Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 English children's novel by Lewis Carroll (a pseudonym of Charles Dodgson).[1] A young girl named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures. It is seen as a prime example of the literary nonsense genre.[2][3] Its play with logic gives the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children.[2]

One of the best-known works of Victorian English fiction, its narrative, structure, characters and imagery have had huge influence on popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre.[3][4][5] The book has never been out of print and has been translated into at least 97 languages.[6] Its legacy covers adaptations for stage, screen, radio, art, ballet, theme parks, board games and video games.[7] Carroll published a sequel in 1871 entitled Through the Looking-Glass and a shortened version for young children, The Nursery "Alice", in 1890.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865. It was inspired when, three years earlier on 4 July,[8] Lewis Carroll and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed up the River Isis in a boat with three young girls. This day was known as the "golden afternoon,"[9] prefaced in the novel as a poem. The poem might be a confusion or even another Alice-tale, for it turns out that particular day was cool, cloudy and rainy.[10] The three girls were the daughters of scholar Henry Liddell: Lorina Charlotte Liddell (aged 13; "Prima" in the book's prefatory verse); Alice Pleasance Liddell (aged 10; "Secunda" in the verse); and Edith Mary Liddell (aged 8; "Tertia" in the verse).[11]

The journey began at Folly Bridge, Oxford and ended five miles (8 km) away in the Oxfordshire village of Godstow. During the trip Dodgson told the girls a story that featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure. The girls loved it, and Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write it down for her.[12]

Carroll began writing the manuscript of the story the next day, although that earliest version is lost. The girls and Dodgson took another boat trip a month later, when he elaborated the plot to the story of Alice, and in November he began working on the manuscript in earnest.[13]

To add the finishing touches he researched natural history in connection with the animals presented in the book, and then had the book examined by other children—particularly those of George MacDonald. Though Dodgson did add his own illustrations, he subsequently approached John Tenniel to illustrate the book for publication, telling him that the story had been well liked by children.[13]

On 26 November 1864, Dodgson gave Alice the handwritten manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by Dodgson himself, dedicating it as "A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer's Day".[14] Some, including Martin Gardner, speculate that there was an earlier version that was destroyed later by Dodgson when he wrote a more elaborate copy by hand.[15]

Before Alice received her copy, Dodgson was already preparing it for publication and expanding the 15,500-word original to 27,500 words,[16] most notably adding the episodes about the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea Party.

Chapter One – Down the Rabbit Hole: Alice, a seven-year-old girl, is feeling bored and drowsy while sitting on the riverbank with her elder sister. She notices a talking, clothed white rabbit with a pocket watch run past. She follows it down a rabbit hole where she suddenly falls a long way to a curious hall with many locked doors of all sizes. She finds a little key to a door too small for her to fit through, but through it, she sees an attractive garden. She then discovers a bottle on a table labelled "DRINK ME," the contents of which cause her to shrink too small to reach the key which she had left on the table. She subsequently eats a cake labelled "EAT ME" in currants as the chapter closes.

Chapter Two – The Pool of Tears: The chapter opens with Alice growing to such a tremendous size that her head hits the ceiling. Unhappy, Alice begins to cry and her tears literally flood the hallway. After she picks up a fan that causes her to shrink back down, Alice swims through her own tears and meets a mouse, who is swimming as well. Alice, thinking he may be a French mouse, tries to make small talk with him in elementary French. Her opening gambit "Où est ma chatte?" (transl. "Where is my cat?"), however, offends the mouse, who then tries to escape her.

Chapter Three – The Caucus Race and a Long Tale: The sea of tears becomes crowded with other animals and birds that have been swept away by the rising waters. Alice and the other animals convene on the bank and the question among them is how to get dry again. Mouse gives them a very dry lecture on William the Conqueror. A dodo decides that the best thing to dry them off would be a Caucus-Race, which consists of everyone running in a circle with no clear winner. Alice eventually frightens all the animals away, unwittingly, by talking about her (moderately ferocious) cat.

