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Happy (un-un)Birthday Lewis Carroll

This year marks the 185th Birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known to us all as Lewis Carroll.

Born in 1832, Carroll was the oldest son and the third oldest sibling in a family of 11 children. Afflicted with a stammer which impeded his social interaction with adults, he found he connected easier with children. In fact, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, his first and most famous novel, would never have been published if not for one of his child friends, Alice Liddell, who asked him to tell her a story on an afternoon rowing trip in 1862.

Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll had no plan to become a children’s author. As he notes in his diary, when he told Alice Liddell and her two sisters “the interminable Alice’s adventures” they continually asked him to retell the tale. It was as much a Christmas gift to himself as it was for the girls when he presented them with a hand written (and illustrated) copy of the story. The girls could now read Alice’s adventure whenever they wanted. Seeing how well the tale worked inspired Carroll to publish his novel and by the time the book was printed, new scenes had been added with a Mad Hatter and a Cheshire Cat.

What’s in a name?

While today, “Alice” and “Wonderland” go hand-in-hand, it wasn’t always so; the original title was Alice’s Adventure Underground. Wanting something more exciting for publication he began toying with titles such as Alice’s Golden HourAlice Among the Fairies and Alice’s Hour in Elfland. Carroll would finally (and thankfully) settle on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

A brand pioneer

Carroll was a savvy marketer which is perhaps the main reason Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is so well known today, even for those who have never read the book. Almost a century before Walt Disney’s Alice related tie-ins, Carroll commissioned postage stamp containers, cookie tins, note pads and copies of his original hand written manuscript. Recognising the value of reaching a young audience, he also edited his book into a shorter, young readers’ edition.

The many hats of Lewis Carroll

A famous anecdote tells how Queen Victoria, so impressed with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, requested a first edition of Carroll’s next book. The story goes that Carroll duly sent it to her, a theoretical mathematical work entitled An Elementary Treatise on Determinants. While the tale was refuted by Carroll himself, it illustrates his ‘double life’ as both a children’s author and an accomplished mathematician. Carroll also fancied himself an inventor (the words ‘chortle’ and ‘galumph’ are both ascribed to him) and he created numerous word games, including an early version of Scrabble as well as a night-time note-taking device he called a Nyctograph.

Carroll’s books have never been out of print

As you read this, a printing press somewhere is printing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Since its publication the book has never been out of print and has been translated into 176 languages. Its sequels, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, sold out within seven weeks of publication. 

Discover more about Lewis Carroll and his novels on our catalogue. Our collection includes a complete edition of his children’s stories, biographies and adaptations of his work, so why not come in for a visit.