10 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About Lewis Carroll

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tag: 10 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About Lewis Carroll, Author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It’s true that some things are better left unexplored. But if I’m being honest, I can’t resist anything when it comes to my eternal love of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Like millions of other readers who are part of the Alice fandom (yes, we’re on a first name basis), I can never get enough of white rabbits, Mad Hatter references, and invites to appropriately themed tea parties.

I know by now that sometimes it’s best to learn nothing about the authors of books you love. It’s a quick a way to ruin your idealistic view of a person you’ll never have the chance to meet. If I could I have stopped my hands from picking up that that Lewis Carroll biography, I would have. But you know hands, they have a mind of their own. Now that I know a lot of things about Lewis Carroll – some things I’m glad to know, some things that made me question everything – I have to share them with you. The true tragedy of it is that I know you can’t resist either. So, let’s get started.


Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.


A real-life girl inspired Alice in Wonderland.
Alice was the daughter of the Liddell’s, a prominent family at Oxford. Carroll became friendly with the family, particularly the children, and spent many months joining them on numerous excursions. Carroll even escorted young Alice to a royal wedding. The event later inspired well-known sections of this beloved children’s classic. 


The book was first entitled Alice’s Adventures Underground.
Apparently dissatisfied, Lewis Carroll renamed the tale as we know it best, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Lewis Carroll was a photographer.
He spent many an afternoon practicing portraiture on the Liddell children, the very children who inspired the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He preferred photography over lecturing and eventually managed to make a living from his photos. Having seen some of his photographs, which often portray children of the elite, he was quite good – especially for the 1860s.


The Liddell children’s stern governess, Miss Prickett, inspired the Red Queen character.


Lewis Carroll had a stammer, an inherited family trait.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland wasn’t originally a book.
The first telling of Alice happened one “golden afternoon” in the summer of 1862. Carroll and the Liddell children were gliding comfortably along in a little paddleboat they often frequented. The children demanded a story and Charles submitted, sprouting the first of Alice’s adventures from pure improvisation. It may have been lost forever if Alice Liddell had not pestered Carroll relentlessly until he wrote it down for her. He did, though it took him two years to do it. It was illustrated with drawings of his own creation.


The start of a scandal.
Lewis Carroll kept detailed diaries, but for June 27, 28, and 29 no record was found. Upon closer inspection it was discovered that those entry pages had been ripped out. Carroll’s niece, Menella Dodgson, confessed to the vandalism, claiming the entries were offensive to her sensibilities. It’s clear something happened during those three days that would permanently sever Carroll’s ties to the Liddell family.


Lewis Carroll and the Lidells had a falling out. Why? The most popular theory:
While we can never know for sure what caused this rift, long-standing gossip would have it told that Charles, aged 31, may have proposed marriage to Alice, then aged 11. To modern minds this is quite the age gap. But history tells us that the marriageable age for a girl in Victorian society was just 12. As shocking as it is to us now, large age gaps between married couples was once quite common.

We could reason, if this gossip proved true, that Alice’s parents may have been less upset by the proposal, than by the match. Carroll would have been significantly below their station. Could it be that the Liddell family separated Charles from their family after his supposed proposal? – or did something else happen entirely? Only speculation can tell.


The true, and expensive, tale of first editions.
The Clarendon Press printed the first 2000 copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Carroll’s expense. Carroll promptly signed 20 copies as gifts to friends. However, once the illustrator, John Tenniel, received a copy he had a bit of an artist’s tantrum. Finding the quality of the print unsuitable for his artwork, he demanded the books be reprinted.

At a great financial loss to Lewis Carroll, the books were redone at a separate printing company. The original printings were largely destroyed. As a result, Lewis Carroll may have been surprised to discover the cost of one of those lost first editions today. One of the remaining 22 recorded first printings was up for auction in 2016 and sold for a mere 2-3 million. Pocket change, really.

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Bex Skoog

Bex Skoog

Bex Skoog is the creator of the 'Out of the Bex' website, a guide to a more thoughtful life through books and simple living. If she had three wishes they would be for teacups to never empty, to possess an unending supply of classic films, and have access to the world's greatest libraries. Bex lives in Virginia outside of Washington D.C. with her husband and hundreds of stray books.

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