Chapter Four – The Rabbit Sends a Little Bill: White Rabbit appears again in search of the Duchess's gloves and fan. Mistaking her for his maidservant, Mary Ann, Rabbit orders Alice to go into the house and retrieve them. Inside the house she finds another little bottle and drinks from it, immediately beginning to grow again. The horrified Rabbit orders his gardener, Bill the Lizard, to climb on the roof and go down the chimney. Outside, Alice hears the voices of animals that have gathered to gawk at her giant arm. The crowd hurls pebbles at her, which turn into little cakes. Alice eats them, and they reduce her again in size.

Chapter Five – Advice from a Caterpillar: Alice comes upon a mushroom and sitting on it is a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. Caterpillar questions Alice, who begins to admit to her current identity crisis, compounded by her inability to remember a poem. Before crawling away, the caterpillar tells Alice that one side of the mushroom will make her taller and the other side will make her shorter. She breaks off two pieces from the mushroom. One side makes her shrink smaller than ever, while another causes her neck to grow high into the trees, where a pigeon mistakes her for a serpent. With some effort, Alice brings herself back to her normal height. She stumbles upon a small estate and uses the mushroom to reach a more appropriate height.

Chapter Six – Pig and Pepper: A fish-footman has an invitation for the Duchess of the house, which he delivers to a frog-footman. Alice observes this transaction and, after a perplexing conversation with the frog, lets herself into the house. The Duchess's cook is throwing dishes and making a soup that has too much pepper, which causes Alice, the Duchess, and her baby (but not the cook or grinning Cheshire Cat) to sneeze violently. Alice is given the baby by the Duchess and, to Alice's surprise, the baby turns into a pig. The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.

Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party: Alice becomes a guest at a "mad" tea party along with the March Hare, the Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse, who falls asleep frequently only to be violently awakened moments later by the March Hare and the Hatter. The characters give Alice many riddles and stories, including the famous "why is a raven like a writing desk?." The Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because Time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 PM (tea time). Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves, saying it is the stupidest tea party that she has ever been to.

Chapter Eight – The Queen's Croquet Ground: Alice leaves the tea party and enters the garden where she comes upon three living playing cards painting the white roses on a rose tree red because The Queen of Hearts hates white roses. A procession of more cards, kings and queens and even the White Rabbit enters the garden. Alice then meets the King and Queen. The Queen, a figure difficult to please, introduces her signature phrase "Off with his head!" which she utters at the slightest dissatisfaction with a subject. Alice is invited (or some might say ordered) to play a game of croquet with the Queen and the rest of her subjects but the game quickly descends into chaos. Live flamingos are used as mallets and hedgehogs as balls and Alice once again meets the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts then orders the Cat to be beheaded, only to have her executioner complain that this is impossible since the head is all that can be seen of him. Because the cat belongs to the Duchess, the Queen is prompted to release the Duchess from prison to resolve the matter.

Chapter Nine – The Mock Turtle's Story: The Duchess is brought to the croquet ground at Alice's request. She ruminates on finding morals in everything around her. The Queen of Hearts dismisses her on the threat of execution and she introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle is very sad, even though he has no sorrow. He tries to tell his story about how he used to be a real turtle in school, which the Gryphon interrupts so they can play a game.

Chapter Ten – Lobster Quadrille: The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon dance to the Lobster Quadrille, while Alice recites (rather incorrectly) "'Tis the Voice of the Lobster". The Mock Turtle sings them "Beautiful Soup" during which the Gryphon drags Alice away for an impending trial.

The Queen of Hearts glaring at Alice, screaming "Off with her head! Off—". "Nonsense!" said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.

