that you have in green?” The very first edition did not have gilt edges. Carroll wrote to Macmillan on May 24th, 1865: “As I want it to be a table-book, I fancy it would look better with the edges evenly cut smooth, and no gilding.”

The book was ready on July 4, 1865, exactly 3 years after the famous boat trip. The first edition consisted of 2,000 prints, but because of Tenniel’s dissatisfaction with the printing of the pictures and because of ink bleed on the pages, all 50 (presentation) copies that had been bound by that time, were recalled within a month. All but about 23 copies were successfully fetched back and donated to children’s hospitals and the like.

In a second attempt, again 2,000 copies were produced, using a new printer and paper of better quality. This new ‘first edition’ was published on November 18, 1865 (but dated 1866). It's paper quality, as well as its typesetting, was better than the original first edition. This new first edition did have gilded edges, as Macmillan advised Dodgson to adopt this.

Carroll was not only very particular about the printing of his book, but also kept a tight reign on how Macmillan was promoting the volume and wanted to be kept informed about how it was selling. He also tried to influence its pricing several times and thought about making it available in different formats, like a cheap edition for middle-class children.

Dodgson kept scrutinizing all editions of his tale, complaining often to Macmillan about the quality of the printing, pictures, and typesetting. It was very obvious that he was more concerned about the look of his book than of the profit he was making. In one of his letters to Macmillan he wrote: “So long as it is really handsome, its paying or not is a matter of minor importance.”

Textual revisions

Even after publishing the story, Carroll kept improving it. Every new edition showed some small changes compared to the previous one, which Carroll called ‘errata’. Up to 1868, the text was printed in letter press, so Carroll was able to make corrections easily. After 1868, the pages were set in electrotype, which meant only minor corrections were possible. Besides many minor changes in a.o. punctuation, typesetting, grammar, and spelling, there sometimes were some more noticeable changes. For example in on edititon issued in December 1886, the poem “‘Tis the Voice of the Lobster” was expanded. Also the shape of the mouse’s tail poem was altered. Carroll made about 400 changes to the 1886 edition, which is an enormous amount and must have been a lot of work.

Interestingly, when he made the final changes to his book in 1897 (he died in 1898, preventing him from making even more), many of these earlier corrections were omitted in the final version. This was probably by accident: Carroll thought it a waste to spoil the printer’s file copies of the most recent version by marking and correcting them, and therefore worked from old copies he had received from a child-friend.

Other publications

Although Carroll was very picky about the looks of his book in the UK, he was much less concerned about the quality of the books that were sold in America. Apparently, he did not have a high opinion of the US book market. To limit his loss on the recalled first edition, he allowed the remaining printed but unbound copies of the recalled 1865 edition to be sold to the American firm D. Appleton & Co. in April 1866. The sheets were bound in England, the edges were gilded, and the book was published in May 1866 under the Appleton imprint with a cancel title page. These copies are generally known as ‘the Appleton Alice’.

In 1887, Macmillan issued cheaper versions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, styled as ‘People’s Edition’ in green pictorial cloth.

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In March 1885 Carroll asked Alice’s permission to publish a facsimile of the original manuscript Alice’s Adventures under Ground. He wanted any profits that might arise from the book to be given to Children’s Hospitals and Convalescent Homes for Sick Children. The publication did not go very smoothly, because there were problems with the creation and delivery of the zinc-blocks, which eventually led to a lawsuit. The facsimile finally appeared on December 22, 1886, in an edition of 5,000 copies, published by Macmillan & Co and bound in red cloth. Eldridge Johnson, a later owner of the manuscript, published a facsimile of the volume in 1936. A number of other facsimiles have been printed since.

Sale of the manuscript

The original manuscript of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” was sold for the 1st time at Sotheby’s (Lot # 319) in 1928. The popular, but maybe untrue, story surrounding the sale is that Alice Liddell Hargreaves, then an almost seventy-year-old widow, needed money, so approached Sotheby’s about selling the original manuscript. The tension and excitement surrounding this auction was incredible.

Dring of Quaritch’s bidding on behalf of the British Museum went up to £12,500. B.D. Maggs, representing the American dealer Gabriel Wells, dropped out at £15,200. Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, bidding in anticipation of finding a buyer, became the new owner for £15,400 (then equivalent to $77,000). After the sale, Rosenbach offered the manuscript at cost to the British Museum. The funds to keep this work in England could not be raised, so Rosenbach took the manuscript back to America. It was almost immediately sold to Eldridge Johnson for ‘cost plus ten.' Johnson kept the manuscript for 20 years, displaying it once at Columbia University’s Carroll Centenary Exhibition. He also published a facsimile of it.

In 1946, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground was sold by Johnson’s heirs at a Parke-Bernet auction. Again, it was knocked down to Rosenbach, but this time for $50,000. A campaign was initiated by several American businessmen to raise the money to purchase the book. In 1948, they donated it to the British Museum as an expression of international goodwill. The manuscript currently is on permanent display in the British Museum.

Copyrights and translations

The British copyright on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” expired in 1907.

In Carroll’s time, there were no international copyright laws as we know them now. This meant that foreign publishers were legally allowed to produce their own copies, without requiring permission or paying Carroll or Macmillan for it. Although the first US edition (by Appleton) was published with permission and with payment for the original printed sheets, soon other unauthorized copies started to appear on the American market.

The first German, French, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Russian, and (abridged) Dutch translations were supervised by Carroll and published by Macmillan. Carroll selected the translators himself. By circulating copies among friends, colleagues, and advisors before having them printed, he tried to ascertain whether the verses, puns, and other elements were properly translated. The very first translation appeared in Germany in February 1869. In the summer of that same year, the first French translation was published. The Swedish one appeared in 1870, and in 1872 an Italian one followed. There was an abridged Dutch version in 1875 in which the name ‘Alice’ was changed to ‘Marie’. In that same year, the Danish translation was published. The Russian translation appeared in 1879. Unfortunately, the translations did not sell very well.

By now, the story has been translated into more than 174 different languages, including Korean, Japanese, Egyptian and Arabic. In 2015, 7,609 published editions have been identified all over the world, and the number keeps increasing. After the Bible, Koran and Shakespeare, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is the most frequently quoted and best known in the world.


Additional Reading:

Meet the Girl Who Inspired 'Alice in Wonderland'

10 things you didn't know about Alice in Wonderland

‘Alice in Wonderland’ changed literature forever, by not trying to teach kids, just entertain them

The Alice in Wonderland Story First Told

The Best Illustrations from 150 Years of Alice in Wonderland


Is Alice in Wonderland really about drugs?

message 4: by Gem , Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

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Cosmic wrote: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll's Novel with its Many Hidden Meanings Revealed[bookcover:Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full ..."

Interesting. It might be fun to read that.

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