Chapter Eleven – Who Stole the Tarts?: Alice attends a trial whereby the Knave of Hearts is accused of stealing the Queen's tarts. The jury is composed of various animals, including Bill the Lizard, the White Rabbit is the court's trumpeter, and the judge is the King of Hearts. During the proceedings, Alice finds that she is steadily growing larger. The dormouse scolds Alice and tells her she has no right to grow at such a rapid pace and take up all the air. Alice scoffs and calls the dormouse's accusation ridiculous because everyone grows and she cannot help it. Meanwhile, witnesses at the trial include the Hatter, who displeases and frustrates the King through his indirect answers to the questioning, and the Duchess's cook.

Chapter Twelve – Alice's Evidence: Alice is then called up as a witness. She accidentally knocks over the jury box with the animals inside them and the King orders the animals to be placed back into their seats before the trial continues. The King and Queen order Alice to be gone, citing Rule 42 ("All persons more than a mile high to leave the court"), but Alice disputes their judgement and refuses to leave. She argues with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings, eventually refusing to hold her tongue, only to say in the process, "It's not that I was the one who stole the tarts in the first place." Finally, the Queen confirms that Alice was the culprit responsible for stealing the tarts after all (which automatically pardons the Knave of Hearts of his charges), and shouts, "Off with her head!", but Alice is unafraid, calling them just a pack of cards; although Alice holds her own for a time, the card guards soon gang up and start to swarm all over her. Alice's sister wakes her up from a dream, brushing what turns out to be some leaves and not a shower of playing cards from Alice's face. Alice leaves her sister on the bank to imagine all the curious happenings for herself.

The main characters in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are the following:

Jessie Willcox Smith's illustration of Alice surrounded by the characters of Wonderland (1923)
Mad tea party. Theophilus Carter, an Oxford furniture dealer, has been suggested as a model for The Hatter

In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner provides background information for the characters. The members of the boating party that first heard Carroll's tale show up in Chapter 3 ("A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale"). Alice Liddell herself is there, while Carroll is caricatured as the Dodo (because Dodgson stuttered when he spoke, he sometimes pronounced his last name as Dodo-Dodgson). The Duck refers to Canon Duckworth, and the Lory and Eaglet to Alice Liddell's sisters Lorina and Edith.[15]: 27 

Bill the Lizard may be a play on the name of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.[17] One of Tenniel's illustrations in Through the Looking-Glass—the 1871 sequel to Alice—depicts the character referred to as the "Man in White Paper" (whom Alice meets as a fellow passenger riding on the train with her) as a caricature of Disraeli, wearing a paper hat.[15]: 172  The illustrations of the Lion and the Unicorn (also in Looking-Glass) bear a striking resemblance to Tenniel's Punch illustrations of Gladstone and Disraeli as well.[15]: 226 

Gardner has suggested that the Hatter is a reference to Theophilus Carter, a furniture dealer known in Oxford, and that Tenniel apparently drew the Hatter to resemble Carter, on a suggestion of Carroll's.[15]: 69  The Dormouse tells a story about three little sisters named Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie. These are the Liddell sisters: Elsie is L.C. (Lorina Charlotte); Tillie is Edith (her family nickname is Matilda); and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.[15]: 75 

The Mock Turtle speaks of a drawling-master, "an old conger eel," who came once a week to teach "Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils." This is a reference to the art critic John Ruskin, who came once a week to the Liddell house to teach the children drawing, sketching, and painting in oils. (The children did, in fact, learn well; Alice Liddell, for one, produced a number of skilful watercolours.)[15]: 98 

The Mock Turtle also sings "Turtle Soup." This is a parody of a song called "Star of the Evening, Beautiful Star", which was performed as a trio by Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell for Lewis Carroll in the Liddell home during the same summer in which he first told the story of Alice's Adventures Under Ground.[18]

Carroll wrote multiple poems and songs for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, including:

Martin Gardner and other scholars have shown the book to be filled with many parodies of Victorian popular culture, suggesting it belongs in spirit with W. S. Gilbert and Alfred Cellier's Topsyturveydom.[19]

Most of the book's adventures may have been based on or influenced by people, situations, and buildings in Oxford and at Christ Church. For example, the "Rabbit Hole" symbolised the actual stairs in the back of the Christ Church's main hall. A carving of a griffon and rabbit, as seen in Ripon Cathedral, where Carroll's father was a canon, may have provided inspiration for the tale.[20]

In the eighth chapter, three cards are painting the roses on a rose tree red, because they had accidentally planted a white-rose tree that The Queen of Hearts hates. Red roses symbolised the English House of Lancaster, while white roses symbolised their rival House of York, thus the wars between them were the Wars of the Roses.[21]

While the book has remained in print and continually inspires new adaptations, the cultural material from which it draws has become largely specialized knowledge. Dr Leon Coward asserts the book 'suffers' from "readings which reflect today's fascination with postmodernism and psychology, rather than delving into an historically informed interpretation," and speculates that this has been partly driven by audiences encountering the narrative through a 'second-hand' source, explaining "our impressions of the original text are based on a multiplicity of reinterpretations. We don't necessarily realise we're missing anything in understanding the original product, because we're usually never dealing with the original product."[19]

It has been suggested by several people, including Martin Gardner and Selwyn Goodacre,[22] that Dodgson had an interest in the French language, choosing to make references and puns about it in the story. It is most likely that these are references to French lessons—a common feature of a Victorian middle-class girl's upbringing. For example, in the second chapter Alice posits that the mouse may be French. She therefore chooses to speak the first sentence of her French lesson-book to it: "Où est ma chatte?" ("Where is my cat?"). In Henri Bué's French translation, Alice posits that the mouse may be Italian and speaks Italian to it.

Pat's "Digging for apples" could be a cross-language pun, as pomme de terre (literally; "apple of the earth") means potato and pomme means apple.[23]

In the second chapter, Alice initially addresses the mouse as "O Mouse", based on her memory of the noun declensions "in her brother's Latin Grammar, 'A mouse – of a mouse – to a mouse – a mouse – O mouse!'" These words correspond to the first five of Latin's six cases, in a traditional order established by medieval grammarians: mus (nominative), muris (genitive), muri (dative), murem (accusative), (O) mus (vocative). The sixth case, mure (ablative) is absent from Alice's recitation. Nilson has plausibly suggested that Alice's missing ablative is a pun on her father Henry Liddell's work on the standard A Greek-English Lexicon since ancient Greek does not have an ablative case. Further, Mousa (meaning muse) was a standard model noun in Greek books of the time in paradigms of the first declension, short-alpha noun.[24] Additionally, the phrase "O Muse, sing..." or some close variation of it features in many English translations of Homer, with Alice's utterance of "O Mouse" forming a pun which would have been apparent to the better-educated among Dodgson's Victorian readership, given the relative prominence of Classics in the educational curricula of Britain's upper classes during that era.[25]

As Carroll was a mathematician at Christ Church, it has been suggested that there are many references and mathematical concepts in both this story and Through the Looking-Glass.[22][26] Literary scholar Melanie Bayley asserted in the magazine New Scientist that Dodgson wrote Alice in Wonderland in its final form as a scathing satire on new modern mathematics that were emerging in the mid-19th century.[27]

Carina Garland notes how the world is "expressed via representations of food and appetite", naming Alice's frequent desire for consumption (of both food and words), her 'Curious Appetites'.[28] Often, the idea of eating coincides to make gruesome images. After the riddle "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?", the Hatter claims that Alice might as well say, "I see what I eat…I eat what I see" and so the riddle's solution, put forward by Boe Birns, could be that "A raven eats worms; a writing desk is worm-eaten"; this idea of food encapsulates idea of life feeding on life itself, for the worm is being eaten and then becomes the eater  – a horrific image of mortality.[29]

Nina Auerbach discusses how the novel revolves around eating and drinking which "motivates much of her [Alice's] behaviour", for the story is essentially about things "entering and leaving her mouth".[30] The animals of Wonderland are of particular interest, for Alice's relation to them shifts constantly because, as Lovell-Smith states, Alice's changes in size continually reposition her in the food chain, serving as a way to make her acutely aware of the ‘eat or be eaten’ attitude that permeates Wonderland.[31]

The manuscript was illustrated by Dodgson himself who added 37 illustrations—printed in a facsimile edition in 1887.[14]: 117  John Tenniel provided 42 wood engraved illustrations for the published version of the book. The first print run was destroyed (or sold to the United States[32]) at Carroll's request because he was dissatisfied with the quality. The book was reprinted and published in 1866.[14]

Tenniel's illustrations of Alice do not portray the real Alice Liddell, who had dark hair and a short fringe. The Guardian states, “John Tenniel’s illustrations to this first edition remain indelibly Alice, with her apron and puffed sleeves and sweep of blond hair.”[33] Alice has provided a challenge for other illustrators, including those of 1907 by Charles Pears and the full series of colour plates and line-drawings by Harry Rountree published in the (inter-War) Children's Press (Glasgow) edition. Other significant illustrators include: Arthur Rackham (1907), Willy Pogany (1929), Mervyn Peake (1946), Ralph Steadman (1967), Salvador Dalí (1969), Graham Overden (1969), Max Ernst (1970), Peter Blake (1970), Tove Jansson (1977), Anthony Browne (1988), Helen Oxenbury (1999), and Lisbeth Zwerger (1999).

On 26 November 1865, Dodgson's tale was published by Macmillan of London as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland under the pseudonym "Lewis Carroll" with illustrations by John Tenniel.[5] The first print run of 2,000 was held back because Tenniel objected to the print quality.[14] A new edition, released in December of the same year for the Christmas market, but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed.[5] The text blocks of the original edition were removed from the binding and sold with Dodgson's permission to the New York publishing house of D. Appleton & Company. The binding for the Appleton Alice was identical to the 1866 Macmillan Alice, except for the publisher's name at the foot of the spine. The title page of the Appleton Alice was an insert cancelling the original Macmillan title page of 1865, and bearing the New York publisher's imprint and the date 1866.[5]

The entire print run sold out quickly. Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike.[5] Among its first avid readers were Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde.[34][35][36] The book has never been out of print.[5] Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into at least 97 languages,[6] or as many as 174 languages.[37] There have now been over a hundred editions of the book, as well as countless adaptations in other media, especially theatre and film.

The book is commonly referred to by the abbreviated title Alice in Wonderland, which has been popularised by the numerous stage, film and television adaptations of the story produced over the years. Some printings of this title contain both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel .

The following list is a timeline of major publication events related to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

The book Alice in Wonderland was not named in an 1888 poll of the publishing season's most popular children's stories. However, many newspapers at the time declared the novel "exquisitely wild, fantastic, [and] impossible".[56] Towards the end of the 19th century Sir Walter Besant wrote that Alice in Wonderland "was a book of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete".[57]

In 2014, Robert McCrum named the tale "one of the best loved in the English canon", and called it "perhaps the greatest, possibly most influential, and certainly the most world-famous Victorian English fiction".[5] A 2020 review in Time states: "The book changed young people’s literature. It helped to replace stiff Victorian didacticism with a looser, sillier, nonsense style that reverberated through the works of language-loving 20th-century authors as different as James Joyce, Douglas Adams and Dr. Seuss."[4]

An enormously popular figure in pop culture, a Halloween costume of Alice (and the Queen of Hearts) during a parade in Vancouver, Canada

Since the first publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 150 years ago, Lewis Carroll's work has spawned a whole industry, from films and theme park rides to products such as a "cute and sassy" Alice costume ("petticoat and stockings not included"). The blank-faced little girl made famous by John Tenniel's original illustrations has become a cultural inkblot we can interpret in any way we like.[7]

Alice and the rest of Wonderland continue to inspire or influence many other works of art to this day,[58] sometimes indirectly via the 1951 Disney movie, for example. References, homages, reworkings and derivative works can be found in many works of literature, film, theatre, visual art, music, and games (such as playing cards).[59] Labelled "a dauntless, no-nonsense heroine" by The Guardian, the character of the plucky, yet proper, Alice has proven immensely popular and inspired similar heroines in literature and pop culture, many also named Alice in homage.[33]

The book has inspired numerous film and television adaptations which have multiplied as the original work is now in the public domain in all jurisdictions. The following list is of direct adaptations of Adventures in Wonderland (sometimes merging it with Through the Looking-Glass), not (such as Tim Burton's 2010 film Alice in Wonderland):

Alice in Wonderland (1934–1935) was a comic strip adaptation drawn by Edward D. Kuekes and written by Olive Ray Scott. This version also featured a "topper" strip, Knurl the Gnome. The strip was distributed by United Feature Syndicate.[72]

The first full major production of 'Alice' books during Lewis Carroll's lifetime was Alice in Wonderland, an 1886 musical play in London's West End by Henry Savile Clark (book) and Walter Slaughter (music), which played at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Twelve-year-old actress Phoebe Carlo (the first to play Alice) was personally selected by Carroll for the role.[77] Carroll attended a performance on 30 December 1886, writing in his diary he enjoyed it.[78] The musical was frequently revived during West End Christmas seasons during the four decades after its premiere, including a London production at the Globe Theatre in 1888, with Isa Bowman as Alice.[79]

As the book and its sequel are Carroll's most widely recognised works, they have also inspired numerous live performances, including plays, operas, ballets, and traditional English pantomimes. These works range from fairly faithful adaptations to those that use the story as a basis for new works. Over the years, many notable people in the performing arts have been involved in Alice productions. Actress Eva Le Gallienne famously adapted both Alice books for the stage in 1932; this production has been revived in New York in 1947 and 1982. One of the most well-known American productions was Joseph Papp's 1980 staging of Alice in Concert at the Public Theater in New York City. Elizabeth Swados wrote the book, lyrics, and music. Based on both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Papp and Swados had previously produced a version of it at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Meryl Streep played Alice, the White Queen, and Humpty Dumpty.[80] The cast also included Debbie Allen, Michael Jeter, and Mark Linn-Baker. Performed on a bare stage with the actors in modern dress, the play is a loose adaptation, with song styles ranging the globe. A community theatre production of Alice was Olivia de Havilland's first foray onto the stage.[81]

Similarly, the 1992 operatic production Alice used both Alice books as its inspiration. It also employs scenes with Charles Dodgson, a young Alice Liddell, and an adult Alice Liddell, to frame the story. Paul Schmidt wrote the play, with Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan writing the music. Although the original production in Hamburg, Germany, received only a small audience, Tom Waits released the songs as the album Alice in 2002. A musical adaption was written by Michael Sirotta and Heather M. Dominick in 1997, titled Alice in Wonderland, a Musical Adventure.[82][83]

The English composer Joseph Horovitz composed an Alice in Wonderland ballet commissioned by the London Festival Ballet in 1953. It was performed frequently in England and the US.[84] A ballet by Christopher Wheeldon and Nicholas Wright commissioned for The Royal Ballet entitled Alice's Adventures in Wonderland premiered in February 2011 at the Royal Opera House in London.[85][86] The ballet was based on the novel Wheeldon grew up reading as a child and is generally faithful to the original story, although some critics claimed it may have been too faithful.[87] The ballet overall stays generally light hearted for its running time of an hour and forty minutes. The ballet returned to the Royal Opera House in 2012.[88]

Gerald Barry's 2016 one-act opera, Alice's Adventures Under Ground, first staged in 2020 at the Royal Opera House, is a conflation of the two Alice books.[89]